‘Is Ice Fishing Fun?’ 7 Fun Facts to Help You Decide
From power tools to packing lists, here’s what you need to know about this lesser-known winter sport
BY RACHEL CAVANAUGH
Mention the phrase “ice fishing” to anyone outside the snowy Midwest and they’re likely to conjure up images of bored old guys sitting around an icy fishing hole a la the 1993 movie “Grumpy Old Men.” But that’s only one way to experience ice fishing. Folks familiar with the sport will tell you that ice fishing is often more like a big party—groups of friends hanging around the “ice camp,” sharing stories while they eat, drink, laugh, and play hockey. Other times it can be completely silent, with moments of solitude to soak up a spectacular sunrise, or meditate on the beauty of your surroundings. In both scenarios, the draw to the ice can be powerful. To give you a better idea of what ice fishing involves—and whether it’s a sport for you—we rounded up the most common questions below. Check out the answers and fun facts about this unique sport to see if you’re ready to pack your bags and head north.
1. What is ice fishing?
First, let’s get the basics out of the way. Ice fishing is defined as any type of fishing that involves dropping a line through a sheet of ice and pulling fish out from underneath. Popular in places like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Dakota, it’s typically done with one of two techniques: The first is to use a “tip-up,” a small trap that’s dropped through an ice hole to suspend bait in the water. When a fish strikes, it signals the angler above the ice by tipping the flag upright. The other method is to use a jigging rod. Similar to a casting rod but much smaller, this short, sturdy rod is used to “jig” a line dropped into an ice hole by jerking it up and down or side to side, enticing the fish to strike the lure.
2. Is ice fishing fun?
There’s a common misconception that ice fishing can be dull or boring, but the truth is that, yes, ice fishing is absolutely fun. Sometimes referred to as “camping on ice,” it often involves large groups of people convening on the ice with snacks, coolers, beverages, and portable grills. It’s kind of like a tailgate party—but on ice, in the dead of winter. In addition to regular camp gear, people often bring a little pop-up hut called an ice shanty to stay warm in and play games while they wait for the fish to bite. And for folks who aren’t drawn to the social aspect, the natural scenery surrounding a frozen lake can be the ideal backdrop for a solo trip into the wilderness.
3. What do you need for ice fishing?
When planning what to bring for ice fishing, it’s helpful to split your packing list into three categories: gear, clothing, and personal items. Here’s a rough breakdown of each:
- Fishing Rod
- Ice Spud
- Ice Cleats
- Personal Flotation Device
- Portable grill
- Bucket or chair
- Hand warmers
- Ice shanty
- Portable propane heater
4. Is ice fishing safe?
Ice fishing certainly involves some unique risks, but it’s a relatively safe sport overall, as long as you take precautions and plan ahead. One of the main risks, of course, is the potential to fall through the ice, so be sure to bring an ice spud to check ice thickness. (See the general rules for ice thickness safety below.) Hypothermia is another potential threat, so you’ll need to wear high-quality winter gear and know how to stay warm in cold weather. Wearing ice cleats over your boots will help prevent you from slipping, and keeping your ice hut well ventilated will reduce the (less common) threat of carbon monoxide poisoning.
5. How thick should the ice be?
There is some debate over how thick the ice should be for ice fishing, but generally speaking, the rule of thumb is that for a single person to walk safely on ice, it needs to be more than 4 inches thick. Larger groups require even thicker ice, and if you’re planning on riding a snowmobile, your target should be more than 10 inches. Small automobiles need more than 12 inches, and medium-sized trucks must be supported by 15 inches of ice or more. Anything under two inches you must stay off completely. For more information on ice safety, check out the "Almanac’s Ice Thickness Safety Chart".
6. Do you need an auger?
Yes, in order to drill through the ice, you typically need an ice auger. You can opt for a special ice fishing auger that’s specifically designed for the job, or you can attach a long corkscrew blade to a power drill. If you opt for the latter, the blade should be at least three feet long. For thinner ice, you can also use a manual hand auger, although this will take longer and require considerably more work. In either scenario, make sure you are wearing ice cleats and plant your feet firmly before you start drilling. Don’t use too much pressure, as it can throw off your balance. And if you’ve never used an ice auger before, it’s critical to have a qualified person teach you.
7. How do you stay warm while ice fishing?
The first step to staying warm when you’re ice fishing is to invest in high-quality winter gear before you even hit the ice. Trust us, this isn’t a sport where you want to skimp on quality. Get the warmest winter parka you can and make sure it has high-quality down insulation. Another tip is to make sure you don’t overheat. If you get too hot when you’re drilling your hole, for example, you’ll start sweating, which can make you cold as the lining of your jacket gets damp. To avoid this, make sure to layer properly. Wear sweat-wicking baselayers, and if you start getting too toasty, peel your jacket off right away. If you use an ice hut, bring a portable propane heater to keep it warm, and step inside when you start getting chilly. Focus on keeping your core warm, as well as your head, face, feet, and hands, so investing in a good hat, balaclava, boots, and gloves will help.