Ice Fishing Tips: What You Need to Know Before You Go Ice Fishing

Ice fishing guide
Written by Neal Walker

Ice fishing has completely evolved during the last two decades. It’s not about sitting at one place, waiting for the fish to come by anymore. With the advent of technology, moving around is the trick now and learning how to ice fish has never been easier for beginners. All you need to learn are the basics, consisting of a few ice fishing tips you probably don’t know.

The concept nowadays is that the fish that pass through an area once in a day, may not return there for a long while. So the idea is to follow them around and dig several holes through the ice.

There are efficient devices that you could use, to drill holes and even check for movement in the water. All this can be done within a matter of minutes too.

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You can even fish while you’re asleep with alarms that sound when a fish bites our bait. For shelters, you can find several portable ones – small, that can hold one person and even large ones that can hold more than 5 people at a time.

Even with all this technology, the dangers of ice fishing are still the same. Many fishermen go out to fish with just 2.5 inches of ice thickness even when the recommended minimum is 4 inches. Due to such behaviour, many rescue operations take place during this time of the year to save their lives.

So whether you’re just a beginner or an expert, there are definitely some things you need to take care of before you go out in your ice fishing adventure. That’s what we will do now.

What You Must Know First

Let’s first start with some fundamental information that you must know when you plan to go ice fishing for the winter.

Ice fishing tips

So even if you are just a beginner you’ll know exactly what to do. Ice fishing can be quite dangerous and you need you make sure you are well equipped to meet any sort of difficulty you may face. Now moving on to the basics:

  • You need to do some research on the type of fish you want to catch. That’s the first thing because then you’ll understand how deep you need to be fishing for specific species of fish
  • You need to fish slowly because if you move your bait too much the fish may not bite it
  • Sometimes when there is not much depth, the fish may not swim to the area where there is light. So it might be a good idea to cover the hole you made.
  • The best place to fish may be near a group of fishing shelters because then you can be sure there are fish in the area
  • It’s good to test the ice before moving out. You can drill a hole or check if there if there are others in the area already
  • Just to remind you, safety is very important. You must make sure you have a phone with you to call for help and also let others know the area you’d be fishing at

Ice Fishing Equipment

Now let’s go through the basic equipment you need to carry along when you plan to go ice fishing.

  • When you dig the hole, you’ll need to remove some of the ice with a scoop so you’ll need to carry one with you
  • You need warm boots
  • Ice cleats – These are like spikes that you attach to your shoes. They help you from slipping when you walk on the ice
  • A bucket to hold your bait. You can use it as a seat too
  • An Auger – It looks like a large corkscrew and it’s the main equipment you need to cut through the ice and sat fishing
  • Warm clothing and some extra clothes if you think you’ll need them
  • Shelter – you’ll be able to find portable shelters like tents or you could rent a hut too. They will be heated and would have all sorts of amenities you’ll need
  • For safety it’s best you carry some safety gear in case you need to save yourself or your friends from a dangerous It’s good to carry a life preserver with you
  • Ice picks or ice claws are the most basic self-rescue device that can be used to get back onto the ice if you fall into the water. They are available for online purchase and with the right equipment, you can even make them at home by yourself.

Using Your Baits

What do you do when you have found your fish? You’ll obviously want to try and catch it right?

Ice fishing baits

So now let’s think about how you could use your baits and lures effectively so you can attract fish better. Read on to see a few common techniques when using your baits. With practice, you’ll be able to understand what works best for you.

  • Jigging: When you’re jigging you get the hook to first hit the bottom. Then you raise it up and slowly move your bait sideways or up and down. When you’re ice fishing you should not move it too fast because the fish are usually less active and may let go to save energy. This method is usually perfect for small species of fish.
  • Line watching: Line watching is when you drop your bait into the water and then wait for some movement. When the line moves you’ll know something has caught it. It’s good to try different baits when you’re using this method because you’ll have to find one that is heavy enough to drop straight into the water. It should not be too heavy, though, because you’ll not know if a fish bites your bait.
  • Tip – Up: A tip up is actually a gadget that is set up on the surface above the hole you drill. You must let the line drop to the bottom of the water and then slightly raise it. When a fish bites your bait, a flag will tip up showing you that something has been caught. This technique is used to catch larger fish using heavier lures. This method is called tip up too.
  • Dead Sticking: It’s a kind of luring technique where you’ll use a plastic bait and let it rest motionless near the bottom of the lake. It’s a good technique if the fish don’t bite your baits. It could be because the water is too cold and the fish do not want to use up all their energy.

Nowadays when moving around is seen as the key to catching fish, this method is still used when all fail.

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See also: Best Handheld GPS for Fishing: Never Let You Miss Out on A Great Catch

It just needs some patience. It’s good if you use this method at a place where you’ve already fished so you can be sure there are fish in the area.

What Fish You Can Catch

Here we’ve made a list of a few popular species of fish and some good ways to catch them. But first, let’s look at some general techniques you could try.

  • To actually catch more fish, the secret is to learn more about them. The more you know, the easier it would be to guess their movements and feeding patterns. So knowledge is the key
  • Most species are less active during mid-winter so it’s a good idea to fish at the beginning or at the end of the season
  • The feeding habits of fish would also differ from one species to another so you might want to understand this before you walk out looking for your favourite one. Some feed more during dusk or dawn and others may be active during the day
  • In the beginning of the year, you could try fishing in small lakes because these would freeze quickly
  • You can move to large lakes during mid-winter and afterwards because the water would not completely freeze by this time. The fish here would be more active too because there’s more oxygen in bigger lakes
  • You can start fishing by using bigger lures at first but if you’re able to catch any for a while you could change to a smaller one. Using a large one might give you the chance to catch the most aggressive species

So like we were saying, you may need to use a different tactic for each type of fish you want to catch. In short, you need to be more specific. Now let’s have a look at the different types of fish and some specific fishing techniques.


They are the most popular fish in North America and these fish are quite aggressive. This is why they are fun to catch.

Walleye ice fishing

You can usually fish for them at any time of the day but the dawn and dusk would make a slight difference in their feeding, which means you have a better chance of catching them during these times of the day.These fish usually stay at the bottom of the lake near reefs or other underwater structures. See our tips on how to fish for Walleye to give you additional information for reference.

Big Pike

These fish are also quite popular because of the obvious reason that they are big. They can be caught at any depth and may even be caught by accident when you’re trying to fish for a walleye.

Ice fishing Big Pike

They may hit these fish as you pull them up to the surface.


During the winter these fish normally bunch or school together and stay in deep water. They could be found near weeds along the shore at the beginning of winter. They may move apart from the shore during mid-winter following their food so you need to drill a few holes in the ice to find them.

Ice fishing for Crappie

Something you must note here is that their mouth rips off very easily so you must not pull too hard when they bite your bait.


They just like Crappies so at the beginning of winter, they are found near the shore and mid-winter they move deeper into the water.

Perch ice fishing

They tend to follow their food too so you’ll need to drill several holes to find them.


These fish prefer deeper water again but during winter the depth doesn’t make a difference, which means it can vary. They can be found in the same areas they usually appear during the other seasons. When you fish for the, it’s again useful to drill a few holes to find them.

Trout ice fishing

Of course with all the technology it would definitely be a lot easier to find any of these species of fish and even how deep they are. It’s so amazing to see how much technology has changed the way we fish. There are many electronics you could use to first find fish and then lure them to your bait. For the best trout lures you can use, check out our earlier reviews on the best ones to choose.

Safety Measures

What is Hypothermia?

Now you’re probably wondering why there’s a discussion of some sort of disease between all this ice fishing talk. We’ll tell you now. It’s good to have an idea about hypothermia because it’s a situation when your body temperature falls dangerously low, usually due to someone falling into the icy water.

A person is more likely to die of hypothermia rather than drowning if they fall into cold water so it would be essential to learn how you could take care of  it. You probably would have guessed that the best thing to do is to keep the person warm, but there are still a few do’s and don’ts.


So before we move any further, here are a few essential things you must do if you were to treat hypothermia:

  • The person should be moved to warm place as soon as possible because he/she can even die in 20 minutes of being exposed to ice-cold water
  • They should remove their wet clothes and keep warm under blankets. They should also cover their heads
  • If the person is able to normally eat and drink, you could give them any sort of warm drinks

Now for the Don’ts

  • A person should not be given alcohol
  • You should not massage their legs to warm them
  • You should not use heating lamps

If you try to increase their body temperature in any of these ways, their blood pressure might drop too soon causing other difficulties which may even lead to a heart attack.

In the case of a severe hypothermia, a person may be unconscious or they may not be able to breathe well. They would not shiver either. If this is the situation, then you must seek medical attention soon.

So that’s how you deal with hypothermia. Now let’s get back to the fun parts again.

Other Important Aspects

The Lake Structure Matters

A lake structure provides fish with food and shelter. So to find them easily we should know the different lake structures and understand the kind of structure that fish like. Now let’s look at the common lake structures.

Lake Structure

Generally, most kinds of fish are attracted to lake structures so it’s good to look for them near these areas.

  • The Point – this is the land that extends into the water.
  • The Bar – This is water that surrounds the point on all three sides. This area is the shallow water which is surrounded by deeper water on its three sides.
  • The Break – This is where the change in depth occurs from shallow to deeper water

The bigger the bar and point are, the better for you because these would have more fish. They find more food in these areas of the water, which is why you find more. The steeper the break is the better again because fish travel through breaks.

The Licenses

The last things you need to keep in mind are the rules and regulations relating to ice fishing that applies in your area. Research is the key here. You could look up all the details about general rules and guidelines and know how to remain within the limits when you go out.

If you do not have a licence you may need to get one too, depending on our circumstances. If you do you must make sure to carry it along when you go fishing. All these requirements would differ from one place to another.

Fishing licence

There may also be restrictions on the number of holes you’re allowed to dig or the number of devices you can carry with you. You must look up all these details beforehand so that you’re sure you won’t be breaking the law.

No matter what method you plan to use or what species of fish you want to catch, its preparation that counts. You should do your research to find out as much as you can about the types of fish you’re looking for and their locations.

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Once you’ve spotted your fish you’re half way there. Then what matters is practice. You’ll have to try different techniques and use different gear till you find ones that suit you best. So basically you need to practice fishing and be prepared before you head out. For a detailed look on how to know the best times to fish, check out our earlier piece on this topic.

We hope you found some useful techniques here to help understand and practice ice fishing better. The important thing is to practice and most of all have fun! So good luck and Happy Fishing!


Neal Walker

Neal Walker started fishing when he was 4. His father took him to the fishing trips all over USA and Canada. Later he took Angling Education Program at Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, but most of his knowledge comes from experience. Now he takes his sons with him to share his passion.