Ice Fishing: Getting Started

Ice Fishing: Getting Started

Contributions by Shannon Mercier and CT DEEP Fisheries

The weather is getting colder but you don’t want to stop fishing. Ready to give ice fishing a try? This article has everything you need to get out on the ice, stay safe and have fun!

Safety first:

Every year lives are lost due to careless acts from anglers and other individuals walking onto a frozen waterway without checking the conditions or being prepared for a worst case scenario. With a few simple items in tote, your first ice fishing trip won’t be your last. Below is a safety check list for your next venture out onto the ice:

  • spud bar
  • ice picks
  • a throw-able rope
  • a flotation device
  • whistle
  • cell phone

shanty and auger

Common gear requirements:

Gear can be quite the heavy load in comparison to grabbing your rod and tackle box in the spring, so make sure you are prepared before venturing off. You may be trekking through a foot of snow, and surely to reach a safe spot on the ice will take more than walking to the shore in your flipflops. You’ll want something to carry all of your gear in, therefore it is highly recommended to have a five gallon bucket and a sled. All of your gear can fit in the bucket and on the sled, and the bucket can double as a seat.

  • tip-ups (6 per angler, each labeled with the angler’s name and address)
  • jigging rods
  • terminal tackle (hooks, sinkers, pliers, line clippers, etc)
  • auger
  • skimmer
  • shovel
  • bait bucket with bait and dip net
  • shanty (not necessary but useful)
  • fish finder (not necessary but useful)
  • portable heater (not necessary but useful in an ice shanty)
  • folding lawn chairs

Dress for success:

Dress in layers, start with a moisture wicking material. You can always remove a layer if you become too warm. Be prepared for any type of weather. Plan to add some of these layers once you get to the water so you are not making yourself sweat on the way, which could result in hypothermia later.  Insulated, waterproof boots are a must. It is a good idea to put ice cleats on your boots to help your grip while walking along slippery ice.  A snow suit would be ideal, or snow pants. You will need a waterproof and windproof jacket. Don’t forget your gloves and hat! A life jacket is also important, especially for first and last ice. It is a good idea to have an extra set of clothes in the car as well as towels.

  • Avoid cotton
  • Windproof your outer layer
  • You must have a hat and gloves
  • Sunglasses are recommended to combat glare
  • Cleats or other traction creepers are highly recommended on ice

Around your neck you will want a whistle and safety picks. If you fall through the ice, you can use the safety picks to pull yourself out while using the whistle to call loudly for help. Also bring a rope, if you see someone who has fallen in you can throw the rope and pull them to safety.

Before heading out:

  • Tell someone where you are going
  • Do not fish alone
  • Have a gear and safety equipment checklist along with a fully charged cellphone (for photo opportunities and potential emergency situations

Arrival at the hard water:

When you get to the ice you’ll want to make sure it is safe to walk on. Don’t walk on ice that is less than 4 inches thick. Following a path is a good idea if there is one, however, continuously check the ice in front of you as conditions can and will change throughout the day. Have a spud bar with you-as you walk on the ice, slam the spud down in front of you. If it bounces keep walking, but if it pierces the ice slowly back up as that ice is not safe to walk on. Always make sure to check more than one spot as the ice will not freeze evenly.

Setting up shop:

Once you find that spot to set up on, it is time to drill some holes and start fishing.  You will need an auger to make a hole in the ice. There are plenty of augers out there to choose from, but a simple 4-6 inch hand auger is all you really need, although gas or electric make the job of drilling holes much faster and easier. The blades are extremely sharp so again, use caution. fct angler with ice gearOnce your hole is dug, use a skimmer to scoop all of the slush out. It is also a good idea to have a shovel with you if there is a lot of snow on top of the ice.

If you brought a shanty, now is the time to set that up, with your holes drilled around the shanty in multiple areas. The shanty is commonly used to warm the bones by providing shelter from wind, cold, and other elements. Some anglers will also bring a portable heater to use in a shanty. If you do, remember to check the ice and use caution underneath and around the heated area. A hole or two may also be drilled in the shanty, typically for jigging purposes.

Time to fish:

You can choose to fish with tip ups, an ice rod, or both. Set the tip ups with your bait of choice. Shiners and worms are some of the most popular. Use a dip net so you don’t have to stick your hand in the water of your bait bucket. Braid is typically used with tip ups, along with a leader if there are pike or pickerel around. All you need to do with the tip up is wait for the flag to pop up! To keep yourself busy, bring along that jigging rod and your favorite jigs. These rods use light ice line, and are a ton of fun for catching any type of fish!

Additional notes:

Often described as a tailgate party on ice, ice fishing can be a fun activity for friends and family to spend quality times together during the otherwise cold and boring months of winter. By being prepared for the elements and following safety guidelines, we can be assured that we can share our fishing stories tomorrow. So grab a buddy, your safety and fishing gear and hit that hard water this winter. Bring a portable grill and a cooler with your favorite foods and beverage (drink legally and responsibly), and make it an adventure to remember.

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