What Do I Need for Ice Fishing?
Ice fishing is an exciting way to spend your time during the cold winter months. However, it is not an activity you would want to go into underprepared. You need all the right gear to catch fish and stay safe while out on the ice.
What you need for ice fishing is different from conventional freshwater fishing gear. You’ll need special ice fishing gear designed to catch fish in wintery conditions, such as ice augers, short fishing rods, and invisible fluorocarbon lines. You may also need ice fishing gadgets like fish finders.
This article will look at the basic things you need for ice fishing and why you need them. A few of them are not compulsory, but they will most certainly simplify the process for you.
The first thing you need to do when you’re heading out to catch fish in the ice is to ensure you have enough warm clothing to prevent hypothermia. The cold weather is why many people will not head out to fish in the winter, and for good reasons.
You need to ensure you’re properly dressed to combat the weather or you risk falling ill in the middle of it or, in a best-case scenario, pack up and head home early because you can’t continue to fish in discomfort.
You should aim to cover all exposed skin on your body with the best clothing possible. Your inner layer should be made of a material that won’t trap sweat, and you should wear gloves that are thick enough to keep your hands warm and allow you to manipulate your fishing gear.
When dressing up for the weather, you must dress in layers.
This way, you can take off the outer layer when necessary. Your external layers should ideally be waterproof. You’re going to be handling a lot of snow, so it’s important to ensure you won’t get wet if some of it melts on your clothing. This is why most ice fishing enthusiasts avoid cotton. It takes a long time to dry.
Ice fishing may be enjoyable, but it also comes with most of the regular fishery’s standard risks with the added danger of moving around on the ice. You need to put together some safety kit to avoid mishaps or to remedy them quickly when they happen.
You need to get a tape for measuring the thickness of the ice. This way, you can stay out of thin ice and avoid the risk of falling into the chilly water. Other people being on the ice won’t automatically make it safe. You should stay away from ice that’s less than four inches thick. It’s not ideal for ice fishing.
If the thickness is between 4-6 inches (10-15 cm), you have to proceed with a lot of caution, checking the consistency regularly as you move along. Ice that is 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) is the safest to fish on. If you want to go fishing with your ATV or snowmobile, you should make sure the thickness of the ice you intend to drive across is eight inches or higher.
Get some strong rope. It can be useful if someone on the trip needs pulling out from cold water. You’ll also need other gear like maps, GPS trackers, etc. They’ll come in handy when you’re at a loss on where you are. If you’re staying well beyond the sunset, you’ll need flashlights.
You’ll also need metal cleats and ice picks when heading out on ice fishing. The cleats will reduce your chances of falling while walking across the ice and make mobility easier. Safety ice picks, on the other hand, are retractable and can be worn over your shoulder. If you fall into the water, the choices will make it easier for you to climb out.
If you think you need a particular piece of gear for your safety, throw it in the bag. It’s better not to need it when you’re out on the ice than to need it but can’t find it.
Sleds and Buckets
You’ll need a sled to pull your ice fishing gear across the ice. Carrying everything by hand might seem a good idea on the surface, but it’s not always easy to know how far you’ll have to walk to find a fishing spot. Put your gear in the bucket, and you can pull them on the sled. If you buy sleds with a cover, you may not need to get buckets, except for storing fish.
License to Fish
Regardless of where you’re headed for your ice fishing, you’ll most likely be required to own a fishing license that’s current. The state may also have specific guidelines for fishing in the winter, such as the type of species you’re allowed to target, the size of the holes you’ll make in the ice, and more. Take the time to cover these bases to avoid fines that can suck out the fun from your ice fishing expedition.
Reels and Rods
Using a rod is still the most popular way to fish, and ice fishing isn’t much different. You can use conventional rods, but you’ll find designated ice fishing rods easier to work with. They are designed to be compact because while on the ice, you won’t cast a line.
You only have a small hole in the ice. With your ice rod, you’ll have no problems catching fish. The rods’ tips are also designed to be very sensitive, so you’ll know when you’ve caught a fish.
Reels are also important when ice fishing. You’ll want all the help you can get with pulling the fish out from that hole. Pulling the line by hand is inefficient and can cause injuries when pulling up sizable fish on a steel line. With a reel, you’ll also stay in control of the length of the line you’d like to use at any point.
Many rods come with reels installed, but there are still plain rods. Pay attention and choose what works best for you.
If you’ve already chosen to go with a rod and reel, you won’t need this as it’s just an alternative. It is designed to hold bait under the water and signify (by triggering a flag) when something heavy tugs at the bait (hopefully the fish species you’re looking for). Tip-ups are similar to rods because they still use the same fishing lines.
Just like rods and reels, you can’t go ice fishing without fishing lines. There are lots of them in the market today that can leave you confused, but your focus should be on finding lines that can handle the size of fish you’re going for and stay resistant to the water’s frigid temperature.
A good tip is to choose braided lines.
They are more visible than standard fluorocarbon lines, so handling them while out in the cold is easier, especially when you’re wearing gloves. However, as you gain more ice fishing experience, you can test other types of fishing lines and choose what works for you.
When getting your fishing line, you should choose an option that is light enough to evade the fish’s attention but strong enough to carry the fish’s weight without breaking. So, your pound test should be in line with the type of fish you’re looking to catch.
This is why you need an understanding of the species in the area before you pack your lines. It’s often a good idea to buy the lines as close to the fishing spot as possible. The attendants will offer guidance if you’re unsure of what size of line to use.
Fish Bait and Lures
Just as is the case with freshwater fishing, you need baits and lures to attract the fish to your hook. You may combine both like some experts, by using the lure’s shiny appearance to attract the fish and a small bait to get them to take the bite.
The right bait and lure to use will depend on the type of fish you’re going after. The different species have their preferences, and even similar species may have different tastes across state lines. You can also choose to go with jigs instead of living bait. These mimic the movement of live bait underwater and can still attract fish.
Whatever option you choose to go with, it’s always a good idea to pair them with lures. Brightly colored options will increase the fish’s odds of taking the bait as they are easier to see in the winter’s darker icy waters.
If you’re unsure about the type of lures to go with, you should do a bit of research. Again, local stores near the fishing spot should have all the information you need; if you can’t find someone knowledgeable to discuss with while in the shop, wait for other fishers and get talking.
An Ice Auger
The whole premise of ice fishing relies heavily on making holes in the ice to reach fish underwater. You can’t make such holes with your bare hands, so you’ll need an ice auger to cut it. Even if you have a chisel and a saw, an ice auger is almost guaranteed to deliver better results and far more efficiently.
An auger works like a drill. You have to put the tip to the ice and turn the handle until you have the hole size you’re looking for.
- Manual augers like the Strikemaster 5-inch Mora Blade Augerand the Eskimo Dual Flat 6 – 8 Inch Auger are easy to operate and are affordable.
- If you’d rather not do the work of manual turning the auger handle, you can choose battery-powered options like the Strikemaster Lithium 40v 8″ Ice Auger.
- You can also choose a gas-powered option like the Eskimo HC40Q8 High Compression 40cc Auger.
For most people, however, a manual auger is enough for the job. You probably won’t need more than two to three holes to complete your fishing. If you are spending a lot of time out on the ice and making lots of holes, you should go for a powered option.
You need an ice scoop when you’re packing your bag for ice fishing. After you’ve made a hole with an auger, a chunk of slush will remain in the channel, preventing you from dropping the bait in the water. This is where you need the scoop.
You have to lower it horizontally and then scoop vertically to allow the water filter through. Get the slush away to the side. You’ll find plastic and metal ice scoops, but the latter is more resistant to the freezing temperature. The plastic will harden and may end up breaking. The Berkley Ice Fishing Scoop is a good example of a metal ice scoop.
If you’re going ice fishing in extreme temperatures, you have to make provisions for how to stay warm. You’ll also need a shelter if you’re thinking of staying overnight near the lake and don’t want to take back and forth trips from a nearby hotel.
Experienced ice fishers tend to have a constructed shelter that they bring along every winter, living near the lake until it’s time to go home. These can be simple wooden shelters and can also be a lot more sophisticated, costing tens of thousands of dollars. Such elaborate shelters have everything from heating to entertainment systems.
As a hobbyist ice fisher, however, you probably won’t see value in shelling out such money for a shelter, and you won’t want to spend the time to construct yours. The options available for you will include renting one from around the fishing spot—which you should find easily for the busier locations, or getting a portable one like the Eskimo FatFish Series Pop-Up Portable Ice Fishing Shelter and the Shappell WH6500 Wide House 6500 Ice Shelter.
These do an excellent job of protecting from the elements while you sleep, but you can’t sleep in them as they typically don’t have floors. The idea is for you to sit in the shelter, make holes, and fish without leaving it. You may be wondering why you’d want to do that, but sitting out in the blistering wind for more than a few minutes can be very challenging, even when you’re dressed up properly.
So, you need shelter to keep exposure to the elements to the barest minimum. The type of shelter you should go for will come down to the kind of weather you’re expecting, and the specifics of your fishing expedition. Will you live near the lake like other fishers or at a hotel? Are you only out for a couple of hours or for a few weeks?
Portable Heating System
This is one of the optional items on this list, but if you want to keep the cold temperature at bay, you’ll need a portable gas heater like the Mr. Heater F232000 MH9BX. These heaters run on propane, so you’ll also need to bring as much propane as possible on your trip. They are strong enough to keep you warm but not enough to melt the ice and put you at risk—unless you’ve camped on very thin ice.
However, you won’t need these if you don’t have some shelter to keep the heat. So, if you’ve not made provisions for a shelter, you don’t need a portable heater. You’ll have to rely on your warm-weather clothing to stay warm and hope the weather doesn’t become overwhelmingly cold.
A Fish Finder
Knowing where the fish are congregated can be challenging, especially when standing over a frozen water body. Fortunately, technology has made things easier. Fishfinders have sensors that can allow you to see what part of the water has the most fish population. You may need some tutorials to understand how to read one, but many fishers swear by them.
Some of the top options you can get today include:
However, they are pricey when compared to other gear we’ve covered thus far. So, you may not find one a good investment if you’re looking for a bit of fun out on the ice. In this case, it’s probably best to head in the general direction of other fishers out on the trip with you without getting too close.
What you need for ice fishing will come down to a few variables, including the weather you are headed out in, the type of fish you are going after, the local laws near you, and more. However, if you focus on the basics, you’ll enjoy a successful and safe fishing trip.
All you need is a way to make the hole in the ice, adequate clothing (or shelter) to stay warm and dry, and a container to store your fish. Do not forget to go with your fishing license and pay attention to the rules guiding your fishing spot.
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