Ice fishing requires strong ice, shelter, and fishing gear. Ice safety can be determined by thickness, color, and water type. Shelter options include vehicles or ice houses. Gear includes an ice auger, measuring device, tipups, and jig rods. Proper cold weather gear and knowledge of local laws and regulations are also important.
Ice fishing is a popular winter activity in Scandinavia, Russia, Canada and northern parts of the United States with long, cold winters. For a successful exit you need strong ice, some kind of shelter and emergency and fishing tackle.
First and foremost, you need strong ice. There are many recorded incidents of people, cars, snowmobiles, or all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) falling through ice because people have made poor judgments about the safety of the ice. Ice safety can be determined by examining, the thickness of the ice, the color of the ice, the outside temperature, the depth of water under the ice, the type of water body, and whether the water body contains salt water or fresh water.
If there is flowing water, cracks, breaks, abnormal looking ridges, significant slush or thaw, it is not safe to walk on ice, let alone drive. The color of the ice can also help you determine the integrity of the ice. The strongest ice to have for ice fishing is black, blue, or green ice. Be especially careful when measuring black ice because it is new. After many days of sub-zero weather, white ice is the most common. It’s safe, but it has to be twice the thickness of black, blue, or green ice to support the same weight.
Generally the guidelines for ice thickness are as follows:
3″ (7 cm) – Don’t go on ice!!!!!
4″ (10 cm) – Ice holds approximately 200 lbs. (91 kg) It’s okay to walk or freeze fish.
5″ (12 cm) – Ice holds approximately 800 lbs. (363 kg) You can drive your snowmobile or ATV on ice.
8″ – 12″ (20 – 30 cm) – Ice will hold between 1500-2000 lbs. (680-907 kg) You can drive your car on ice or carry fish with a large group of people.
12″ – 15″ (30 – 38 cm) – Ice holds over 2000 lbs. (907 kg) It’s OK to drive your truck or van on ice.
After determining how strong your ice fishing ice is, the second thing you need is shelter. Some people choose to dress very warm and not use shelter at all, but this really requires braving the elements and is not recommended. When the ice is strong enough, some people simply use their vehicles for shelter. Others tow an ice house, also called an ice hut or shack, out onto the ice so they can shelter from the wind without having to back and forth from their vehicles. Larger iceboxes have bottoms with areas that open up where holes can be drilled for fishing, and may have room for a television, large stove, generator, and even bunk beds. Smaller iceboxes may be bottomless or have room for only one ice hole and one person.
Lastly, you can’t go ice fishing without your gear. You will need an ice auger to drill the fishing holes and a measuring device to measure the thickness of the ice and the depth of the water. There are manual augers for thinner ice or electric augers for thick, hard-to-break ice.
Two of the most popular options for catching fish are tipups and jig rods. Tipups are placed over the hole with a bait and fishing line. They are spring loaded so when a fish bites a flag pops up. Tips work well if you live in an area that allows you to fish with multiple lines. For a more hands-on approach you should use a jig rod, which is basically just a small fishing rod.
Besides carrying your cell phone, a first aid kit, an emergency blanket, and a change of clothes in a waterproof bag, the rest of the equipment you need for ice fishing falls under your regular cold weather gear. Put on your hats, mittens or gloves, face masks, thermal underwear and socks, snow boots. If you have an ice chest that fits over a stove, you should dress in layers as it can get very hot.
On a final note, it is important before you go ice fishing to check the laws and regulations in your area. Many places require you to purchase a fishing license and have guidelines for how many lines and what times of year you can put your ice chest out or when it needs to be off the ice.