10 Easy Steps To Get Started In Ice Fishing

By Dave Duwe - December 1, 2011

Your boat is parked in the garage, the fluids for the motor are drained, and the trolling batteries are stowed away. The line still strung on that new reel you got for Father's Day is memorizing every coil it now has in it.

But those are no reasons to let the dull days of winter get you down. Try ice fishing. It's easy, relatively inexpensive and fun. Anybody can do it. Even you!

Here are my top 10 tips for getting started with "hard water" fishing.

  1. If you want ice fishing to be enjoyable, you'll need proper clothes. Don't leave home without the snow boots, snow pants, a windproof parka and a good layer of undergarments. If you're cold, you're not having fun. If you're not having fun, you're not really fishing. Staying warm isn't complicated, but it's essential. (If you're from Wisconsin like me, you know that already.)

  2. Find a lake with a lot of fish. It pays to do some research before you venture out onto the ice. Find out from your local Department of Natural Resources if the lakes you're interested in targeting have abundant or adequate stocks of fish you want to catch. Also, invest in a lake contour map that has tips and stocking numbers. This can also help you when you're on the ice to know if you're standing above 10 feet or 100 feet of water. In short, you'll want to find a lake that has potential to produce.

  3. Get an auger. No hole means no fish for you. A five-inch hand auger is plenty for panfish, while you'll want an eight-inch auger for northern pike. The bigger the hand auger is, the tougher it is to drill the hole. A six-inch is a good average auger, but be warned, it may not be big enough for a trophy pike.

  4. Invest in a couple of jig rods. Most states let you fish with more than one at a time (check your regulations). They don't have to be expensive. A good jig rod should be fitted with a spinning reel and a spring bobber on the tip. Spool it with two-pound test line for bluegills and perch, or four-pound test for crappie. If it's walleye or larger fish you seek, go with six- or eight-pound test. Just don't overdo it. Plastic poles can even make good starter poles for fishing panfish in shallower water and can be as cheap as $10. While you're at it, duck an aisle over and stock up on an assortment of small jigs of various colors. I like Lindy Fat Boys or Lindy Genz Worms. Try a variety of shapes and sizes. Chartreuse and orange are my favorite colors.

  5. Before you get to the lake, buy live bait. It will maximize your success. Spikes or wax worms are good choices for panfish. Keep them lively after fishing by keeping the waxies at room temperature and spikes in the fridge. Never let them freeze while you're on the ice. Fathead minnows are a better choice for crappie and walleye.

  6. Once you're on the ice, follow the crowds. You'll find more active fish and generally safer ice. If you're having some bad luck, try wandering among the veterans. Some will be willing enough to give beginners advice on how to fish, or what colors or bait to use. Ice fishing is a more communal activity than open-water fishing, and it never hurts to ask.

  7. Don't be afraid to be mobile on the ice. It can be a long walk to a hot spot, but if you're not catching anything, it pays to move and try finding the action. Invest in a pull-along sled, or enough buckets to carry your gear easily. Coming home cold and skunked isn't a motivator for returning tomorrow.

  8. Remember, you don't need a boat to try ice fishing. Just about anyone can do it, so try it. Bring a friend and enjoy good times together talking and tipping back a few cold suds (you don't even need to buy ice to keep them cold.) Or, bring your children and spouse for a family activity everyone can enjoy.

  9. Once you are "hooked," invest in quality electronics to have even more fun. I like the Vexilar FL-8, or the Vexilar FL-12. Learn to use them to target more fish. A Vexilar, or "flasher," gives you the opportunity to determine the movement of the fish and their aggressiveness. Your jig will show up as a green line on your screen. As an active fish moves in, your line will turn red. At that point, watch your spring bobber for a bite and be ready to set the hook.

  10. Lastly, safety is paramount. There is no such thing as "safe ice." Accidents can happen anywhere. To minimize your risk of an emergency, remember these tips. Make sure ice is at least four to six inches thick before venturing out. Just because others may be out on the ice doesn't mean it's safe for you to be there, too. Learn about the ice patterns of the lake you're fishing. Some lakes will develop pressure cracks, which remain open all year due to weather or lake conditions. Fish with a buddy and tell someone where you're going and when you expect to return. Stick to that plan or call if plans change. Always carry a set of safety picks and rope for rescuing yourself or others in an emergency.

Stay safe and tight lines, everybody.

Author Dave Duwe
Dave Duwe
Full-time guide Dave Duwe owns and operates Dave Duwe's Guide Service, featuring the lakes of Walworth County, WI. Dave has been guiding for over 20 years and is one of Southeastern Wisconsin's best multi-species anglers. Dave is an accomplished outdoor writer and seminar speaker. He is a member of the Great Lakes Outdoor Writers Association and Walworth County Visitor Bureau. Sponsors include: Lund Boats(Jerry's Sport Service Inc.), Mercury Marine, Arkie Jigs, and Vexilar Marine Electronics, a pro-staff member of Minn-Kota trolling motors,Hummingbird graphs, Cannon downriggers, Lindy, Pure Fishing and All Terrain Tackle. For more information, please check out Dave's website www.fishlakegeneva.com .