How To Start Ice Fishing For Beginners

Man in ice fishing gear on a frozen lake holding a big salmon.

The temperature is dropping quickly and although many won’t be riding in boats this winter, ice fishing is becoming more popular. More fishermen are starting to bundle up in layers to see what kind of fish awaits them underneath the thick ice sheet. If this is you, how to start ice fishing begins with the basics. While it is different than traditional fishing, it can still be a productive way to land great fish.

In this post, we will discuss the things you should do if you want to brave the cold and get out there. Don’t think of it as a difficult activity either. It isn’t. If you can do all of the basics, you can catch fish all winter long! You just have to remember what species of fish you are after, where they are, and what they are eating. If you can remember and provide those three, you can ice fish just as well as the pros.

Bring The Right Equipment

1. Get Licensed And Bring A Tent

Like all types of fishing, you will need a fishing license. Although you still need one, it is not a separate one from a standard license. A standard fishing license will still work if you want to go ice fishing. If you already have one, great. You don’t need to do anything! If you don’t have a license yet, you will need to get licensed to fish. Aside from that, you will greatly benefit from a shelter.

If you will be fishing for an extended period of time say, an hour or more, it is essential that you have a shelter that can keep the elements off of you. As temperatures as low as -10 degrees start to touch your skin, it will make it brutally cold! Cold enough to completely ruin your fishing day! I reviewed an ice shelter that I believe fits most people for a good price!

Click Here To See My Review Of My Favorite Ice Shelter!

2. Bring An Auger

You will not be catching fish unless you can drill a hole. An auger is a device that is powered by a motor. It drills holes in the ice. Alternatively, you can use an ice spud or pick but an auger is faster and does a better job. Try to select a good auger that has sharp blades and is built well. There are also more portable hand-crank versions if you are into that.

Ultimately, you need a way to put a hole in a thick ice sheet. Bringing a motorized auger will allow you to save more energy and put it into fishing and staying warm instead of blowing your back out trying to stab through a foot and a half of ice with an ice spud. It is certainly one of the items to take ice fishing.

3. A Great Rod And Reel

It goes without saying that your rod, reel, line, and hook are the connection between you and the fish. This means that skimping on quality can cost you catches. When you are just starting out, however, keep it simple. Keeping it simple does not mean that you have to be cheap though. Use an ice fishing combo that is popular in your community, spool it with some new ice fishing line, and tie it on a hook.

This is a very basic setup but keeping it simple is the best way to get started and this method is foolproof.

How To Start Ice Fishing

1. Find The Fish

Finding the fish in a frozen lake is just as important as finding fish in another body of water that is unfrozen. You must be familiar with the biology of the fish species that you want to catch and their habits. Try looking for panfish and bass around the shoreline and next to the cover.

Walleye and pike prefer more open water. If possible, use a sonar system under the water to find individual fish as well as schools.

2. Drill A Hole

After you have found a great fishing spot, you want to set up your gear before drilling your hole. If you have one, set your ice shack up first and turn on your portable heater. Also, remember to set up your rod holders too. After that, use the auger to drill into the ice and make a nice hole. Use an ice skimmer to clean the hole up and remove any remaining ice.

Make multiple holes so that you can fish in slightly different areas. The fish may be near one or the other. Take the time to drill more than one.

3. Start Fishing

On your hook, you want to rig a live minnow. They perform the best in colder weather because fish recognize them as food. A live minnow should do well-targeting panfish like bluegill and crappie but will also do a great job at targeting bass, pike, and walleye.

When you use live bait, minnows are preferred because they draw the most strikes and they move the most. All game fish love them too! Put the hook through the top of the back, near the tail, or through both lips. Alternatively, rig them on an ice jig or use an ice fishing jig lure.

isherman with auger drilling through the ice on a frozen lake.

Catching Fish Through The Ice

1. How To Rig Live Bait Or Lures For Ice Fishing

I believe choosing a lure is the easiest thing in this sport. You have already set up camp and drilled a hole. Bait or lure selection is easy. Try using a live minnow rigged with a thin wire hook or ice jig and a small bobber. Put it in a rod holder. Wait for the bobber to go down. When it does, play the fish.

You can also use popular ice fishing jigs to catch fish too. Just make sure you are jigging them. Use a jigging crank, a jigging spoon, or a blade bait. Move the rod tip up and down once you tie them on and put them in the water. Wait for them to get down to the right depth, lift them up, and let them die.

2. Setting The Hook On An Ice Rod

Setting the hook with an ice rod is not a whole lot different than with normal fishing gear. The thing you need to be mindful of is that an ice rod is much shorter and will provide less leverage for you to drive that hook in. Due to this, I always suggest using a rod holder when bait fishing or providing a firm and solid hookset with your hands.

Wait for the rod tip to bend over for at least three seconds before you pull up on the rod. You will immediately know if you set it properly because the rod will load up and the fish will start fighting to get away. Go ahead and fight the fish as normal, utilizing your drag.

3. Landing A Fish Through A Hole In The Ice

Landing fish once you have them hooked consists of a few things. For bluegill, crappie, perch, and other fish that can be easily lifted out of the water, just lift them straight up and pull them out. Unhook them and do not put them on the ice for any reason. If you do, they will die.

The same thing goes for big fish too. If you have a bass, pike, or walleye on, just get them close enough to the surface and physically lift them up with your hands. Again, do not put them on the ice.

Conclusion – Anybody Can Start Ice Fishing Today

In conclusion, how to start ice fishing is easy but cold. It takes some essential pieces of equipment, bravery for the cold, some nice clothes, a way to make and clean a hole, some nice ice fishing tackle, and some patience. Ultimately, I believe absolutely anybody can enjoy fishing the ice to the extent that many others do as long as they are catching fish.

It is fun, it is easy, and there really isn’t anything tastier than freshly-caught coldwater fish fillets.

Catching fish will be a little complicated at first because it requires you to fish at the right depth after locating schools. To be honest, though, that is all fishing for you. It is also the reason so many anglers like myself keep going back for the tug, again and again, time after time. How did you start ice fishing? Let us know in the comments!

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