Ice fishing has a long and storied history, but its popularity has exploded in recent years.
From Anchorage, Alaska to Stockholm, Sweden to Lac Brochet in Canada, people are heading out onto the ice and enjoying one of the greatest and most challenging outdoor pursuits in the world.
However, while a 6-year-old with a cane pole and a can of worms can bring back a limit of panfish from a summer fishing hole, ice fishing is an entirely different matter. It is riddled with challenges that require specific solutions and specialized equipment.
Must Have Tools and Equipment
There are a million ways to catch fish, so it is difficult to ever consider anything to be mandatory. After all, some people have the skill and patience to pluck fish straight from the water with their hands!
But to engage in conventional ice fishing, you’ll need the following items.
Ice Fishing Rod
Theoretically, you could use an ordinary freshwater rod to ice fish but you probably wouldn’t catch that many fish.
Instead, you want a rod that works well in manipulating a jig or piece of bait through a hole cut in the ice and then retrieving any fish you manage to hook.
Conventional freshwater rods are typically between 5 and 9 feet in length which is simply too unwieldy for fishing through the ice. By contrast, ice fishing rods are usually between 2 and 4 feet long, thereby allowing greater mobility while working around the hole.
Ice fishing rods are also designed to be extraordinarily sensitive. Some models even feature an exposed blank that you can touch with your finger, this allows you to detect even the subtlest of strikes.
Sensitivity is important for fishing in such cold water, as bites – especially from panfish – are often very light.
In contrast to rods, there are few differences between standard freshwater spinning reels and those designed specifically for ice fishing. You want a light reel to reduce fatigue, and most ice angling models are built as such.
If you decide to use a regular spinning reel, be sure to use one of the smallest ones available.
You can’t catch any fish with your lure laying on the ice, so you need an ice auger to access the water. There are a variety of ice augers available: including manual, gas, propane and electric powered models.
A manual ice auger is suited for beginners until they accumulate a good deal of experience with making holes in the ice.
On the other hand, powered augers provide a number of advantages such as allowing you to make some holes quickly and easily, but they also compromise your mobility or require you to purchase a sled or vehicle to help you cart it around.
You’ll need something to carry around your various lures, hooks, sinkers and terminal tackle. Minimalists get away with a plastic bag, but most anglers prefer to use a box designed specifically for fishing tackle.
Because ice fishing often requires that you lug a bunch of gear for a considerable distance, it’s important to consider how easy you’ll be able to carry the box when making a decision.
Instead of selecting a hand-carried box, consider an over-the-shoulder tackle box or backpack system.
Ice Fishing Line
Standard fishing line is not good enough when you’re fishing in freezing temperatures, contending with sharp ice and trying to drag up a giant pike. Instead, you need line that is specifically designed for use in such grueling conditions.
There are different line types for ice fishing, but beginners are usually fine selecting an economy ice line to get started.
Lures and Bait
Most ice anglers catch fish in one of two ways. They either raise and lower a small jig to entice a bite, or they use live or cut bait.
It’s suggested to be set up to fish in both ways (provided both tactics are legal in your season – always be sure to check your local laws and regulations before purchasing tackle), so that you have greater flexibility.
While you can spend a lifetime accumulating ice angling tackle, you can get started by purchasing a modest selection of sinkers, a sampling of bait hooks and a few jigs.
You can use a bobber if you like to help detect strikes, but they can cause shy fish to reject a bait so you have to stop using it once you get better at detecting strikes.
Keep Warm and Safe
Ice fishing is a fun and wonderful activity for the whole family but it has some risks.
To ensure that you enjoy the recreation, dress adequately for the weather (and plan for unexpected shifts too) and bringing at least a minimal safety kit – which includes a mobile phone, radio or satellite phone, a basic first-aid kit and a flashlight.