Angler caught a trophy-sized perch while ice fishing

Ice Fishing 101: A How-To in a Few Simple Steps

Winter can be long and harsh without something to do. Ice fishing is a way of getting outside and embracing the winter season. It’s an adventure that can be experienced alone or with friends. Either way, the thrill of being on the ice and catching delicious fish is another way to enjoy the winter season.

Whether you’re a novice angler or an experienced fisherman, this article will guide you through the mesmerizing world of ice fishing.

From ice fishing essentials to purchasing the right gear and mastering the art of drilling the perfect ice hole, we’ll cover each step in detail. You’ll also learn valuable techniques for finding the best spots, selecting the right bait, and attracting fish like a pro.

As you immerse yourself in the frozen landscape, you’ll discover the serenity and tranquillity of ice fishing. It’s a chance to connect with nature, escape the daily grind, and experience the thrill of reeling in a big catch. So, let’s get started.

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Is it Necessary to Have a Fishing License for Ice Fishing?

In Ontario, you are required, by law, to possess a fishing license and an outdoors card. Under the age of 18 and over, the age of 65, you are not required to purchase a license.

Safety Precautions for Ice Fishing

Before casting your first cast, safety should always be your top priority. Before you venture out onto the frozen lake, it’s imperative to take some precautions to ensure a safe and enjoyable ice fishing experience. 

First and foremost, always check the ice thickness before stepping onto it. A minimum of four inches of clear, solid ice is generally considered safe for walking. However, if you plan to bring a vehicle onto the ice, make sure the ice is at least 8 to 12 inches thick. Don’t forget to wear a life jacket or better yet, a flotation suit and carry safety picks or ice claws.

Additionally, make sure you dress appropriately for the cold weather. Layer your clothing to trap warmth, wear insulated and waterproof boots, and don’t forget to protect your extremities with gloves, hats, and scarves. It’s a good idea to carry a package of hot paws (hand warmers) should your hands or feet get cold. Alternatively, investing in a pair of heated gloves or socks can make your fishing experience much more enjoyable. Lastly, never venture out alone and always inform someone of your fishing plans and expected return time.

Essential Gear and Equipment for Ice Fishing

Ice Fishing on a Frozen Lake
Ice Fishing on a Frozen Lake

Now that we have covered ice safety – let’s look at what essentials we need for a successful ice fishing trip. Here are the central items you’ll need to have in your ice fishing arsenal:

Ice Fishing Rod and Reel

Opt for a short, lightweight, sturdy ice fishing rod and reel combo that can withstand harsh temperatures and handle the weight of larger fish. For the most part, in Ontario, you can use two lines.

Ice Auger

An ice auger is a specialized tool used to drill holes in the ice. Depending on your needs, choose between a manual or gas-powered auger. We use a manual one ourselves and it works perfectly fine – in fact it cuts holes rapidly and with relative ease.

Ice Shelter

While not mandatory, an ice shelter can protect you from the elements and make your ice fishing experience much more comfortable. You can opt for portable ice tents or permanent ice huts. Before deciding which route best suits you, check your local regulations. Some provinces/states will require you to register your ice hut.

Ice Fishing Tackle

Stock up on various ice fishing tackle, including ice jigs, spoons, and tip-ups. Carrying a vast selection of baits and lures allows you to target different fish species – just be mindful of what fish is actually open for your waterbody along with catch limits. Popular baits to use include worms, leeches, grubs, and maggots. Reminder: Ontario has new laws regarding the transportation of live baitfish.

Ice Scoop

After drilling, you will use an ice scoop to remove ice shavings from the hole. It also allows you to keep the ice hole clean and prevents slush from forming, which can interfere with fishing.

Utility Sled

A sled is a practical way to transport your gear across the ice. Look for a sturdy sled with enough capacity to carry all your equipment and supplies. A suggested brand of utility sleds worth looking into is Pelican. Their sleds are durable and well-made. If towing by vehicle, the Sport 82 features a tow hitch, while the Trek 60 is perfect if venturing out on foot. 

Ice Fishing Electronics

Investing in a fish finder, flasher, or underwater camera can enhance your ice fishing experience. These devices help you locate fish, see your lure, mark waypoints for future returns and understand their behaviour beneath the ice.

Remember!

Check your local regulations regarding gear restrictions and limitations before you head out!

Finding the Perfect Spot

FatFish Ice Fishing Hut
FatFish Ice Fishing Hut

Choosing the right location is crucial for a successful ice fishing trip. Fish behaviour can vary depending on the lake, time of year, and weather conditions. Here are a few tips to help you find the perfect spot:

Research Local Lakes: Start by researching local lakes known for ice fishing. Check online forums, talk to local anglers, and consult fishing guidebooks to gather valuable information about the lakes in your area.
Look for Structures: Fish usually gather around underwater structures such as drop-offs, weed beds, and submerged rocks. These structures provide shelter and food sources for fish. Use a fish finder or consult lake maps to identify potential hotspots.
Consider Depth: Different fish species prefer different depths. For example, trout are often found in deeper waters, while panfish like perch and bluegill love shallower areas. Experiment with drilling holes at various depths to find your target fish.
With Caution, Follow the Crowd: If you notice other ice anglers congregating in a particular area, it’s a good sign that the fishing is productive there. However, exercise caution and maintain a safe distance between your holes to prevent accidents.

Remember!

Ice conditions can change rapidly! Stay alert and adjust your fishing location accordingly.

Preparing the Ice Fishing Hole

Drilling the perfect ice hole is an art that requires precision and patience. Follow these steps to prepare your ice fishing hole:

  1. Mark Your Spot: Use a handheld GPS device or landmarks on the shore to mark the spot where you plan to drill your hole. Avoid drilling multiple holes in a small area.
  2. Clear the Snow: Remove any snow or slush from the surface of the ice using a shovel or an ice scoop.
  3. Measure Ice Thickness: Use an ice chisel or ice auger to measure the thickness of the ice. Drill a small test hole and measure the ice thickness at various points. Remember the safety guidelines mentioned earlier and ensure the ice is thick enough to support your weight.
  4. Drill the Hole: Once you’ve determined the ice thickness, use an ice auger to drill your hole. Keep the hole diameter between six to ten inches to allow easy access to fish and prevent them from escaping. This diameter however is dependant on the auger you use.
  5. Remove Ice Shavings: After drilling the hole, use an ice scoop to remove the ice shavings and create a clean and clear opening. Discard the shavings away from the hole to prevent them from obstructing your fishing area.

You now have a well-prepared fishing hole and are ready to fish.

Manual Ice Auger in Action

Techniques for Catching Fish Through the Ice

Catch and Release Bass
Catch and Release Bass While Ice Fishing

Here are some effective ice-fishing techniques to increase your chances of success:

Jigging: Jigging is a popular ice fishing technique that involves using a jig or a lure to mimic the movement of prey. Drop your jig into the water and use short, quick motions to make the lure flutter up and down. This dancing motion will attract the attention of nearby fish.
Tip-Ups: Tip-ups are simple devices that suspend a baited line beneath the ice. These devices are great for targetting larger fish such as pike or walleye. To use a tip-up, attach a baited hook or a live minnow to the line, then place it in the hole. The tip-up flag will pop up when the fish bites, indicating a potential catch.
Dead Sticking: Dead sticking is a technique that involves using a stationary bait presentation. Start by lowering your baited hook or lure into the water and let it sit still. This technique can be effective for finicky fish or cold water conditions when fish are less active.
Depth Adjustment: If you’re not having much luck, try adjusting the depth. Fish behaviour can change throughout the day, so experiment with different depths until you find where the fish are biting.
Pay Attention: Keep an eye on your fish finder or underwater camera if you have one. Adjust your technique accordingly should the fish’s behaviour change. Don’t forget to pay attention to your bait’s colour, size, and action, along with the speed and rhythm of your jigging motion.

Remember, ice fishing requires patience and persistence. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t catch fish immediately. Stay focused, be adaptable, and enjoy the serene beauty of the frozen landscape.

Remember!

Ice conditions can change rapidly! Stay alert and adjust your fishing location accordingly.

What Types of Fish Can I Expect to Catch During Ice Fishing?

Besides panfish, depending on the area and regulations, you can target walleye, whitefish, northern pike, and trout.

What is the Best Time of Day for Ice Fishing?

The best time to ice fish is at dusk and dawn. The fish are hungry and will be more susceptible to your bait.

Tips for Staying Warm and Comfortable

Wearing Karbon Heated Gloves
Wearing Karbon Heated Gloves While Ice Fishing

Ice fishing is a chilly endeavour, but with some preparation, you can stay warm and comfortable throughout your trip. Here are some tips to beat the cold:

  1. Dress in Layers: Layering your clothing is the key to staying warm. Start with a moisture-wicking base layer to keep sweat away from your body. Add insulating layers such as fleece or wool, and finish with a windproof and waterproof outer layer. I prefer to wear my FXR as it is warm and has flotation tech built into it. FXR suits only require a simple baselayer.
  2. Protect Your Extremities: Your extremities are susceptible to frostbite. Make sure to wear insulated gloves, thick socks, and waterproof boots. Consider using hand and foot warmers for extra warmth.
  3. Cover Your Face: Wear a face mask or a scarf to protect your face from wind and cold. Exposed skin is vulnerable to frostbite, so don’t forget to cover your nose, cheeks, and ears.
  4. Stay Hydrated and Nourished: It’s vital to stay hydrated even during cold weather. Drink plenty of warm fluids and eat high-energy snacks to keep your body fueled and warm.
  5. Use a Heater: If fishing from an ice shelter, consider using a portable heater like the Buddy from Mr. Heater to maintain a comfortable temperature. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and ensure proper ventilation to prevent carbon monoxide buildup.
  6. Take Breaks Indoors: Ensure you take regular breaks inside your shelter or a nearby warming hut or car if you feel cold or tired. Warm up, rehydrate, and rest before heading back out.

Don’t let cold temperatures get in the way of enjoying your ice fishing adventure rather, learn to use the right gear and techniques to stay warm.

Ice Fishing Etiquette and Regulations

Respecting the environment and fellow anglers is an essential part of ice fishing. Here are some etiquette guidelines to follow:

Clean Up: Always clean up after yourself and leave no trace. Properly dispose of your trash, and don’t leave unused bait behind.
Maintain Distance: Give other ice anglers plenty of space. Avoid setting up your fishing hole too close to someone else’s, as it can interfere with their fishing experience or lead to an emergency.
Respect Noise Levels: Keep noise to a minimum to avoid disturbing the fish and other anglers. Loud noises and excessive movement can spook fish and make them less likely to bite.
Follow Regulations: Familiarize yourself with local fishing regulations and adhere to them. Know the fishing seasons, possession limits, and size restrictions for the fish species that you are targeting. Respect protected areas and avoid fishing in prohibited zones.

By practicing good etiquette and following regulations, you contribute to the sustainability of the sport and ensure that future generations can enjoy ice fishing as well.

Common Mistakes to Avoid in Ice Fishing

Ice fishing can be a challenging activity, especially for beginners. There are a few common mistakes that you can avoid to increase your chances of success:

Not Researching the Lake: Lack of research can lead to unproductive fishing trips. Take the time to gather information about the lake, such as fish species, depths, and structures. Doing so will help you make informed decisions and increase your chances of catching fish.
Overlooking Safety Precautions: Safety should always be a priority when ice fishing. Neglecting safety precautions can lead to accidents and potentially life-threatening situations. Always check ice thickness, wear appropriate clothing, and never venture out alone. Remember that NO ice is ever 100% safe, so don’t skip the safety gear!
Using the Wrong Bait: Fish have different feeding habits and preferences. Using the wrong bait can result in limited success. Research the target species and choose bait that is known to attract them.
Fishing in the Wrong Location: Choosing the wrong fishing spot can lead to a wasted fishing trip. Without proper research and understanding of fish behaviour, you may end up in an unproductive area. Take the time to find the right location based on fish species and underwater structures.
Not Being Patient: Ice fishing requires patience and persistence. Fish may not bite immediately. Remember to stay focused and wait for the right moment. Avoid constantly moving from hole to hole in search of fish. It can disturb the area and scare off potential catches.

You’ll become a more skilled ice angler and increase your chances of success by avoiding these common mistakes and learning from your experiences.

Conclusion and Final Tips for Successful Ice Fishing

Ice fishing is a captivating activity that allows you to embrace the winter season and connect with nature. With the knowledge outlined in this guide, you are well-prepared to embark on your ice fishing adventure. Remember to prioritize safety, invest in the right gear, and research your fishing location. Be patient, experiment with different techniques, and enjoy the tranquillity of the frozen landscape.

Now, bundle up, grab your fishing gear, and get ready to immerse yourself in the mesmerizing world of ice fishing. The frozen lakes are waiting for you to discover their hidden treasures. Happy ice fishing!

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Katherine Widziak
Katherine Widziak

Fuelled by the boundless energy of my two adventurous children, my diverse repertoire extends beyond the realms of an ordinary mother. As a seasoned graphic designer, master of social media content, and savvy marketing strategist, I've sculpted my own entrepreneurial journey. My passion for the great outdoors defines me - from igniting fires to setting up camps, my skills are diverse and practical. Skilled in ATV riding, possessing sharpshooting accuracy, and a knack for out-fishing just about any man - even my husband, though that's our little secret.

When not working away at something creative, you'll find me enjoying the outdoors in one form or another. Hopefully, I can inspire many women and men alike to pursue their outdoor goals and embark on new adventures.

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