Ice Fishing 101

By Capt. Steve Chaconas

Ice fishing can be fun, just take a few precautions for a safe and exciting trip!

Photo of an angler ice fishing

A trip to the ice requires a few things. First of course, safe ice! Some feel 3 inches is safe, but I wouldn't head out unless there was proof of at least 6 inches. Best to go early in the season as late ice season thaws could be unsafe! Find an experienced buddy or guide before ever thinking about experimenting with this sport! It can be dangerous and quite difficult to figure out how to catch fish! The fishing industry has introduced high tech and more efficient versions of grumpy old men gear.

Cold Weather Clothing

Dress in layers! Lots of high tech gear on the market! Under Armour's UA Base 4.0 traps hot air and allows mobility in any direction. But just as important, moisture is wicked away from the body with anti odor technology. The new AFTCO head and shoulder buff keeps ears, neck, face and head warm.

A few more layers here are key! A warm hoodie is a good layer before the ice suit. Ski caps add a final layer. Block the elements with Ice Force specialty insulated outerwear. Pants bibs include padded knees! For hands and feet, nothing keeps extremities dry or warm like Hanz Extremity Wear and Chill Blocker socks and gloves. Wear a thin sock under the Hanz socks. Boots with a thick insulating sole will keep feet cozy and comfortable. The finishing touch is a pair of 32 North STABILicer ice cleats that strap right to your boots. Wrap around style polarized Maui Jim sunglasses will cut winter glare, especially reflecting off the snow. The gray lens is perfect to prevent snow blindness and accompanying headaches.


Where to start is next! If you know the body of water, try drops or ditches. If not, this is where a good portable ice depth finder is mandatory. Just drop into holes to find depths and fish. Ice augers are no longer the hard-to-start, smelly and dangerous gasoline types. No more carrying gas cans with 2-stroke oil! StrikeMaster rechargeable electric augers will drill baby drill all day long! Or you can warm up with a hand auger to drill pilot holes where the portable sonar/fishfinder will show depths and if any fish are in the area. The more holes, the more accurate view of the underwater landscape can be drawn.

There are several electronic devices to aid in locating and catching fish. Once learned, these are invaluable tools to allow finding and keeping lures in front of fish!

There is no question the modern version of the old school MarCum flasher is more effective at both. Other devices use a computer to interpret readings. MarCum flashers are pure sonar with the latest electronic advances. Lures show up clearly and the size and proximity of fish is much more accurate.

Once learned, this is the best ice fishing tool! Using the MarCum flasher, ice anglers can see fish as green lights when fish come closer. Bigger movements of the bait will draw fish in closer yet and the fish turn yellow. Nearer and they are orange. When the fish are red, they are ready and subtle movements and a slight lift will turn curious fishing into aggressive eaters!

Marcum also makes a really cool under-ice camera. Not only can you watch the fish come to baits, noting species, anglers can learn what each bite feels like! But the MarCum can also be remotely displayed and controlled on any cell phone from nearby locations on the ice to monitor activity!

Just about every species can be caught through the ice and you really never know what you might catch, but panfish are some of the best eating fish on ice! Bluegill, crappie, and yellow perch all fall for similar lures.


Speaking of lures, live bait can also be used, but an experienced ice angler with lures will outfish a bait fisherman any day.

Rapala has always led the way with multi species lures. Ice Force baits weigh 1/100 to 1/16 ounce and are tied to 1-pound test Sufix Ice Magic Line, finer than hair and very difficult to see and even harder to tie knots in the cold! There were several colors and shapes. The VMC Tungsten Tubby is a major ice bait advancement. The small profile, with a heavier weight, achieves deeper depths faster, down to 40 feet in most cases.

The variety of Trigger X soft plastic shapes and actions provide a baitfish smorgasbord to entice lethargic cold-water fish. Even with very cold water, fish still must eat, just not as much or as aggressively. Patience and persistence are required.

Rods And Reels

Ice fishing rods, reels and line have gone high tech! Ice line in 4-pound test down to 1 or 2-pound test is needed to finesse soft biting and lethargic pan fish! Perfectly balanced ice specialty rods and reels are available from 13 Fishing: White Out, Wicked Combos, and the Tickle Stick ... the most innovative with micro guides and a flat side for perfect flex! The rods make landing a 6-ounce fish an exciting fight, and larger fish a memorable experience.

Photo of anglers inside an insulated Otter ice hut

A few other items make a day on the ice more enjoyable. The insulated Otter ice hut slides on a sled and pops up to reveal a dual seating arrangement along with plenty of storage for tackle and other gear. With a very small heater or none at all, the Otter blocks the wind and retains the heat!

Even though it is literally freezing on the ice, it is still very important to hydrate! Drinking plenty of water is essential to prevent dehydration and headaches! Be safe and learn more about the harder side of water sports.