Ice Fishing 101: A Beginner’s Guide

Ice fishing equipment
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Have you wanted to try ice fishing but didn’t know where to start? Are you unsure of what equipment you’ll need?

Maybe you’ve heard that ice fishing can be dangerous, and are a little bit nervous. Don’t be! You only need a few supplies and an adventurous spirit.

Here’s a beginner’s “how to” guide of what every sportsman needs to know before ice fishing for the first time…

Ice fishing equipment

Basic equipment

Regardless of where you go fishing, you’ll need a few basic supplies. Some of these are for your own safety, and others are for convenience.

For any ice fishing trip, you’ll need:

  • A shelter or tent
  • A first aid kit
  • An ice pick
  • An ice auger
  • A tape measure
  • A life vest or float suit
  • Your rod and reel
  • A tip up

Safety concerns

Lots of times, fishermen decide against ice fishing because they’re nervous. It’s true; there’s a considerable amount of danger in ice fishing.

The key is to take precautions to make sure you stay safe on the ice. The first step to ice fishing safety is to check the thickness of the ice.

First, you’ll need an ice pick and a tape measure. An ice pick is used to make a hole through the ice so that you can measure its thickness. Ice picks come in lots of different sizes, but for ice fishing you’re better off with one that’s a few inches long.

Use your ice pick to stab the ice in the area where you want to set up. Using the pick, make a hole in the ice until you reach the water below. Then use a tape measure to measure the thickness of the ice.

Instead of an ice pick, you may choose to use an auger. For a beginner ice fisherman, a 6-8 inch auger will do just fine.

If you’re using an auger, you’ll drill a hole in the ice, and again, measure the thickness. An auger is probably the best way to go, since you’ll need one later anyway.

More on how to use your auger later.

To stay safe, ice must be at least 4-inches thick for ice fishing on foot.

If you’re planning on bringing your ATV, ice must be at least 5-inches thick. And if you’ll have your truck, plan to search for a place that’s at least 15-inches thick.

Be sure to make several holes in the ice and check them all for thickness. The thickness can vary from place to place, even just a few yards apart.

Next, be sure you have a life vest that fits you well. Most outdoor retailers have staff available to help fit your life jacket.

Remember, you’ll be wearing bulky winter clothes under your vest, so plan for that.

If you have a few extra bucks to spend, there’s a product available called a float suit. Some float suits have built in life vests. These suits also have the benefit of being wind, water and temperature resistant.

Finally, make sure you bring a first aid kit. Nothing ruins a fishing trip quicker than injuries.

Once you have the basic safety equipment, you’re ready to choose your location!

Ice Fishing Hut Village

Finding the fish

The easiest way to find a good fishing spot is to look for other fishing huts. Whether they’re locals who know the area or travelers who have scouted it, they’ve set up camp there for a reason.

Some fishermen might appreciate your company, but be respectful of other campsites. You might not like it if a truck parked next to your tranquil fishing spot. Neither will they.

What do you do if you’re the only fisherman on the ice? The first thing you can do is check with local bait shops.

You know that fishermen like to tell stories! As sportsmen pass through the area, they’ll have told locals where they found their big catch.

No fish in history has ever stayed in one place. Thankfully, you can follow them with another handy piece of equipment called a transducer.

A transducer is a machine which sends a sonar “ping” underwater and echoes it back to you. When the echo comes back, you will see an image on your screen. Just look at all those fish!

Using a transducer will give you a very good idea of where to set up your site. But don’t forget to check the thickness of the ice before you settle in!

There are a variety of transducer brands. You can get a pretty good idea of which one might work best for you by talking to other sportsmen and reading reviews. Outdoors store staff can also help.

Preparing your site

Ice fishing is cold business. Not many people choose to ice fish out in the open. You’ll need an ice hut, and you’ll definitely need some warm clothes!

An ice hut is like your own portable fishing cabin. They can be made of a variety of lightweight materials like metal or plastics.

Many fishing huts stay on the ice all winter. But if you’re just staying the day, even some PVC pipe and a tarp will work.

An ice hut (or an ice shanty) is important because it will shield you from the elements.

Wind, sleet and other weather can make your fishing trip miserable. Your shelter will keep even the coldest temperatures at bay.

You’ll need to know your ice hut’s weight. Recall ice thickness, and how it’s important for safety. Keep in mind that your ice hut will add at least 1,000 pounds of weight if you’re towing it in.

Even though the weight of your hut will be evenly distributed on the back of your truck, it’s still a factor. Please be sure that your ice is at least 14-inches thick before setting up camp.

Ease of drilling ice with auger

Drilling your holes

Once you’ve found the perfect spot to fish and have set up your ice hut, you’ll need to drill holes in the ice. This is one of the easiest parts of setting up.

There are three kinds of augers: hand augers, electric augers and gas augers. Because they’re the most versatile, we’ll talk about hand augers.

Hand augers are long, screw shaped poles with two very sharp blades at the end. Be sure to cover the blades when you’re not using the tool.

You may need to chip away a bit of ice before you begin, but the rest of the task is simple. Hold the top of the auger handle with one hand and the arm on the side with the other.

Keeping your back straight and using the muscles in your shoulders and legs, turn and push down on the auger. As you “drill”, shredded ice will come to the surface of the ice.

You can save this ice in your bucket for the fish you catch.

For most fishing, you’ll only need a 6- to 8-inch auger. If your auger is any larger, you may have trouble drilling through thicker ice. Walleye and other fish will require bigger holes.

Once you’ve set up your ice hut and drilled a few holes, you’re ready to fish! Let’s talk about the actual fishing equipment you’ll need.

Catching the fish

In the same way that you would in a river or stream, you want to think about the type of fish you’re going after. Successful sportsmen say that the rod doesn’t matter too much, as long as it’s stiff.

There are hundreds of kinds of fishing bait.

If you visit the tackle shop near your fishing site, ask the staff which they recommend. They can direct you to what others have said worked well.

But, if you’re looking for a tried-and-true bait, keep it simple. A majority of successful ice fishermen say that they prefer to just use minnows.

So, you’ve got your sturdy fishing rod and bait. Now you’ll need some fishing-rod holders.

When you’re fishing from the back of your truck or from a boat, it’s easy to find a place to anchor your rod. But on the ice, it’s tricky.

You’ll probably also be fishing multiple holes. You’ll need to be sure that you’re able to manage them all.

The final piece of equipment you’ll want to have is a tip-up. Before you fish with tip ups, check your fishing license rules.

In some places, you can’t fish more than two or three holes at a time, and you might not need a tip-up. But, if you’re able to fish several holes, a tip-up will help you keep track of each of them.

Tip-ups are little tools that raise an alert when a fish takes bait. Usually a flag will come up, letting you see that there’s activity even from a distance.

Tips-ups can be very simple, but there are also brands that incorporate displays. These displays tell you when your fish is swimming away and other stats.

Whichever tip-up you choose, they’re all very helpful for managing your fishing holes. They also cut down on the need for you to walk back and forth across the ice.

Ice Fishing Huts


Now you’re all set up! You’ve got a fishing hut in a safe place, You’ve got all the equipment you need. Relax, and keep warm!

Ice fishing doesn’t have to be intimidating. Beginners can learn how to use simple techniques to reel in fish, even on the first try!