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Ice Fishing – A Fun Winter Activity

Ice fishing is a widespread winter activity in most northern countries including the United States, Canada, Russia and even China.

In principle, ice fishing simply involves going to a frozen body of water, making a hole in the ice and dropping in a baited hook. Because most ice fishing spots can be easily accessed, it makes a great outdoor family activity for those winter days where you feel the need to get outside and play.


Video filmed at Cherry Lake, BC, Canada

Before You Start

You should always check your local fishing regulations for the for the body of water you’re thinking of fishing at. Some regions only allow ice fishing at certain times of the year, while some restrict access to certain bodies of water for fishing during the winter months. There may also be regulations on the type of fish you can catch and/or size limits as to how big a fish must be before you can keep it.

May regions also require adults to have a fishing licence in order to ice fish. These are generally inexpensive and well worth attaining, as fines for fishing without one are steep. Generally, children and senior citizens are omitted from having to purchase a licence.

To find out more about your local fishing regulations and licencing:

USA fish and wildlife agency by state

Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Ice Fishing Gear

Ice fishing augerIce Auger
Looking like a large ice drill, augers are the most common tool used to make ice fishing holes. Although you can easily use an axe to make a hole, ice augers do a much quicker job of it and you avoid splashing yourself with ice cold water.

Power augers are also available. Using a small gas engine, power augers make fast work of chewing through the ice. They a great option when needing to drill through really deep ice or needing to drill more than a few holes at one time.

Safety tip
Ice auger blades are RAZOR sharp. I’ve seen more than a few anglers get deeps cuts by placing their fingers where they shouldn’t have been. So, make sure you always pay attention when using an ice auger!  Also, ensure that the blade guard is always placed on the auger when not in use. This will prevent any children or pets from accidentally cutting themselves on them.

Ice Fishing Rod
Ice fishing rosPractically any standard fresh water fishing rod can be used for ice fishing. Most people that ice fish regularly prefer short spinning rods, 2-3 feet long. Shorter rods are easier to work with as you’ll be sitting close to your ice fishing hole.

Ice Fishing Hooks and Weights
Again, there are no special requirements here. Standard bait hooks can be used, but weighted and brightly coloured “tear drop” hooks are usually preferred. You should make sure to select a size of hook appropriate to both the bait you’ll be using and size of fish you’ll be catching.

Fishing weights (known as sinkers) should be used to quickly sink light hooks and to keep any currents from moving you hook around too much.

Fishing Tip: Keep your hooks as sharp as possible. Many fish will only lightly bite your hook when ice fishing, so a sharp hook can mean the difference between catching a fish or going home skunked.

Portable Fish Finders
ice fishing fish finderFish finders are luxury items when ice fishing. They work by sending a sound wave into the water. When the wave hits a fish, the sound wave is reflected back and read by the fish finder. Most fish finders not only show you if fish are present, but they also estimate the size of the fish, show you the depth of the water and even can show any underwater vegetation. They are definitely not necessary, but can considerably increase your chances of catching a fish.

Fishing Tip: Make sure your fish finder batteries are freshly charged before your outting, as winter temperatures can quickly drain batteries.

Ice Fishing Baits and Technique

Common baits used for ice fishing are maggots, night crawlers, meal worms, shrimp and even corn. For those who don’t want to get their hands dirty touching live bait, artificial baits can be purchased at most places that sell fishing equipment. Live bait can usually be purchased at any gas station that’s near a popular fishing spot.

Before you go out, you should do some research on what types of baits works best for the fish your trying to catch. I would recommend bringing at least two different types of bait with you and trying both to see which one works best.

The standard technique for ice fishing simply involves letting line out until your hook hit bottom, then reeling up a few feet. From here, your simply sit and wait for a fish to bite. You can try adjusting the depth of your hook, if you’re not getting any action. Some anglers prefer to jig their hook up and down in an effort to help attract fish.

Should you have a fish bite, it’s important to “set your hook” in the fishes mouth to increase your odds of catching it. This is done by giving your rod a quick pull upward as the fish bites. Once you’ve hooked a fish, steadily reel it up, making sure to keep tension on your line at all times.

Fishing Tip: Should your first hole not produce, try another. Sometimes changing your location by even a few feet can yield better fishing.

Keeping Warm While Ice fishing

Because ice fishing isn’t an activity that involves much motion, it is easy to get chilled while sitting around waiting for fish to bite. Make sure you dress appropriately and make sure to bring some extra layers in case the weather turns out to be colder then you thought.

ice fishing bootsIce Fishing Boots
Because you’ll be standing near ice cold water all day, you’ll potentially get your feet wet. This make water resistant or water proof winter boots like SORELS preferred footwear for ice fishing. It’s usually your feet that will get cold first, so make sure you bring footwear that will keep your warm.

Ice Fishing Gloves

Your hands, like feet are also likely to get wet as you either remove ice from you hole or handle fish you’ve caught. Neoprene gloves are choice for ice fishing as they’re water proof, warm and easy to clean.

Fires and Propane Heaters
Many anglers will have fires while fishing and even cook hot meals to help keep warm. Although elaborate ice fishing stoves can be built or bought, barbeques or simple metal buckets can also be used. Note that in many places it’s illegal to have fires directly on the ice surface or to dump your ashes on the ice as it creates a nasty mess. So, if you don’t have some sort of object to contain your fire, simply build your fire on shore.

Propane heaters and mini barbeques are a great alternative to wood fires as there is no clean up involved and they’re easy to pack.

Ice Fishing Safety

Walking on ice: As a general rule at least 4 inches of solid ice is recommend for safely supporting a human. Six inches of solid ice is recommended snowmobiles and 16 inches of solid ice is recommend for car and trucks. When you’re not sure of thickness of the ice, you should drill test holes with you auger and measure on your way out to your desired spot.

Although many people do bring vehicles onto the ice, you should think twice before doing so. While it’s very rare that deaths result from bringing vehicles on the ice, many vehicles do fall through every year resulting in a costly bill for the owners as regulations state that sunken vehicles must be removes immediately at the owner’s expense.

As temperatures warm in late winter or early spring, the ice will start getting a slushy surface and begin to form cracks, a condition known as “rotten ice”. It’s recommend that you stay off such ice. Generally, this is a sign the ice fishing season is over and it’s time to store away your gear for next year.

ice fishing chart

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