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Ice Fishing 101

A little boy fishing on a frozen lake. (AdobeStock_191502048/Oleh)

Kenneth Reaves

Though factors such as climate change, pollution, and invasive species have long threatened the sport of angling, it looks like ice fishing is here to stay. As northern climates continue to welcome an abundance of prize-worthy catches, anglers from all over the country flock to states like Michigan, North Dakota, and Minnesota.

If you are new to the art of fishing, its icy counterparts can prove a challenging learning curve. In this quick guide, youll learn how to make the most of your time on the ice.

What is Ice Fishing?

Ice fishing involves hooking or spearing catch through an opening in the ice on a frozen body of water. You can ice fish in any area whose lakes, piers, or ponds experience regular freezing. Most ice fishing activity in the U.S. takes place in one third of northern states.

The Best Equipment for Ice Fishing

To get started ice fishing, youll need to stock up on the following staples.

Rods

Most ice fishing rods are smaller than traditional products and measure between 18 and 26 inches long. Because of their compact stature, shorter rods allow anglers to jig more effectively.

Equip your rod with a sturdy reel to avoid having to pull up your line by hand.

Lures and Bait

During the winter, the sun sets earlier than usual. A reflective lure will attract any fishs attention.

Pair your lure with live, pungent bait such as wax worms, maggots, spikes, wigglers, or minnows. Attaching a brightly colored jig can help lure in your catch.

Augers

Naturally, to gain access to the water, youll have to cut through the ice to begin with. You can choose between manual or electric-powered augers, the former of which is more affordable and easier to maintain. However, electric drills are more convenient and can save you a lot of time—you can even drill as deep as 130 feet!

Types of Catch Youll Come Across When Ice Fishing

Hook-and-line ice anglers will most likely come across these fish species.

Crappie

Crappie is among the most sought-after species when ice fishing. However, because they frequently migrate during the winter, keeping up with their movements can be challenging. When ice fishing for crappie, drill as many holes as possible to better your chances.

Perch

During the peak winter season, schooling perch provides days of non-stop action. However, these fussy fish wont always fall for even the tastiest of bait. Prioritize high-quality jigs when traditional baits dont get the job done.

Trout

Rainbow trout are prevalent and recognizable, even outside the ice fishing sphere. But dont underestimate them—these ice fish can put up an impressive fight! When ice fishing for trout, the key is patience!

Man successfully ice fishing with an auger and needs setup on skis. (USFWS)

How to Stay Safe on the Ice

Naturally, to stay safe on the ice, youll want to go in the proper clothing. Wear something to keep you warm throughout the day, and consider setting up shelter.

Take along safety spikes in case you fall into the water. This bit of equipment can be life-saving.

Finally, familiarize yourself with the regulations in your designated ice fishing destinations. Some laws enforce specific limits and size requirements—all for the sake of your safety.

Where to Go Ice Fishing

Ice fishing is arguably the most exciting thing you can do all winter, especially if you frequent the following regions:

  • Vermont: This destination is home to a healthy variety of fish species such as bluegill, pike, and walleye.
  • New Hampshire: During the winter, you wont find any shortage of makeshift shelters on the ice in New Hampshire. Dont forget to pick up your fishing license—you can apply through NHFGs many licensing agents!
  • Maine: Ice anglers flock to this lucrative fishing destination rich with delicious salmon and lake trout. Hire one of Maines knowledgeable angling experts for a praiseworthy catch!

The Bottom Line

If youre keen on visiting a lucrative ice fishing destination like New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, and Eastern New York, becoming well-versed in the different kinds of gear and safety regulations in your area can make for an enjoyable afternoon out on the ice.

Remember, ice fishing takes a lot of practice. Brutal weather and fish scarcity are just a few issues you might have to overcome—but they will be worth the battle!

Reaves is an avid ice fisher and angling expert. As the owner of Perfect Captain, he is passionate about providing helpful resources to rookies and veterans alike.

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