Ice Fishing Basics, Tips, & Gear List

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Yes, it is true, ice fishing is quite the cool sport and hobby, pun totally intended. All jokes aside, ice fishing is a very fun pastime, sport, and yes, means of sustenance too. Heck, sometimes there’s nothing better than going out on the ice with your boys (or girls), drinking some hot coffee, and fishing for whatever is under the ice.

With that being said, you can just bust out any old fishing rod, smash a hole in the ice, and expect to succeed and catch fish, or to be safe for that matter. As the name implies, ice fishing is out on the ice, on a frozen lake, which means that there are certain dangers involved.

ice fishing tips

At any rate, we are here today to provide you with ice fishing basics, tips, and a gear list too. We are going to talk about safety precautions, ice fishing basics, some tips, and what kind of gear you are going to need for a day out on the ice.


Essential Ice Fishing Basics & Ice Fishing Tips

There are so many different ice fishing basics and tips that we have to share with you. Ice fishing might sound relatively simple, which in some ways it is. However, that said, you do need to follow the proper steps and tips, both so you can actually catch something and so you are safe too.

There is in fact so much to talk about here that we figured it would be easiest to give you the ice fishing basics and ice fishing tips in a step by step format. This way you can just cross each step off the list as you work your way down it.

1. Your Fishing License & The Laws

fishing law

The very first thing that you need to do before you begin ice fishing is to get your fishing license. No matter which country, state, province, or whatever regional area you are in, chances are pretty big that you will need a fishing license to ice fish legally. Getting a fishing license is usually very easy, and it doesn’t cost too much either, so that’s always nice.

Also beware that ice fishing for certain species may be off limits, plus there might be rules concerning size limits and quantity limits too. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the rules of your specific area first. Not following the laws surrounding ice fishing can end up being quire expensive.

2. Get An Ice Fishing Buddy

ice fishing buddy

One of the most important ice fishing tips that you absolutely need to follow is to fish with a friend. You never want to go ice fishing alone. This is a big mistake. Just in case somebody falls through the ice, there needs to be somebody else there to call for help or to pull the person out of the water.

It is sad to say, but people who go ice fishing alone run a pretty big risk, one that is definitely not worth the reward, not in the least.

3. Find Your Ideal Fishing Location

ice fishing location

The next step in your ice fishing journey, one of the biggest ice fishing basics, is to find where you want to go ice fishing. You will want to do some online research for this no doubt.

First of all, you need to make sure that the lake which you plan on going to actually allows for ice fishing. Online forums and just good old Google are great ways to find good ice fishing spots in your area.

There are some very popular ice fishing species to go for. Some of the most popular ones include sunfish, pile, largemouth bass, walleye (we have covered baits for Walleye here), crappie, trout, yellow perch, and a few others too. If you are aiming for a certain fish, make sure that the lake you are going to has them in abundance and that there are no specific rules against fishing for them.

Finding a good ice fishing location is very important no doubt, at least if you actually want to catch something. Also check for the weather where you want to fish. You don’t want really warm temperatures, or else the ice might not be safe enough to fish on. Paying attention to when the sun goes down is also very important.

You usually never want to be walking across the ice during the night, as this can be quite dangerous. With that being said, there are some very popular ice fishing lakes which will install lighting just for this reason.

4. Know The Safety Rules & Precautions

First aid kit

One of the most important ice fishing tips you need to follow is to familiarize yourself with all of the ice fishing safety rules, precautions, and to outfit yourself with safety gear too.

You want to know what you need to do if someone falls through the ice, if someone gets frostbite, if someone starts suffering from hypothermia, how long it is safe to ice fish for on any given day, and so on and so forth.

Like we said before, ice fishing does come with its own risks, so you do need to be prepared adequately.

You definitely want to bring a few key things with you when safety is concerned. You want to bring a rope so you can pull somebody up through the ice in the event that they fall through.

You also want to always be wearing a flotation vest for worst case emergencies. Also, bringing along a hypothermia prevention kit as well as a first aid kit is very strongly recommended.

When it comes to ice fishing basics, safety is always one of the biggest concerns and talking points, so don’t forget about it.

5. It’s All About The Clothing

ice fishing clothes

Yet another ice fishing basic that you need to keep in mind is to dress right. Yes guys, ice fishing is done in the freezing cold, and people often get wet doing this too. One very important tip here is to wear layers.

Instead of wearing one thick coat and set of pants, you want to wear multiple layers. Layers always help to keep the cold out and the warm in much better. The first layer you wear should always be a warm and moisture wicking material, one that is not made of cotton.

This will help keep body heat in, and it will wick away moisture, thus keeping you dry. The layer over the first moisture wicking layer should be something thick like wool, or some other material similar to wool, something that is really going to keep the heat it.

The final layer you wear should be something that is also fairly thick for warmth, but the most important aspect here is that your top layer, so your outer coat and pants, is waterproof and windproof.

You definitely don’t want to get wet or cold when you are out on the ice. Keep in mind that you also want warm and waterproof boots, gloves, and a hat as well. Some people like to wear spiked boots to prevent slipping on the ice, and goggles in case a snow storm happens.

6. Bring Enough Supplies

cooler box

When it comes to ice fishing basics, one thing which many people forget to thing about are their supplies. By this, we are talking about food, drink, water, and other such things.

Ice fishing is usually an all day adventure, so you don’t want to get to your ice fishing hut just to realize that you don’t have enough food and drink to last the day. That is not going to be very fun at all.

Bring a cooler with some water, a thermos with hot drinks, and plenty of carb filled snacks like nuts and peanut butter sandwiches.

7. Setting Up The Fishing Hole

ice fishing drill

Now that you have your fishing license, your supplies, you’ve got your gear, and you know all about the ice fishing safety precautions, you can set up your whole.

Once you get to the lake of your choosing, finding the exact ice fishing spot and setting up the hole is what needs to be done before you can start catching anything.

Before you do this, you might want to scout the lake in the fall to see where the fish are hanging out. This way you will know where to set up the hole in the winter.

Finding A Good Spot

In terms of finding a good spot to dig the hole in the ice, it does depend on the species you are fishing for. Some fish will be prone to hanging out in shallow water, some near structures like stumps, and some like flowing water, such as if there is a small underwater river, or a deep spot with a current.

It’s up to you to do the research so you know where to fish in relation to the depth and makeup of the lakebed. At any rate, once you have chosen your spot, you can begin.

Ice Thickness

Actually, before you start, you need to make sure that the ice is thick enough to stand on and fish from. You should always check the reports from your local government or ice fishing agency for the thickness of the ice.

Some people also just check the thickness of the ice after cutting the hole, but for obvious reasons this can be a bit dangerous. Some specialized ice fishing fish finders will actually be able to tell you how thick the ice is, which is convenient.

At any rate, a single fisherman and their gear should be standing on no less than 4 inches of ice. If you are two people, you will need around 6 or 7 inches of ice for safety. If you have a hut set up, 8 inches is more reasonable.

If you are deciding to bring an ice fishing sled or a snowmobile with you, you will want up to 12 inches of ice for maximum safety. When it comes to ice fishing tips and basics, we really cannot stress how important it is to ensure that the ice which you are standing on is thick enough to support you, your friends, and all of your gear. Accidents do happen.

Drilling The Ice Fishing Hole

Now you can use your ice fishing auger to dig the hole in the ice. Take the auger and make sure that the tip is perpendicular to the ice. Start turning it, which in some cases might be manually, while other augers have motors and move on their own.

Be sure not to push down way too hard. You don’t want the auger slipping out of your hands as the tip pushes through the bottom of the ice.

If you have too much weight on it, it could send the auger right down to the bottom, and potentially you with it. You can then use a scoop or shovel to scrape away excess ice from the edges to make a nicer and easier to use fishing hole.

Also, if you are not fishing at any given time, use some kind of lid or catch to cover the hole so nobody steps into it by mistake.

You can also use a good cordless drill for your ice auger, we have covered some good options here.

8. Fishing In The New Hole

Just before you start fishing, you want to check how deep the water is. To do this, you can use an ice fishing fish finder. You can also do this by using a hook and sinker. Drop the sinker into the water and then measure how much line is out.

Then, use a bobber to mark how deep the water is on the line. After you have done this, simply place the bait on the lure and drop it into the hole. You can use a tip-up to prop up your rod, so you don’t have to hold it.

On a side note, if you don’t get any bites after a couple of hours, you might want to drill a new hole and try a different location.

Ice Fishing Gear List

Ok, so as we mentioned above a couple of times, beginner ice fishing gear is essential to have.

Yes, there are quite a few things that you need to or should have in order to go ice fishing. So, what do you need for ice fishing?

1. A Rope

One thing you definitely want to have with you is a rope. This way, if somebody falls through the ice, you have a chance at pulling them up.

2. A Flotation Vest

Just as important when it comes to safety is a flotation vest. In case somebody falls through the ice, at least they won’t sink right to the bottom.

3. Hypothermia Prevention Kit

You also want to bring a hypothermia prevention kit with you. If someone is not dressed right, gets wet, or outright falls through the ice, having a good hypothermia prevention kit could very well save a life.

4. A First Aid Kit

On that same note, having a fully stocked first aid kit on hand is very important too. In case somebody gets cut or wounded, you will be able to patch them up until you can find proper medical treatment.

5. The Right Clothing

As we mentioned before, having the right clothing is very important too. Remember to layer up. A first moisture wicking layer, a second thick layer for warmth, and a third outer layer that is waterproof and windproof is the way to go.

Having waterproof and warm gloves, a hat, good boots with metal spikes, and goggles are all other things you want to have with you.

6. A Bucket or Cooler

You do also want to bring a bucket and/or cooler with you. A bucket is fine for fish that you have caught.

If you bring food with you, whether in a bucket or cooler, that can also double as something to hold the fish which you have caught.

7. Basic Supplies – Food & Drink

Also remember to bring lots of food and drink with you. It’s wise to bring something hot like hot cocoa or coffee to warm you up. You also want high energy foods that will provide you with calories and body heat, so you don’t get hungry or cold.

While many people love to drink alcohol while ice fishing, this is not recommended. For one, it will make things a lot less safe, and at the very least, alcohol will actually cool you down over the long run.

8. Rod & Line

Ok, so we are talking about fishing here, which means that you need to have a good ice fishing rod. Yes, all fishing rods will technically work, but a specialized ice fishing rod is best.

You do want to ensure that you have short rod, one that is no longer than 24 inches. Ice fishing can be a bit tight and there is really no need for a rod that is longer than 2 or 3 feet at the very most.

Having a short rod allows for manoeuvrability, it allows for fishing techniques like jigging, and it allows for sensitivity. Yes, ice fishing nibbles can be hard to detect, so having a very sensitive rod is quite important. Ice fishing rods are usually not even that expensive, which is nice.

On a side note, getting a tip up is a good idea too, which is something that allows you to rest the rod, and they feature a little flag which will pop up when you get a bite and line starts coming off the reel.

You do also need to have the proper ice fishing line in your arsenal. Yes, there is fishing line specifically intended for ice fishing, ones that are particularly suited to deal with freezing cold water.

Generally speaking, ice fishing line is going to be between 4 and 8 pound test, as most fish you will find just are not that big. However, if you know that there are bigger fish around, make sure to get line heavy and strong enough to get the job done.

9. The Reel

Just as important as the rod itself is the fishing reel. If you are a beginner, one ice fishing tip is to just get a reel and rod combo, as these are easy to find and generally quite reliable.

Keep in mind that you probably want a reel with a fairly high gear ratio so you can quickly retrieve your hook, hopefully with a fish on the end of it. You also want a reel with a good drag system to stop line from being pulled out too much or from breaking.

A reel that is specially designed and built with materials to deal with cold is necessary too.

10. Bait & Tackle

Ok, so this is a little difficult to talk about in detail, as the bait, lures, and other tackle you use will depend on the kind of fish you are going for.

You need to research the species of fish you are aiming to catch, and then find out which lures, baits, and fishing techniques are best to catch them with.

With that being said, lots of people like to use colorful skirted jigs and a vertical jigging technique to ice fish. This seems to work quite well for the most part.

Note: Don’t forget tip-ups, they come in very handy.

11. An Auger & Shovel

Yes, to get through the ice, or to actually dig your fishing hole, you will need an auger.

This is a must have item, and without it, you won’t ever be able to ice fish. If you are really serious about things, getting a real gas powered auger might be best, especially if the ice is very thick.

However, for thinner ice, a manually powered auger will probably work just fine. A shovel will also help when it comes to widening the hole and even things out.

12. An Ice Fishing Hut / Tent

Now, ice fishing huts can be a bit pricey. There is no doubt about that. Some ice fishing spots have little wooden huts set up on them. However, for the most part, if you want a shelter, you will probably have to bring your own.

Ice fishing shelters are more or less just big tents, with high ceilings, a large inner area, and are made of materials that are windproof and will work to keep the wind in a bit.

If you plan on ice fishing for the whole day, or for several days straight, having an ice fishing shelter will definitely come in handy.

13. Ice Fishing Sled

If you are big into ice fishing and need to travel pretty far distances to get to your hole or back to your accommodations, an ice sled, or even just a snowmobile with a sled, is a good investment.

No, these are not cheap, but if you are an avid ice fisher, these things can both be really handy.

Related: The best time to go ice fishing explained.

14. Ice Fish Finder & Electronics

The final thing that you want to have in your ice fishing arsenal is the flasher. A flasher is just a fish finder specifically designed for ice fishing. They send a beam of sonar to the bottom, which then bounces back up and allows you to map bottom contours, depth, and of course to find fish too.

Some people get flasher GPS combinations, which actually have maps built into them so you already know how deep the water is in any given area before you start fishing. Hey, actually finding the fish is half the battle, so having an ice fishing finder is a big deal.

We have covered our top 10 spot picks for Wisconsin over at this article.


As you can see, although ice fishing does sound relatively simple, there is quite a bit that goes into it. Make sure to follow the lays, pay attention to safety precautions, wear the right clothing, bring first aid supplies, and the right fishing gear too. As long as you get the gear which we have talked about above, and as long as you follow our ice fishing tips, you should have no problems catching a whole lot of prey.

Jason Downs

I created Fishtackly to share my 30 years of fishing experience and knowledge with others with the aim to help, and hopefully get more people involved and educated in this fantastic hobby that I love.