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Ice Fishing For Beginners

When the weather gets cold it’s time to turn our attention from open water fishing to ice fishing. Growing up in Minnesota we would ice fish from December until March. Where we went it would get cold enough to bring out an ice fishing house on the lake that allowed us to fish 24 hours in a relatively warm structure. Some lakes even had ice fishing resorts or ice house towns. When you plan to go ice fishing always be aware of the ice thickness and safety. The ice will always be thickest by shore and get gradually thinner as you get further away from shore.


The concept of ice fishing is simple: make a hole in the ice and fish through it. If you have never ice fished before check out the Ice Fishing Essentials Check List.

Finding a good spot

Picking the right spot in ice fishing, like shore fishing is the first step in having a productive time out on the ice. If you have fished the area before and know the structure of the bottom you have an advantage when setting up your spot. The fish will be looking for two main things: Food and protection. Dense cover, easy access to deeper water and underwater structure are all good areas to look. This is easy when you know the water, if you are fishing a new lake try and talk to someone that fishes that water a lot or find a depth map of the lake to find good areas. Look for drop offs, areas where there is dense weed growth during the spring and summer, wood piles and other forms of underwater structure.

On some lakes there are ice fishing resorts that have little towns of ice houses that you can rent for overnight stays. These are fun because you are able to fish 24/7 while you are there while being in a structure that keeps you warm. Some of the biggest fish I have caught or seen be caught while ice fishing has happened at night. (I’m looking at you 20 pound eelpout).

Ice Fishing Techniques

Once you have found the spot you want to try you need to drill holes into the ice. Most states allow for anglers ice fishing more than one rod to fish with, drilling multiple holes about 8 to 10 feet apart in a grid is a good way to cover a lot of water near your primary location. When ice fishing with multiple lines in the water it is important to have a line bell, rod holder and to set the reel on free flow so when a fish takes the line it doesn’t pull the rod into the lake. You can also use tip ups on holes that are not being actively fished. Tip ups are devices that when a fish bites the line a flag pops up alerting the angler that the bait has been taken.

Active Ice Fishing

Active ice fishing is when you are jigging the bait/lure consistently. This way you are holding on to the rod and jigging it to entice the fish. When active ice fishing it is important to try different jig techniques and retrieves as well as using a flashy lure or live bait. Using flashy/bright lures and live bait is important because the fish are less active and more work is needed to entice them to bite. Flashy bright lures and live bait make it a bit easier to get the fish to bite. Some good lures when active ice fishing are the Sweedish Pimple and other small spoons like the CLAM leech flutter spoon, Rapala jigging Rap and smaller Rapala Rippin Raps. All of these lures come in a vast variety of colors and sizes and work very well as they are flashy and mimic a bait fish in distress.

Another option for active ice fishing is to use a jig with a grub, worm, leech or minnow on it and slowly jig that up and down to attract fish. Jigs for ice fishing can range anywhere between 1/16 ounce and 2 ounces. Smaller jigs will require grubs while bigger jigs can support worms, minnows and leeches.

Stationary Ice Fishing

Stationary ice fishing is what the unattended rods and tip ups are doing. These are fished with jigs or hooked and live bait on them. The movement of the bait attracts the fish and the angler is alerted to a bite by the flag on a tip-up going off or the sound of the line bell. It is best to stationary fish holes that are in deeper water and shallower water than what you are fishing. This is to help determine what depth the fish are in. If you are fishing in 10 feet of water and are not catching anything but the tip up in 25 feet of water is bringing in fish every 10 minutes it is a sign to move everything to deeper water and fish there.

Bringing in fish

Ice fishing equipment is much lighter than other types of fishing equipment. Most of the time you will be fishing with 6 to 8 pound test line and a light weight pole. This makes playing the fish and knowing how to work the drag very important. You will play the fish longer and have to be more patient than you would when fishing from a boat or from shore with a heavier rod and reel set up. Most ice fishing holes are also only 24 inches wide, bringing a large fish through a hole like that without a net can be tough, be prepared to grab the fish with your hands or bring a gaff to pull the fish up through the hole. The key in bringing in fish while ice fishing is to play the fish with patience, if you rush it in you have a higher probability of the fish snapping or biting through the line.

Ice fishing review

Always know the thickness of the ice.

Always fish with a buddy.

Find a spot with good access to cover or a drop off

Drill multiple holes in different depths

Set up stationary ice fishing rods or tip ups.

Play the fish with patience.

And most importantly have fun!

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