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How to Ice Fish

First of all you need to make sure that the ice is safe to walk on.  Check or call your local DEM office to have them check the ice for you.  Also dress warm as frost bite is a big concern for fisherman.  It is always a few degrees colder on the ice, with the lack of trees to block the wind and the ice is obviously never above 32 degrees.  I have been ice fishing for a number of years so below I will express what I have learned.  It has been a popular year so far as the temperatures have been cold enough to get plenty of ice time.

Ice Fishing Equipment

Beginners unfortunately have to shell out a lot of money up front when it comes to ice fishing as the supply list for ice fishing can be on the pricey side.

Before you head out on the ice you will obviously need the right equipment.  Some fishermen have small ice rods while others have tip-ups.  Tip-ups are small x shaped rigs that have a flag at the top that indicate when you have a fish on the line. 

The species of fish that you are after will depict what fishing equipment and tackle you should most likely bring.  With any species you could fish with an ice rod that is short and has a very sensitive tip.  This will allow you to jig your bait vertically in the water column where you have drilled your hole using an ice auger.  An ice auger is the device you could use to drill your 6” to 8” hole that you will be fishing in.  

An ice scoop is also handy as this will allow you to scoop away the excess ice that will form in your fishing hole that you have just drilled.  Depending on how much you want to spend and how aggressive of a fisherman you are will determine how many holes you drill and what method you will prefer.  A highly aggressive ice fisherman will drill 10 to 15 holes and have tip-ups set up at each, whereas the lazy Sunday ice fisherman may just drill 1 to 2 holes and have a small rod feeling by hand.  

If you are planning on using a rod and reel one method is simply to hook a small shiner through the dorsal fine, attach a small weight a foot above and just let it drop close to the bottom.  Again your choice of fish will determine the depth and location.  I will get to this later.  This is probably the most standard method; there are many different variations to this method however.  Another common method is to use a small spoon, cast master or rooster tail and jig it off of the bottom.   Below is a checklist of bare essential items you will most likely need

  • Tip-ups or ice fishing rod
  • Auger or hand drill
  • Hooks
  • weights
  • Ice fishing line
  • Split shots
  • Knife
  • Live bait (shiners, minnows, fatheads, worms)
  • Bucket
  • Fishing License
  • First Aid Kit
  • Needle nose pliers

Ice Fishing Strategies

Over the years I have adopted the below strategies while ice fishing.  I make a habit of drilling various holes at various depth and different underlying structure.  Throughout the season the results vary on each hole depending on temperature and various other factors.  

Move around frequently to new locations throughout the season to get a feel of what hole work best at what times.  Never just fish a few holes in the same location spread out to the widest possible area to work as large a distance as possible.  It will keep you warm walking to each hole anyway.

I try to drill as many holes at the same time as possible as it will increase the quite time for fishing.  I hate to start drilling in the middle of my fishing time as I feel it spooks the fish.  

Change the depth of your line often.  Sometimes the fish are deeper on certain days.  I generally let my line hit the bottom first and then count how many reels it takes from the bottom before I start generating fish.  In general I try to keep the bait above the fish as much as possible

Information is key, use chat rooms and blogs and forums to get the most accurate information and reports as possible.

Stay warm, and be well prepared this will increase your hours of fishing and the possibility of landing more fish.

Ice Fishing Species

Jumbo Perch

Perch are generally near the bottom and in schools.  If you catch one you can almost guarantee you will catch a bunch.  You can jig a spoon or cast master or use a small shiner or minnow.  They are highly attracted to movement so the more life on the line the better.  Perch have excellent vision so use flashy lures or bait that is shiny or colorful.  
Worms, Shiners, Grubs, Rooster Tail all work well for me.

Northern Pike

By far one of my most favorite fishing experiences have been with Northern Pike.  They are highly aggressive and can grow close to 50 lbs.  (Make sure you have at least and 8” hole while fishing for these monsters, as you would hate to loose a keeper because you did not make your hole big enough.  

They are actually cannibals as well.  I have seen pictures of people catching a pike to only catch a larger one because the larger Pike with consume the one already on the line.  They are generally loners in weedy areas waiting to ambush their next prey.  

They are lighting fast and will hit the rod hard once on.  Movement is key, I like to jig by plug or shiner often to keep it lively and moving.  Be very careful of their sharp teeth as I have seen some serious damage been done to a few buddies of mine.  

They can be found in the following states North Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, Maryland, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Illinois, eastern New York, New Jersey, Idaho, northern New England, most of Canada


As indicated by their name these fish have very good vision.  The can see very good in dim light, which is their favorite time to find prey.  The best times to fish for walleye is early dawn or dusk.  Overcast days work well also.  

“Walleye Chop” is a term used to describe rougher water that limits light exposure to the bottom making for better walleye fishing days.  
Many fisherman swear by “First Ice” which is when they seem to be most active.

Some typical lures used are a Normark Rattle Flash or a jigging spoon.  If you find a sharp dropping edge you can almost guarantee that walleye will be present.  They cab be as large as 15lbs.  


Probably my least favorite fish to fish for as they are hard to eat (many bones).   But they are fun to catch and you can find many Crappie Fishing Tips on this site.  They are also fairly small no larger than 5lbs at most.  They are a popular ice fishing species however.  You can catch them on small shiners, spinners, worms, grubs.  Can be as deep at 20’ down. 

Deep Water Trout

In depths of over 50’.  Trout generally like warmer water so they will go wherever the water is warmest.  They can get fairly large depending upon the size of the lake.  Shiners, worms, spinners and spoons all produce well.  They are cannibals as well so if you have a plug that looks like a small trout that will work well.  Trout are school fish and prefer moving water, which is why they can be found in streams during the summer months.  Very colorful and beautiful fish that give a fairly decent fight If you catch one large enough.    

Ice Fishing Locations

Finding the fish is always the first step.  I always look out for fishing reports and spend much time on forums and blogs.  In general move around the lake as much as possible until you find a place that is producing good results.  

Talk to the bait shop staff they always know what’s best.  Besides it is job security for them.  

The species will determine where on the lake and how deep to go for the fish you are after.  

Tight Lines! And Good luck!

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