When you think of fishing, most people imagine sitting in the sun on a warm summer’s day with a freezer full of drinks as you wait to catch a fish. But it’s entirely possible to go ice fishing during winter.
Many people choose to go ice fishing to maintain their hobby when the weather changes, while others use it as a way to supplement their family’s food with fresh fish during the wintertime.
For those newbies, this article shows you the basics of ice fishing, how it started, and what to bring with you on your first trip.
Ice fishing began as a means of survival for people who lived in cold climates. They would cut holes in the ice to try and find food during the winter season. It’s common in Northern Europe as well as North America in places such as Alaska, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Canada.
Over the years, ice fishing has evolved quite a bit and it has now become a sport that hundreds of people take part in every year. But many still use it as a means of survival.
If you’re someone who likes some alone time, being close to nature, or challenging yourself with a new sport during winter, ice fishing is the perfect activity. It’s also an essential skill if you live somewhere with cold winters since access to natural sources of food can be difficult.
What to Wear
As ice fishing is a winter activity, choosing what to wear takes special consideration.
The best way to dress for ice fishing is to wear lots of layers. That way, you can take off some clothes if you get too warm, or add on an extra layer if you start feeling cold. There are three layers involved in dressing for extreme weather:
You want to make sure that the layer closest to your skin is always dry. That means using a material that wicks the moisture off of your skin and then lets it evaporate.
Even a little damp on your skin can cause your core temperature to drop, leading to hypothermia. The best material for this is polypropylene as it absorbs moisture better than other materials. Polyester, wool, and silk work well, too.
Don’t use cotton for your base layer. Cotton will wick the moisture off of your skin, but the moisture doesn’t evaporate quickly out of cotton, so you’ll soon have a layer of cold, wet material against your body.
Next, you will want to wear something cozy and insulating. A fleece jacket or down coat is ideal for this. Feel free to toss in a light sweater, too. If the weather is particularly windy, you might want to bring a neck warmer or face mask to protect your face. Wool is a good material for those.
The purpose of the outer layer is to protect everything underneath. That means you want something that will keep the wind, rain, or snow out.
After you have put on the other layers, add something like a waterproof down jacket that shields you from the wind.
You should wear warm boots with lots of insulation and a thick pair of wool or synthetic socks – again, not cotton.
When you are ice fishing you spend a lot of time on your feet in the cold, so you should avoid wearing sneakers or hiking boots as they are not warm enough for freezing cold temperatures.
Even better if you can find tall boots. The ice may be frozen, but there might be snow present, and it can get down into your socks if you’re wearing low boots.
Ice Fishing Equipment
You might think that ice fishing is quite straightforward and all you need is a bucket, fishing rod, and some bait just like with normal fishing. However, ice fishing requires a bit more equipment…
So, what equipment do you need for ice fishing?
Firstly, you need to make sure you have the right tools for navigating the ice and staying warm. If you want to go all out, you’ll need a stool, portable heater, flashlight, and compass to find your way across the ice and make your way back home.
You can always go the simple way and dress warm, grab a fishing pole, an auger, and a bucket to sit on. You don’t have to make a huge investment to get started. If you’re just wanting to feed your family, a pole, auger, bait, and bucket might be all you’ll need.
There are two different types of fishing rods:
- A tip-up pole
- A jigging rod
A jigging rod is a traditional choice as it is lighter and shorter. A tip-up pole is made from wood or plastic and you can leave this unattended and it will hold in place. Make sure to get some line and hooks to go with your rod. Local stores can advise you on the best options for the fish in your region.
Of course, you will also need some bait to catch the fish. Ideally, you need small fish like minnows, chubs, or shiners. However, you can also use raw meat and fly larvae.
The auger is the tool you’ll use to drill a hole through the ice to reach the water underneath, and a bucket is something to sit on and hold your fish in.
Don’t forget a permit if they’re required in your area!
If you want to get more involved in the sport, you can go all out and get your hands on specialty tools.
The following tools will make your job easier:
- Spud bar: this is a 4-5 foot long steel bar that you can use to stabilize yourself on the ice and to test ice thickness. You can also use it to break open a recently-used hole.
- Chisel: a chisel is handy if you want to widen the hole or shape it to fit your fishing pole.
- Skimmer: you will use the skimmer to clean the hole out of slush and loose ice.
- Gaff hook: you use this tool to grab the fish and pull it up through the hole.
Many experienced ice fishers sit out directly on the ice, but if you’re new to the activity, you can use a shelter to make it more comfortable and warm.
An ice fishing shelter makes you more comfortable during the long hours in freezing temps waiting for a fish. An ice fishing shelter looks similar to a small tent, but it is built with an aluminum frame which provides better heat insulation.
Another option is an ice shanty which is made of wood or plastic. These are very easy to build yourself as all you require is 6×6 feet worth of wood or plastic and nails to put it together. This is a great solution for a DIY shelter for ice fishing.
Alternatively, you can also rent or buy an ice fishing house for the occasion. This allows you to have room for more people so friends and family can join you on the trip.
A Guide to Ice Fishing
Now that you know what equipment to bring and how to keep warm when you go ice fishing, you will need to know the basics of ice fishing so you can catch some amazing fish out on the ice!
Create the hole using the auger, following the manufacturer’s directions. You should make sure that the hole you make is 6 to 8 inches in diameter and no bigger. Then, you use a chisel or spud bar to widen the hole so it is big enough for the fishing pole.
Next, attach the hook and bait your line. Lower the hook into the water. Now you wait. This guide can help you figure out how to keep your reel ice-free, since ice will build up on your equipment.
Potential Risks of Ice Fishing
Waiting to catch a fish is an exciting experience, especially if it is your first time on the ice. That being said, there are some potential risks to ice fishing that you should be aware of.
If you drive to your location for ice fishing, you need to be prepared. Bring water, fuel, warm clothing, flares, and other emergency equipment. Put chains on your tires, if necessary, and always let someone know where you’ll be.
Another danger is with the heating system if you use one. Most of these are powered by gas, so you need to ensure that you have good ventilation in your shelter. Otherwise, you can be poisoned by the carbon monoxide that builds up.
The most common danger of ice fishing is falling below the ice. Avoid cracks and listen for loud booms that indicate that the ice could break. Go ice fishing with a partner and bring blankets and a first aid kit in case anyone falls in.
Use that spud to make absolutely sure that the ice you’re about to walk on is firm. You do this by smacking the area in front of you as you walk. If it feels soft or cracks, turn around!
Benefits of Ice Fishing
Even though being aware of the risks of ice fishing is essential, there are also benefits to catching fish during the winter.
Some people experience seasonal affective disorder during winter as the nights become longer and the darkness begins earlier and later in the day, so finding an activity to keep you busy and distracted during the winter is a great way to avoid winter depression.
Being out in nature all throughout the year also leads to mental health benefits!
It’s a wonderful way to switch off from the world of work and relax in nature. Plus, you can eat some delicious fish that you caught yourself afterward! It’s a reliable source of food during a time of year where fresh foods can be scarce.
If you don’t want to eat the fish you can throw them back into the water, and some areas require catch and release under certain circumstances.