Derrek Sigler 02.14.21
Cover Photo – Shutterstock/Danielsen
Winter is here and the lakes and ponds are starting to look less like water and more like skating rinks. That means it is almost time to hit the hard water and do some ice fishing. For those of us who frequently fish the ice, we’re most likely already geared up and just waiting for safe ice, but there are many who are thinking of giving it a try for the first time. I remember my first time gearing up to go. Trying to figure out exactly what I needed was tricky. Luckily I had a few folks who helped me pick the right equipment. Here is a beginner’s guide to the basic ice fishing gear you need.
One basic rule that everyone should follow, but for beginning ice anglers, this needs to be stated clearly. Be very aware of the ice thickness before attempting to head out. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, you should follow this basic guideline for ice thickness.
- UNDER 4″ – STAY OFF
- 4″ – Ice fishing or other activities on foot
- 5″ – 7″ – Snowmobile or ATV
- 8″ – 12″ – Car or small pickup
- 12″ – 15″ – Medium truck
Table of Contents
1. Clam Outdoors Ice Sniper Rod and Reel Combo
You need an ice fishing rod to go out, and take it from me – you don’t want to go out with junk. That’s what makes the Ice Sniper from Clam such a great deal. It is a quality medium-light rod matched to the right size reel. This rod will handle most of your standard ice-fishing species like panfish and even walleye. Getting a good combo lessens the chance that you’ll have an equipment failure, which can ruin the experience. The guys at Clam know their gear and this is a great combo.
Pros/A perfectly balanced combo
Cons/A little light for bigger fish
Bottom Line/A great way to start out your gear
2. Eskimo Sting Ray Power Ice Auger – On Sale Now!
To be able to fish the ice, you need to be able to drill holes through it. Now, the cheaper way to go for a beginner is to use a hand auger. I went that route. It’s fine for thinner ice, but once it gets to that 10-inch range, it sucks. It REALLY sucks if you have to drill a lot of holes while chasing the fish. A power auger is not that expensive and will save you a lot of grief. The Eskimo Sting Ray is a great option for beginning anglers and it will last a long time thanks to the high-performance 33cc Viper engine. Opt for the power auger. You’ll thank me at the end of the season.
Pros/Drill holes fast without using your energy up
Cons/Costs more than a hand auger
Bottom Line/Save yourself some stress and opt for the power auger.
3. Korkers Apex Ice Cleat
I’m not going to lie – I wish someone had told me to get ice cleats before I went out on the ice the first time. It was just plain, open ice with little snow cover and let’s just say that it wasn’t any fun. These slip-on cleats from Korkers have 20 multi-directional, saw-tooth, stainless steel cleats that dig into the ice and keep you on your feet. The cleats slip over your boots and are very secure and tight. Even if there is snow on the ice, I would consider cleats a definite MUST-HAVE item.
Pros/Gives you traction on all ice surfaces
Cons/None – buy a set for everyone heading out on the ice with you.
Bottom Line/A serious must have item for the ice.
4. HT Enterprises Ice Master Complete Lure Kit
The basic lures and gear you need for ice fishing are actually pretty simple. Some small jigs, a few flutter lures, a couple bobbers and a depth gauge are all you need. Luckily HT Enterprises, a company that is trusted by many ice anglers, including me, has a simple kit that gives you all you need. Just add some wax worms and go for it.
Pros/Everything you need to go, minus the wax worms or minnows.
Bottom Line/You’ve got the basics covered for panfish and walleye
5. Sufix 832 Advanced Ice Fishing Braid
You need line specifically designed for the ice. I have tried just about all of them out there, but Suffix is the brand I stick with, and this braided line is perfect. It is small diameter, resists freezing and gives me the feel I need for those subtle hits. This is what you need to use.
Pros/Perfect line for ice fishing
Cons/Costs a tiny bit more than regular line, but worth it
Bottom Line/Gives you the feel and strength you need
6. Clam Kenai Pro 40th Anniversary Edition Insulated Thermal Flip-over Ice Fishing Shelter
If you’re going to get a portable shanty, you should start your search with Clam Outdoors. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the original Fish Trap, flip over shanty. Tis slick setup had a seat and a flip-over thermal shanty that will help keep you toasty warm. The seat sits on a sled that will hold your gear so you can be an extremely mobile ice angler. If you’re going to be serious about it, you might as well get the original.
Pros/Extreme mobility for getting on the fish fast
Cons/A little pricey, but worth it
Bottom Line/Get the 40th anniversary original!
7. Vexlar FL-8se Genz Pack
If you want to get a fish finder, a great option is the Vexlar unit designed with Dave Genz. Dave is a great guy and a legend when it comes to ice fishing. I’ve had the pleasure of fishing with his years ago and learned a lot in short order. Flashers seem weird at first but you catch on within minutes of using one and it is amazing to use. The classic FL-8se flasher is truly legendary. The world’s most popular 3-color sonar flasher, the FL-8se shows weak targets in green, medium strength targets in orange and strong bottom targets in red. 525 segments of resolution, super bright LEDs and 10 interference rejection settings make the FL-8se a great year-round flasher / fish finder.
Pros/Helps you be a better angler
Cons/None. Once you try one, you’ll be
Bottom Line/Once you try one, you’ll be hooked
A Note on Ice Etiquette
There are a couple of things to keep in mind with regards to etiquette. Some anglers will watch the other anglers around them, and if they see someone pulling in a lot of fish, they might try to move closer to them. It’s ok to move, but don’t crowd someone in. That’s lame. I might go over and ask them what they are using, because maybe it’s something I’m not, but I’m not going to try to horn in on a guy’s spot.
And if someone is nice to you, return the favor. If they tip you off to a good spot, and you get on the fish, go and invite them to join you. Karma is a good thing to keep on your side when you’re standing on the ice. A few years ago, I got onto a school of perch thanks to a tip I got on the way out onto the lake. I went and got the guy and we both ended up with our limit. I still get text messages from that guy about good fishing and we’ve met up for some great fishing trips. It all pays off in the end, folks!
Finding fish under the ice
If you’re new to fishing the hard water, there are a few ways to help yourself have better luck when you start out. If you don’t know the lake, see if there is a map of the lake bottom contours that you can use. This will show you depth, ridges, depressions and other spots that can help hold fish. Some species become lethargic in cold water and all fish species will work to use the least amount of energy possible. Ask local bait shops what is working and where people are having the best luck. Now, chances are, you’re not going to get the owner’s best spots, but you’ll likely get some good ideas as to where to start. That’s not true for all bait shops, as a shop on two of my favorite lakes will give you the straight up best spots to go and when to go there. These are the best type of businesses, and I’d be sure to give them as much help as they gave you.
Another great way to get an idea where to go is to simply follow the crowds. If you see a lot of folks in one area, that is usually a good giveaway that there are fish there. Don’t be afraid to move around and fan out. If you have a flasher, it will be worth its weight in gold when it comes to getting on the fish.
When is the best time to go ice fishing?
Many of us know that the first couple hours of daylight and the last couple, including the dark times before and after, will be your best bets for catching fish. The same goes for fishing on the ice. We also know that changes in barometric pressure, like right before a weather system moves in, can be great times to get some bites. It is a mistake to think that it doesn’t affect lakes that are froze over, though. It makes a huge difference. Drill a hole through the ice and watch the water. Pressure on top of the ice affects the water underneath in a big way. And any pressure that affects the water will affect the fish swimming in it.
Now, first ice of the year has a way of making fish strap on the feed bag, and the fishing can be fantastic. That also means it’s the thinnest ice. I’ll pass, thanks. I like thicker ice to fish on. However, you need to keep track of what’s going on under the ice. Oxygen levels in the water affect how the water sits, and there is a think called turnover, which impacts where the most oxygen is in the water. The thing is, some lakes can have a severe oxygen depletion in winter, as the plant life isn’t producing anymore. In fact, plant decay from winter die-off can pull oxygen out of the water and in turn, kill the fish. This sort of thing comes late in the season, and is a good reason to call for lake and fishing conditions before you go.
Where can I go ice fishing?
Any lake with thick enough ice should be good, as most lakes hold some fish species. It’s always a good idea to ask around if you’re not sure. Social media and local bait and tackle shops are good bets.
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