So you want to take up ice fishing? I hope you are ready to embrace the cold because it can get quite chilly when standing out on the ice. Pack your parka and put on your beanie because you are going to need it. This tutorial, A Beginner’s Guide to Ice Fishing – Tips and Advice, will be sure to show you everything you need to know, so you can stop swimming with the fishes and start catching them like a champ.
Let’s get started.
My Top 5 Safety Tips
Without safety, you are as good as gone. Not only do you have to worry about hypothermia and frost bite with ice fishing, you also need to be aware of drowning, so you need to be triply aware. Keep your wits about you and you should be alright. The goal of these tips is to keep you dry and prevent you from falling into the water.
1. Never Ice Fish Alone, Especially as a Beginner.
I cannot stress this enough. If one person falls into the water, it’s bad luck. If two people fall into the water, Mother Nature has got something against you. Without someone else there to fish you out (I’m going to be telling a lot of salty jokes in this article!), you are as good as gone. At best, they can pull you out of the water. At worst, they can run and get help. Either way, you will be better off with a partner. You need one or else you will be frozen microwave meal.
As a beginner, you do not know what you are doing. You still need to learn. When you go along with someone else, they can show you the tricks of the trade, so you can be fishing like an expert in no time.
2. Ice Needs to be a Minimum of 4 Inches (10.2 cm) Thick to Walk On.
You need 6 inches for an ATV or snow mobile, 7 – 12 inches (17.8 – 30.5 cm) for an ice shanty, and a full foot or more (>30.5 cm) for a full sized truck. Anything less than 4 inches and you are dancing with death. It is better to play it safe and stick to thick ice.
3. Ice Flows.
Ice stands atop water. Water moves. Do the math. Ice can move and shift beneath your feet where you stand. For you, this means you have to be always vigilant of the ice. A sudden shift or movement can cause you to fall into the depths below.
Also, if you are on a big lake like one of the Great Lakes in the Midwest near the ice edge, ice can break off with you floating on top and calling out for help like a polar bear in the Arctic. Ah, too real climate change, too real. As a millennial, I felt that joke hit too close to home.
4. “Thick and Blue, Tried and True. Thin and Crispy, Way too Risky.” – Watch Out for Rotten Ice.
Avoid ice covered in snow or appears milky. You want ice that is new and blue. Half the safety battle is differentiating between types of ice.
5. Wear Layers to Stay Plenty Warm.
If you’re cold, you will only think of the cold. As Ron Swanson would say, “there is no such thing as bad weather, only poor clothing choices and inadequate modes of transportation.” In other words, cover all parts of your body and employ a triple layering system.
Get the Proper Gear
I see my Dad as a do-it-yourself kind of guy. He always worked to improve things around the house and still does. “When you have the proper tools,” he would say, “everything falls into alignment.” The same goes for ice fishing. A fisher is only as good as the fishing tackle they bring with them.
- Bucket, this stores your bait and doubles as a seat while you are waiting for fish. Believe me. It is going to take a while before you catch anything, so you might as well be comfortable while you are waiting.
- Ice scoop, as you break down the ice, you will need to remove the ice bits from the water.
- Ice cleats, unless you are a hockey player or grew up on the ice, then I suggest you bring along ice cleats. (I’m talking to you Dad. You may have grown up on the icy sidewalks of Michigan, but you need ice cleats in old age so you don’t slip and break a hip!)
- Ice chisel, one of these will help you with your auger to break up the ice to make a circle.
- Auger, you need to this to create an even circle in the ice. If you want, you can always get a generator to drill the hole for you.
- Two ice safety picks connected to cords 24 – 30 inches long (61 – 76.2 cm), accidents happen. The unexpected startles you, but it’s alright. It happens, so be sure to have a plan in case you do fall into the water.
- Full winter clothing or frabill suit, just because it is cold outside does not mean you have to be cold as well.
- Back up winter clothing (in case you fall in), accidents happen. Why take chances?
- Fishing license, you will have to do this research yourself. From place to place, rules vary. You need to ensure you have all the proper paperwork in order, so you can be in line with the authorities. We need to prevent over fishing.
- Ice fishing rod, this is a rod specifically for ice fishing, shorter than most because you do not need to cast the line. You just drop the line into the hole and wait.
- Bait, chum, minnows, and/or blood worms for the fish you are trying to catch all work well.
If all this gear seems overwhelming and expensive and you want to save big, then I suggest you check out one of my previous articles, How to Save Money on Camping – a Tips and Advice Guide. Granted it is not about tackle gear, but the same principles apply. You will be sure to save big and take a load off your wallet.
How to Drill a Hole in the Ice
Go only 8 to 10 inches (20.3 – 25.4 cm) in diameter. Smaller than 8 inches and you won’t be able to pull out the fish. Larger than 10 inches and you risk falling into the water. Using your ice pick and auger, break down the top layer a little and drill down into the ice.
Then remove any chunks of ice in your hole. You can have shavings in your hole, but not ice chunks or else it’s difficult to pull fish out once you catch them. When ice fishing, you need to go on a day when the temperature is at or below freezing. Below 20 °F (-6.7 °C) it is difficult to keep the hole up and stop the ice from freezing over.
7 Easy Steps to Eat Like a Shark Tonight
1. Buy Your Bait Locally.
Not only will you get proper bait for the fish in your area, but you will also get advice from a veteran. Locals know the water ways best, so they will tell you the tricks of the trade for the ice you want to step onto.
2. Keep Some Ice Shavings in the Hole to Prevent Light from Seeping into the Water.
Light will spook most fish in the water (it depends on the species though), so stop it where you can. Throw in some ice shavings into the water, nothing that will get in the way if you pull a fish out of the water. You can also throw up an ice shanty for extra protection.
3. Find out the depth of the fish you are trying to catch.
Not all fish are created equal. Some flounder at the bottom, while others rise to the cream of the crop. Fish vary. As a result, the depth of your line must also vary if you want to catch a proper fish.
4. Slow and steady wins the race.
It’s not just a children’s story, but an important lesson. Fish swim slower in the Winter. They are trying to conserve energy because it is colder and there are not as many food sources now. Any sudden movement will startle them. You can move your bait around, but not too much.
5. Bait the Bottom to Stir Up Mud and Debris.
Fish like movement, but not too much movement. Bottom baiting wakes them up and gets them moving. It attracts their attention.
6. Chum the Hole to Start a Feeding Frenzy.
Because there is not much food in the water, fish will head to the nearest source of water they see and smell. If you throw chum in the water, it will attract their attention and draw them in like children to a pinata at a kid’s birthday party.
7. Respect Your Fellow Ice Fishers and Cover the Hole when You’re Done.
Karma is a thing. If you do something good, good things will happen at one point or another. So do your fellow ice fishers a solid and let them know where the holes are. Use tree branches and non-white, non-ice markings to cover the hole. No one wants to fall into the water. That would be an unpleasant surprise sure to ‘shiver me timbers.’
Are You Going to Get Outside this Week?
You are set to go. You now know the basics and will be reeling your rod in for the big one in no time flat. Now you need to find a place to go. This is my call to action. If you want to join me on my weekly hike (in spirit of course), then you should head on over to AllTrails.com. It is my go to site for finding exquisite trails near me. You can also be sure to find an ice fishing spot. So what do you say? Are you going to get outside this week?
If you have any thoughts, questions, or think I missed anything, do not hesitate to comment below and please share the article. Thank you so much and I hope you make it a great day!