Winter does two things for anglers. It either drives them inside for sixth months and forces them to count down until spring or it pulls them from their warm home to the nearest ice.
Ice fishing has never been for the faint of heart. Getting up early, finding a spot on the lake, setting up the ice hut, drilling holes, setting tip-ups, etc. The list goes on and on. For some, this is the most rewarding type of fishing possible. For others, it’s a chance to get together with friends and kill an afternoon.
In all outdoor activities, gear can make or break an adventure. Most outdoorsy folks have a horror story of an ATV breaking 30 miles from the nearest road or a cheap tent leaking on a rainy night. There are fewer helpless feelings than when a piece of equipment breaks in the middle of the wilderness. Getting out of the situation unscathed requires a bit of luck and ingenuity.
There are certain outdoor sports where skimping on gear is possible. Bass anglers don’t need to have a $100,000 bass boat to catch a personal best. Backpackers don’t need the nicest backpack to summit a mountain. In ice fishing, there are few instances where you can go the cheap route, but for the most part reputable gear is going to make your life far easier. With that in mind, I’ve put together an ice fishing gear list to help increase your productivity, safety and comfort out on frozen water.
CLOTHING MADE FOR THE ICE
The first equipment you should focus on gathering is clothing. Being cold is miserable. As long as you’re warm, it doesn’t necessarily matter what happens. It’s much easier to quit if the fish aren’t biting when you’re cold. Proper clothing can help you power through a slow morning and find the afternoon/evening bite.
Start from the bottom up. Socks are one of the most vital parts of staying warm on a winter day. Any sort of wool sock is going to do the trick. L.L. Bean sells Merino Wool socks that will absolutely keep your feet warm.
The Kamik Men’s NationPlus Boots are a great option. They have a 3M Thinsulate liner as well as a rubber sole that’s going to grip well on the ice. These boots are extremely well-reviewed and are going to do the trick on the ice. They’re about a foot tall so don’t worry about cutting through the deep and slushy snow.
Whatever boots you choose, be sure to find ones that are waterproof, have a rubber sole that grips ice and are tall enough to let you tromp through the deep snow. Everyone has their preference for what’s best, but be sure to try a few pairs on to make sure you’re content.
The next piece of clothing to invest in is an ice fishing suit. These suits are windproof, waterproof and have drainage systems. Many people choose to use traditional snow pants and jackets, but these ice suits have tear-away panels that allow the water to rush out if you do happen to fall in. It’s a safety measure that most don’t think about, but it’s necessary especially during early ice. The Frogg Toggs Pilot Guide Bib is a reasonably priced option.
These bibs aren’t only good for ice fishing. They’re a great piece of clothing to have for all winter activities!
The next important piece of clothing is a jacket. Striker is going to be your most well-known brand for ice fishing clothing. As difficult as it may be to bite the bullet, these jackets live up to the price. They are extremely waterproof and block all sorts of wind. They don’t require you to wear as many layers as you may have to in a traditional winter jacket.
The final pieces of necessary clothing are the hat, gloves and face shield. Your best bet for gloves are either Neoprene gloves that are made for diving or Thinsulate gloves. These each has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s more of a preference. The neoprene gloves can get holes in them from the tackle and the Thinsulate gloves aren’t 100% waterproof. Take your pick, but be sure that they’re one of these two things.
Be sure to have a hat and something to keep your face warm. Whether it’s a scarf or an insulated buff, they’re necessary tools to keep you happy during a cold day.
RODS, REELS AND TACKLE FOR THE RIGHT SETUP
Ice Fishing Rods and Reels
For beginners, it can be overwhelming when choosing a rod. Setups can range from budget prices to hundreds of dollars. Be sure to know what sort of fish you’re targeting when purchasing a rod. The average length is 24 inches, but these are more for panfish and some smaller bass, pike, and walleye. You may need to up to a 36 or even 48-inch rod if you’re targeting larger fish.
St. Croix or Berkley are some of the most reputable brands and offer solid warranties on their products.
As far as reels are concerned, basic ice spinning reels are going to be the most common. They are smaller than traditional spin reels. For beginners, it’s best to buy a setup that already has a rod and reel.
As you gain more experience, you can mix and match to your preferences. You can find these combos on St. Croix and Berkely. Also, Shakespeare is a great option. They’re affordable and are going to get the job done. 13 Fishing’s new and striking Radioactive Pickle combo is one I like a lot.
For line, the most common option is 4 to 8-pound test fluorocarbon. It’s lighter and makes it harder for fish to see. Also, more of this line is going to fit on your ice reel. If you’re targeting larger fish, tie on some braid and use a fluorocarbon leader. The final option would be to use a steel leader especially if you are after walleye and pike.
Other Tackle You’ll Need
For beginners, you’ll likely be jigging. These are small hooks with a weighted “head” attached to them. They come in numerous different colors. It’s smart to have an assortment of colors to find out what the fish-like. When fishing a jig, most anglers will attach a wax worm, minnow head or another type of bait to entice the fish. Drop it down to where you see the fish on your finder and jig it up and down. Popular jig brands are Venom and Lindy.
Another option would be a spoon. They’re larger than jigs and emulate a baitfish. It’s smart to attach some sort of bait to these to bring the fish around. Frost Bite makes solid ice fishing spoons and so does Swedish Pimple.
The final option would be a swim jig. These are similar to an open water crankbait. The Rapala Jigging Rap and Rattlin’ Rap are two of the most common swim jigs. These swim jigs need movement to work. Be active with your rod and do quick jerky movements to alert the fish to what is around.
STAYING COMFORTABLE WITH SHELTERS AND HEATERS
Shelter and heaters are similar to clothing. They are going to determine how comfortable you will be on the water. Some folks opt to use pop-up shelters. These allow for more movement and versatility when ice fishing. If you’re hitting a lake for the first time, a pop-up is best. You may not be aware of the best places to fish so being able to maneuver is necessary. Eskimo, Otter, and Clam are going to be great choices and won’t break the bank.
If you’re going to be fishing in the frigid north, a permanent ice house is great. They take more time to set up, but you’ll be thankful. Depending on your budget, you can purchase a house that allows you to sleep in it, has a TV and a mini kitchen to cook some food. Or, you can go as basic as you would like with four walls and a few holes in the floor to drill. If the weather warms, you can drill some holes outside of the house and use it as a warming shelter.
Ice fishing heaters are equally as important as the shelter. The old standby are the Mr. Heater Big Buddy and Portable Big Buddy. They run off small one-pound propane tanks. You need your heater to be reliable.
Be sure to test it before you leave the house. I’ve been stuck on the water with a broken heater too many times. The Buddy Heaters are going to do the trick and are fairly affordable. Be sure to check if the heaters are indoor rated before your purchase. If not, crack a vent in your ice shelter or leave the door partly open. Carbon Monoxide can fill an ice shelter quickly and make things dangerous.
These heaters range from the basic to the high-end. They can be a bit pricey but well worth it on those cold days!
ICE AUGERS – WHAT’S YOUR FLAVOR?
People can spend as much as they’d like on an auger. There are three main types to choose from: electric, gas and hand augers.
Electric augers are light, efficient and only take a rechargeable lithium battery to operate. They are the more expensive of the three types but well worth it. Eskimo, Clam and Trophy Strike all make solid augers that will drill any type of hole you need.
Gas augers are going to be a bit heavier and tougher to operate, though usually more powerful than electric. Like any small engine, be prepared for issues after sitting for a summer. Also, be sure to put fresh gas in your auger to start the season. Again, Eskimo, Clam and Trophy Strike are some of the best options and are moderately priced.
The final option is the hand auger. These are going to give you the best workout! The best part of these augers is that they can be had on the cheap. It’s a great choice for a beginner.
Try to use these mainly on early ice otherwise, the thick ice can get frustrating to drill. They aren’t going to allow you to drill as many test holes, but they obviously won’t break the bank. Plus, you don’t have to worry about a bad battery or engine. They’ll always work no matter the temperature!
All of these augers will come in six, eight or ten-inch options.
ELECTRONICS – SEE WHAT’S BENEATH YOUR FEET
Flashers or fish finders are going to make your life easier. Some anglers like doing it the hard way, but why not use technology to your advantage? You can use them to locate fish. Drop the sensor into the hole and see what’s under you. Once you locate fish by seeing the small solid line, drop your line. You’ll be able to see your jig fall to the bottom near the fish.
Once your line is in the water, jig it up and down and watch the fish approach it. It’s almost video game-like. You’ll see the fish swim up hard at your bait. Keep one eye on the tip of your rod. You’ll see a quick jerk and then go ahead and set the hook. Be sure to remove the dongle of the finder from your hole when you hook a fish. You don’t want to lose a fish because of the line getting tangled on the finder.
Marcum, Vexilar, and Garmin are the best options. These fish finders are good values for the quality and features they provide out on the ice.
SAFETY FIRST ON THE ICE – INDESPENSIBLE EQUIPMENT
Being safety conscious while on the water should be a top priority. A few essentials are ice cleats, an ice chisel, and safety picks. Ice cleats will help you grip the ice and prevent you from falling and hurting yourself.
The ice chisel is especially helpful during early ice. As you walk, pound it into the ice and see how many times it takes to breakthrough. It’s also not a bad idea to take an ice sample. Use the chisel to cut around in a circle and examine the ice. If it’s chalky, don’t go much further. If you can see straight through it, you’re safe.
The safety picks are there if you fall through. They string over your shoulder and are easily accessible if you do fall. If you’re in the water, try to control your breathing and stab the ice picks into the top of the ice and drag yourself out of the water. They’re inexpensive and can be lifesavers.
ROUNDING OUT OUR ICE FISHING GEAR LIST
Some final pieces of gear that you’ll want are an ice sled and ice scoop. Don’t overlook these 2 simple items.
An ice sled is exactly what it sounds like. You can load your gear up in it and it has a rope for you to drag. These are great for maneuvering around the lake as well as keeping your gear organized.
An ice scoop is a cheap tool that keeps you from getting too frustrated. If it’s a slushy day, your hole will fill with half-frozen water and trap your line/fishfinder. Use the scoop to get the ice out and keep your hole clean.
There you have it. While no list can include everything under the sun that you’ll need, this checklist makes up most of the important things necessary for a successful, safe and comfortable trip out to your favorite frozen pond or lake for a day of ice fishing. Have fun!
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