A lot of ice-anglers-to-be never make it out on the ice because they don’t understand the equipment and techniques involved in the pursuit.
To be fair, ice fishing equipment is often alien-looking to those who fish in more typical ways. But it is all relatively straightforward.
You just have to take a few moments to familiarize yourself with the necessary tools of the trade and the ways to use them.
In its simplest form, ice fishing is akin to bridge or pier fishing, except that you have to cut a hole through the ice first (preferably with the best ice auger). That’s all there is to it. A typical day of ice angling may look like this:
- Upon arriving at the lake, you decide on a location and begin hauling your stuff to that spot. Many ice fishers like to use a sled or four-wheel drive vehicle to make the task easier.
- Once you have all of your equipment at the location, you can start drilling a few holes. You can use a hand-powered auger when you are just getting started, but most severe ice anglers eventually upgrade to a powered auger.
- You either use a fish finder or depth sounder to investigate the holes for fish activity, or you’ll just start fishing. If you don’t use a fish finder, you simply have to be patient while waiting for strikes.
- To fish, a small rod specifically designed for ice fishing. Most are very short for ease of use around the hole. Use live bait, cut bait, or a lure to entice the fish; either let it sit motionless in the water, or jig it up and down.
- When you get a bite, you have to battle the fish to the surface just like when fishing from a bridge or pier. The only difference is that you need to do it through a small hole in the ice.
Of course, this is an oversimplification of the activity but it is a fair outline of the basic steps involved in ice fishing. However, as with every other type of fishing, there is plenty of variation on these themes.
Tips for Elevating Your Game
Understanding the basic techniques of ice fishing is a far cry from successfully hauling giant pike from the depths or catching a bucketful of perch. To an extent, you simply need to practice and gain experience to improve your catch numbers.
The following tips will help accelerate your progress.
A Little Research
Finding the fish is one of the most challenging aspects of ice fishing. Most fish relate to some structure, so try to identify primary lake points, creek channels, and ledges by noting the above-ground topography and consulting maps of the lake bottom.
Patience + Comfort
Ice fishing requires patience. So comfort is imperative to keep your spirits high while waiting through the monotony.
- Wear several layers of clothes to stay warm.
- Always have three or four towels to keep your hands and gear dry.
- Bring a comfortable chair to sit on. Traditionally, a bucket is the go-to item as you can carry things in it as well.
It is often helpful to work several holes at once. But to fish multiple holes at the same time, you need to use tip-ups to help monitor your lines.
Tip-ups are small, pendulum-like devices that automatically release the line and raise a flag (to get your attention) when a fish strikes the lure.
Optional: Dark House
If you invest in a dark house, you can increase your ice fishing comfort exponentially for they provide unparalleled comfort and help protect you from the elements. However, selecting, purchasing, and placing it involves many additional challenges.
Plus, you should be firm that you love the sport before heading down this path.
As with any other type of fishing, you need to tailor your fishing strategy and technique to suit your target species. You can’t catch a bluegill with a 12-inch-long swimbait!
You can find a variety of species under the ice in the dead of winter, the most common target species are listed below.
Pike is large, predatory fish that is commonly caught on live minnows such as chubs or suckers. However, other anglers are successful using spoons or jigs. You can attach a live minnow to a spoon for the best of both worlds.
Pike normally holds near the bottom in deep water. But in shallower areas, they tend to stage at mid-depths.
If you are looking to catch huge numbers of fish, perch is often the best choice. In deep lakes, they may form schools comprised of more than 1,000 individual fish.
They primarily prey on minnows and small fish, so anglers usually use minnow-mimicking lures including spoons or small swimming lures to elicit bites. They are notoriously light-biting fish, so you want to use a very light line and pay careful attention to your rod tip.
Walleye is one of the most popular targets among ice anglers. Most are caught within a few feet at the bottom, and anglers typically use jigs (with or without a minnow attached to the end) when pursuing them.
They often prefer lures that remain motionless rather than those that are bouncing around always. They also prefer to feed around dawn and dusk, but they are occasionally caught during mid-day.
Check out our walleye fishing tips…
Trout is an excellent specie to target in shallow water. Those in small waters rarely reach the size of their counterparts living in huge reservoirs, so you want to adjust your bait accordingly.
A smaller trout is easier to catch by using live insects, while larger ones are fond of minnows or minnow-mimicking lures.
Lake trout is large, open-water fish that is often caught over some deep structure such as a shelf or creek channel. In contrast to shyer fish like walleye, which prefers lures that aren’t moving very much, you catch more lake trout by imparting erratic action on your bait.
Most of the best lures used are colored like yellow perch – one of the favorite preys of these large fish.
Salmon is one of the most difficult specie to catch while ice fishing since their population is lower when compared to trout or walleye, for example.
They are normally caught early in the morning, within a few hours of sunrise. 3- to 4-inch long minnows are the ideal choice for bait when targeting salmon.
Ice angling is not only fun. It can also be a productive method of fishing which keeps your freezer stocked until you start fly fishing or trolling when spring rolls around. Don’t let your unfamiliarity with the techniques stand in your way.
It’s really easy to learn how to ice fish once you understand the basic facts we’ve outlined here.