How to ice fish – The beginner’s guide 30 Fishing spots & Equipment list

Think of how much fun it would be for you to enjoy fishing all year round; as a matter of fact, this would be a dream come true for some.

But here’s the thing…

Winter not only comes with the ice-chilling cold but it also calls for the use of more gear than we’re used to not to forget the fact that getting an outstanding fishing spot isn’t a walk in the park which is where we come in.

What if I told you that by the time we’re done, you’ll have utmost knowledge of where you’ll have the best odds of striking that species of fish that you really love and more so, know exactly what to pack for ice fishing? Well, though it sounds too food to be true, here’s hours of research meant to give you How to ice fish the beginner’s guide.

Let’s get to it right away, shall we?


How to ice fish – beginner’s guide

How to ice fish

1. Getting a fishing license

how difficult could it be to have a good time fishing? Well, I’ve got to say, go ahead and do it in the wrong place and you’ll get yourself a ticket.

Before you go fishing, you ought to ensure that you’ve got a license issued from your state since different states may have different laws pertaining to fishing and different consequences for illegal fishing. Some states, for instance, will forbid fishing of certain species and limit the size of other fish as well.

I’d highly recommend that you take a fishing course, which, even though optional will equip you with a lot of knowledge pertaining how to be on the safe side when it comes to dealing with the law.

2. Always have some company

For the most obvious reason of all, you can get quite bored when fishing alone and it’s best that you find someone to keep you company. As a matter of fact, you may cut your fishing trip short if you’re alone.

The flip side of the coin is however much fun and most importantly, with someone coming along with you, you’ll be much safer with someone since ice fishing is not as safe as basic fishing.

From falling into the ice and being at the risk of drowning in encountering a wild animal, having some company will definitely help. Plus, if you end up running out of bait or happen to damage or lose some of your fishing accessories, your friends will have your back.

Much more fun and simultaneously safe, you’ll even barely notice the cold that comes with the winter season.

3. Check the weather

Even though you may have an easy access to some of the best ice fishing spots, fishing in the winter season is really different from any other season.

The winter is quite unpredictable and you’ll not know what to really expect which is why you should always be up to date with the weather forecast. This is most important especially if you’re not used to spending a lot of time in the ice.

When the sun goes down, you should also ensure that you’re off the ice. The winter days are normally unpredictable and shorter than what you’re normally used to.

4. Your safety should be your #1 priority.

Picking off from our previous point, I couldn’t emphasize enough on how much attention you need to pay on your safety.

Just as it is the case for any outdoor activity, you should bring with you a first aid kit only that in this case, it should have all the essentials for ice fishing such as a hypothermia kit.

Other than the first aid kit, you should also watch your footing at all times. Ensure that the ice is thick enough and isn’t’ cracked. The people you’re tagging along with should also spread out as you walk on the ice; avoid walking on the same spot as this would put too much weight on the ice.

Also, whereas some ice fishing sites are easily accessible, others are really remote and a GPS may come in handy.

5. Always have the appropriate clothes on.

As we’ve already mentioned earlier on, your safety is what matters most and what you wear plays a really big role in ensuring that you don’t get to face any consequences while ice fishing.

Here’s what you should have on at all times:

  • It’s important to keep warm and comfortable at the same time which is why your first layer should be thin and moisture wicking. The best material for this would be polyester of high quality, wool or polypropylene.
  • Over your first layer of clothes, you should have an even much thicker layer which, most preferably should be a thicker layer of wool or fleece.
  • The outermost layer should either be a down jacket or one that’s waterproof as it keeps away rain as well as the cold temperatures.

best ice fishing jacket

  • As for the boots, make sure they’ll be able to keep you warm enough. If you’ll have to walk a long distance to get to the fishing grounds, be sure to break them in before you hit the ice.

best ice fishing boots

  • You should also keep your extremities warm which is why you should have a beanie on and a pair of gloves or mittens. You could also bring along a pair of goggles to protect your eyes from blizzards

Ice fishing Gloves

5. Basic ice fishing Equipment List

After you’ve gathered up all the essential clothing you need for ice fishing, you’ll need to pack up the correct gear to have in the ice. Here’s what you should pack before you go out into the ice

(I) Ice fishing lures

As it turns out, jigging is essential when it comes to any kind of fishing and in order to do this best, you’ll be needing a lure. There are plenty of lures in different shapes and sizes which mimic the appearance of insects or worms hence you just need to know what will work best with the kind of fish you’re targeting.


(IIIce fishing rods

Well, when it comes to ice fishing, a rod isn’t just a rod as it is the case in other styles. You’d want to look for a rod that is sturdy, shorter than average and definitely lighter than what we’re used to. For the sake of flexibility and durability, you should go for one that’s made of fiberglass or graphite

Ice fishing rods

(III) Live fishing bait

If you prefer to be a little old school, then you should definitely go for the live bait. Well, the rule of thumb when it comes to selecting live bait is the deeper you’re fishing, the larger your live bait ought to be since the fish in deeper waters are larger.

Live ice fishing bait

The Wax worms above could serve quite well as live bait.

(IV) Suitable reels for ice fishing

Reels are a must-have for any kind of fishing, don’t you agree? Well, just as it is the case with the fishing rods, the best reels for ice fishing would be the spinning reels. These are much easier to use but on the downside, there might be line twists which could be solved by using the fly fishing reel.

ice fishing reels

(V) Ice fishing lines

If you know the basics of fishing, then you’ll definitely agree to the fact that a lighter rod should be accompanied by a line that’s light as well. Besides just the weight, I’d recommend that you go for a black line since this wouldn’t be easily visible to the fish in the deep, dark waters.

Ice fishing lines

(VI) Ice fishing augers

The thing about ice fishing is that you just don’t go right ahead and throw in your line; you’ll have to drill through the ice first. Depending on the size of fish you want to catch, you’ll want to drill a larger hole accordingly. There are normally battery/gasoline powered augers and those that are operable by hand. Depending on the nature of your task, you should know what to really settle for.

Ice fishing augers

(VII) Heaters

This is what should’ve probably come first on our list. It’s quite obvious that since you’ll be spending time on the ice, you should go for the best portable heater you can get your hands on. The heater, besides just keeping you warm keeps the drilled hole from closing up when the temperatures are too low.

A good heater kills two birds with one stone- keeps the drilled hole open and simultaneously keeps you warm


(VIII) Chisels

This is yet another tool that’ll come in handy quite often though ironically, most people end up forgetting to pack one of these. A chisel comes in handy when you have to chip away the ice by hand or breakthrough thinner ice.

(IX) Skimmers

Sometimes, you could encounter some slush after you dig a hole in the ice. Taking the slush out without scooping the water could be quite annoying which is why you may need a skimmer. The skimmer resembles a scoop only that it’s got holes in it that takes out the slush without scooping any water.

Skimmers(X) Handheld GPS

It’s not always the case that you may be familiar with your fishing grounds especially when it comes to ice fishing and since the days are short in the winter, you may need a handheld GPS to find your way through unfamiliar fishing grounds.

Handheld GPS(XI) Ice fishing shelters

Yet another important ice fishing gear is an ice fishing shelter. Well, this is not thought of as much of a gear but as far as mobility is concerned, you’ll need to consider it as one. The trick behind getting the best is going for one that’s easy and quick to set up, long-lasting and easy to transport as well.

Ice fishing shelters

(XII) Ice tackle storage

Commonly referred to as a tackle box, you’ll be needing one of these if you want everything in order from your lures to meals on the go and other accessories, tackle storage is of utmost importance if you don’t want to lose anything as you’re out in your favorite ice fishing site.

(XIII) Fillet knives

Yet another must-have for any style of fishing is the fillet knife. These normally come in different sizes all of which come in handy when separating flesh from bone. I’d recommend that you get a number of these to have an easy time while filleting your catch.

Fillet knives

(XIV) Fishfinders

Whereas a handheld GPS lets you know where you’re going, fish finders, on the other hand, will make it easier for you find the fish. Rather than having to try your luck, a fish finder simply narrows down the search hence saves you a lot of time and work.

fish finder

Here is the details guideline for ice fishing fish finders 

(XV) Ice fishing chairs and tables

These are quite essential if you want to get the best out of your fishing. The trick behind choosing a table-chair combo is ensuring that what you settle for is portable and easy to store. Depending on the number of people you’ll be going out with, you can go for any number of chairs.

(XVI) Tip-ups

Mostly recommended for anyone who’s targeting the big fish, tip-up lets you know when the fish strikes your live or frozen bait. You’ll, therefore, be able to cover a large area as compared to what would be the case if you only had one fishing rod with you in the ice.

Tip-ups(XVII) Underwater camera

An underwater camera is yet another essential ice fishing equipment. It’s not easy to see through the water especially considering that there’s a layer of ice over the water, don’t you agree? Well, with an underwater camera, you’ll easily be able to see as the fish approaches your bait

(XVIII) Ice fishing boot

When it comes to the boots here, I’d like to focus more on how it’s performance will be as you walk in the ice. If you’ll be encountering a lot of snow, then you’d better go for studded rubber boots, crampons or you could also go for one that’s got fishing cleats. The trick here is to increase traction and give you a stable footing.

(XIX) Ice fishing sleds

This comes in handy quite well when it comes to hauling all your ice fishing accessories. From your ice fishing shelter to your fishing rods, an ice fishing sled should do the trick. Be sure to pick one that’s going to accommodate all your fishing gear and you’ll be good to go

Ice fishing sleds

7. Ensure you’ve got enough supplies

Nothing good comes easy, right? As far as ice fishing is concerned, you’ll have to spend a huge portion of your day out in the ice which means that you’ll need to have enough supplies.

You’ll be needing food and water to for both satiation and hydration. Since it will be quite cold, you’ll need to keep warm which is why you should have hot drinks as well. Just to be safe, you should pack extra food since you’ll be burning more calories than usual due to the cold.

8. Select the best fishing spot

Ice fishing is different from what you’re normally used to since there’s a high chance that you’ll have to stick on one spot most of the time. It would, therefore, be wise if you get the best possible spot to fish in.

The easiest and most effortless way to go would be to detect suitable fishing spots before the winter kicks in and going to those spots after the ice has covered the fishing ground.

Alternatively, if you’re visiting a completely new fishing ground, you could get a fish finder with which you can be able to know where the fish hang out.

9. The thicker the ice, the safer you are

Well, this is quite straightforward. The last thing you want while ice fishing is for the ice to collapse beneath your feet and send you into the ice-cold water underneath.

But how do you really confirm for thickness?

For starters, you could inspect the surface for any cracks. There’s no way the ice will be able to support your weight plus that of your gear all day long if it’s got any cracks on it.

For the thickness, ensure that the ice has a blue tint. This should be about 4 inches or more and should be able to support at least 200 pounds. ice that is as much as 15” thick, on the other hand, should be able to support a single car or even a van.

You should also stay away from light gray/dark black ice since such ice is melting. White to opaque ice, on the other hand, most probably contains air pockets whereas slushy/ molted ice is rotting away at the center and will barely hold your weight.

10. Drill the fishing hole.

Once you’re sure that the ice is thick enough for you to stand on, the next thing you ought to do is drill a hole in the ice.

Drill the fishing hole

We’ve already taken a look at the essential gear you should have with you while out in the ice and one of the most important of all is the ice auger which is what you’ll be using to drill a hole in the ice.

  • Have the auger positioned 90 degrees on the ice. If it’s a manual auger, turn it clockwise while simultaneously pushing it down against the ice.
  • Do this until you reach the water and then scrape away the excess ice around the hole. you could also use a skimmer to remove any ice that’s in the water.

Fishing rods vs fish traps- which one’s better?

Now that you’ve got your hole drilled, then next thing to do would be to get down to the actual fishing. There’re two alternatives here- you could either use a rod or a fish trap.

Let’s have a look at how either of these works, shall we?

  • Fishing rods

For ice fishing, you should go with light fishing rods. During the winter, the fish aren’t as active as they are when it’s a little warmer hence it is much less of a struggle to reel in your catch. Graphite or fiberglass rods are the best when it comes to weight since they’re also strong.

Lighter rods are also much more responsive and provided you use the recommended quality, they’ll not break when bent.

First, put a sinker on the hook and unreel the line till it hits the bottom. After this, reel it up a few feet then place a bobber where the water surface is. Depending on the species you want to catch, place a bait on your lure then return the line back in the hole.

Now here’s where you’ll need to be patient. You could prop up the rod in a sturdy location or use a tip up. The latter just has to be placed over the hole and it’ll tip a little when the fish bites. For the rod, the bobber will move and this should be your queue to start reeling in your catch

  • Fish traps

When you think of ice fishing traps, the next thing that should come in mind should be a tip up. With a tip up, you’ll save on time and if you’ve got a fishing rod as well, chances are that you might end up getting double the amount of fish you’re used to.

Once you drill your hole, you’ll need to place the tip up over the hole. here’s how you should best do this:

  • First and most importantly, go for a tip-up that’s built to last. Avoid plastic unless you’re on a budget since it will easily get damaged by the extremely cold temperatures and exposure to sunlight.
  • The best tip up will have the spool under water since this way, the spool and line will not freeze. Fill the spool with the line and most preferably a braided line.
  • Once you’ve filled the spool with the braided line, go ahead and attach the bait on the hook. This should be done while considering the species of fish you’re after.
  • Position the tip up over the hole you drilled and ensure it’s easily visible in the snow- have it brightly colored and the flag indicator should also be brightly colored.
  • Go ahead and drop the bait then wait for the fish to take it. In the meantime, you could try fishing with your rod in another location since this way, you’ll cover more ground in a shorter time.

30 Best ice fishing place in the USA

Before you go ahead and head out fishing, you ought to be certain that you’ll be getting the most out of your fishing, don’t you agree?

Well, let’s cut to the chase and have a look at the best ice fishing sites in the US

  1. The Kenai national wildlife refuge, Alaska

If you’re looking for a fishing hotspot in Alaska, then you should definitely try out the Kenai national wildlife refuge. This fishing site is accessible by all vehicles, you won’t be needing a snowmobile to get to it since there are roads through the whole part and you get to enjoy world-class fishing.


  1. Tamarac national wildlife refuge

All the way to Minnesota, we’ve got the Tamarac national wildlife refuge. The best part about this fishing site is that as an angler, you have 4 spots to choose from. There’s the North Tamarac, Pine, Two islands, and the Waboose Lakes. The interesting thing about all these options is that the distance between them is quite short.

Image result for Tamarac national wildlife refuge winter

  1. Trempealeau national wildlife refugee

Boasting to offer anglers access to the most renowned waters in the united states, the Trempealeau national wildlife refuge in Wisconsin gives you access to the upper Mississippi River. It’s also the best choice if you’re hoping to catch perch, crappie, and bluegills all day.

  1. The devil’s lake wetland management district

Since 2016 when it was made available to anglers, the Devil’s Lake Wetland Management District in North Dakota, this ice fishing spot gives you the best chances of striking either a walleye or a pike. It’s definitely bound to give you better odds of striking a catch as compared to other fishing spots.

  1. The Missisquoi national wildlife refuge

From getting to catch plenty of fish too easy mobility, the Missisquoi national wildlife refuge is definitely going to give you the best fishing experience. This fishing site is known for having the most plentiful bass and northern pike. It does give you parking spots all year round and more so, it does sit center and in front of Gander, Goose, and Missisquoi Bays.

  1. Lake Champlain, Vermont

If you’re looking to have the best ice fishing in New England, then you should definitely give Lake Champlain. There’s a 120-mile long bay part of which belongs to Canada and the New York state. You’ll be getting Salmon, trout, northern pike, yellow perch and the white perch as well as local ice fishing accessory shops.

Lake Champlain, Vermont

  1. Caples Lake in California

Popular for rainbow trout, some brook, and cutthroat, Caples lake is one of the best winter fishing spots in California. It is situated near south lake Tahoe on Highway 88 and just east of Kirkwood Ski Resort. If you’re also looking for a perfect place for ice fishing in the sunshine, then Caples lake definitely suits you best.

  1. Lake of the woods, Minnesota

Lake of the woods offers possibly the widest variety of fish to choose from inside its 65,000 miles of shoreline. It’s also the largest inland freshwater lake in the continental U.S. after the great lakes and you’ll also be getting over 50 resorts that offer ice fishing tours

  1. The Higgins Lake, Minnesota

Northern Michigan is meant for anyone who wants to have a late December start for the ice fishing season that, if you’re lucky enough, can stretch all the way to May. Deep and slower to freeze, the Higgins Lake has a 21-mile shoreline and covers as much as 10,185 acres. It also has got plenty of trout and smelt and you could also find perch, crappie small and largemouth bass.

  1. Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin

Stretching 8 miles from east to west and close to 30 miles from north to south, this is the largest inland lake in Wisconsin containing walleye, the white bass, sturgeon and the perch. Despite being 21 feet deep in most parts, it does bring together competitors from all over the country for fishing contests.

  1. The Mississippi River, Lowa

Even though lakes may seem like the best choice for ice fishing, the Mississippi River is the top pick for most ice fishers in Lowa. With the best spots along the river being Bussey Lake, the Sunfish Lake, and the mud lake, you should expect to strike crappies, panfish, bluegills and the perch. Mid-December to February is the best time to go but if you’re lucky, the ice could last till March.

  1. Gull Lake in Michigan

These waters are deep and definitely dark and you may need a flasher to attract the fish. You’ll have a wide variety of species at your disposal. There’s the rainbow trout, bluegill, giant northers and the yellow perch. The best time to start would be in January when the ice freezes and continue all the way to February or March if you’re lucky.

  1. Lake Mille Lacs, Minnesota

Being the second largest lake in Minnesota, it is a massive Midwestern ice fishing spot. It covers an outstanding 132, 000 acres in 3 different counties. It’s also surrounded by experienced fishing resorts and is harbors walleye, rock bass, the northern pike, Muskie and the jumbo perch.

  1. Waubay Lake in South Dakota

All through this 1,600-acre lake, there is plenty of smallmouth bass, crappie and jumbo perch not to forget that it’s one of the best hotspots for walleye fishing. The ice fishing season starts in late December and runs all the way to march; you could be lucky enough to hit the 25 fish limit in just a few hours.

  1. Devil’s Lake, North Dakota

Covering over 200,000 acres, this lake boasts to be the largest natural water body in North Dakota and it is home to a large number of walleyes, northern pike, and the white bass. The fishing season in this lake runs all the way from December to March.

  1. Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Being one of the largest freshwater lakes in the globe, it runs about 250 miles all the way from north to south and has been the destination of most ice anglers over the past few years. On this fishing site, you can strike trophy greenback walleye some of which may weigh even over 10 pounds.

  1. Silver Lake, California

Besides the Caples Lake, Silver Lake is yet another lake that’s worth checking out and here’s why:

You’re bound to strike some of the largest trout that may even be over 20 inches long and if you’re lucky enough, you may strike a 12-pound mackinaw trout that might be over 30 inches long. Brook and cutthroat are also present but the sad part about this lake is that the area around it is not well developed hence not easily accessible.

Silver Lake, California

  1. Lake Simcoe, Ontario

Well renowned for the Canadian ice fishing championships, lake Simcoe, though shallow harbors some of the largest perch hence it’s popularity in the whole of southern Ontario. As for mobility, this shouldn’t be a problem since once the ice freezes, you can set up your hut and use snowmobiles to move around.

  1. Lake Washington, Minnesota

With the deepest point of this 1,487-acre lake being about 50 feet, every winter season rewards the anglers with a lot of black bullheads, bluegill, the bigmouth buffalo, crappie, largemouth bass and the yellow perch. Due to its proximity to Minneapolis, this is actually an ice fishing destination for most

  1. Fort Peck Reservoir, Montana

If you’re looking to avoid large crowds of anglers, then a reservoir is definitely a good choice. There aren’t any big cities nearby hence it’s not really an ice fishing hotspot and even though you may take about a day to the site, it’ll be worth the effort as there are trophy walleye, trout, sauger and the northern pike all of which are in abundance.

  1. Strawberry Reservoir, Utah

Lying in an open mountain that’s nearly 25 miles south-east of Heber City Strawberry the reservoir has got trophy cutthroat, trout, and rainbow. The best time to hit this spot would be between the month of January and March. For the best experience, you ought to set your traps on the bats and coves.

  1. The Oneida Lake, New York

Within the whole of New York state, the Oneida Lake, is located 10 miles north of Syracuse, is the largest o all lakes spreading over about 51,000 acres. It’s home to the walleyes and on the Big Bay, you could strike schools of crappie, perch, smallmouth and largemouth bass.

  1. Cold Lake, Alberta/Saskatchewan

Being one of the deepest lakes in Saskatchewan, Canada, it’s also one of the best ice fishing locations as you can find trout that are about 15 pounds. Other large fish include the big pike, walleye, jumbo perch and the whitefish. Due to its large size, the lake can also take longer to freeze.

  1. Lake Gogebic, Michigan

Best known for its reputed perch, this is a dream come true for every ice fisherman. The lake is situated in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and with over 10 inches of ice covering the lake, you can easily navigate parts of the lake that have slush under the snow and have the best time possible.

  1. Chambers Lake, Colorado

You don’t have to go too far north in order to enjoy ice fishing. Even though it’s not that far north, the Rocky mountain temperatures of Colorado offer an ideal fishing spot at the Chambers Lake. It’s 250 acres in size and renowned for the Kokanee salmon, rainbow, and cutthroat.

Chambers Lake, Colorado

  1. Lake Michigan

Depending on how severe the winter is, this vast lake draws anglers to its banks in Michigan itself, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Illinois. Due to its vast size, you may need to be watchful of the ice since it may give in to too much weight in some areas. The lake does offer plenty of fish inclusive of which are salmon and trout.

  1. Lake Erie,

Boasting to have one of the best balances in the number of all the big fish in the world, on this lake, you can strike a catch of as much as 12 lbs. Maneuverability is also quite simple since you can move over the lake to open water patches quite easily

  1. The upper red lake, Minnesota

If you prefer to be early on your ice fishing, then you should definitely give this lake a shot. It is home to a lot of walleye and the best part about it is that you can drive snowmobiles and ATVs over the ice and besides just walleye, you can strike a pike or a crappie.

  1. The leech lake, Minnesota

Looking for one of the best walleye fisheries in the upper mid-west of the USA? Well, then Lake leech is what you should definitely check out. It is home to a multitude of fish species whose size and the number is mind-blowing. Sacrifice a few hours after the sun goes down and you’ll probably have the best ice fishing of your life.

  1. Tobin Lake

Reputed for having record-breaking fish over the past years, Tobin lake is one of the best freshwater lakes for large walleye and pike. You could land a pike that’s over 25 lbs. and a walleye that’s over 18.3 lbs.- quite outstanding, right?

Tobin Lake

Final Verdict

You’ve got pretty much everything you need to have the best time while fishing in the winter. Unlike any other time of the year, fishing in the winter could be quite tricky, you’ll need to pack more than you’re used to and be twice as cautious.


Be sure to master your fishing grounds (know which areas offer better odds of having large numbers of fish) and most importantly exercise utmost patience while out on the ice- remember, ice fishing is unlike what you’re normally used to.

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