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Getting Started in Ice Fishing

Posted by Walt & Poppee Matan on Dec 29th 2017

Getting Started in Ice Fishing

Winter is our favorite time of the year for two reasons—Ice fishing! If you've put off going ice fishing until now, then this is the year to get started! If you are a novice, then read on because what follows is scientifically proven tactics guaranteed to make you a better ice fisherman.


Ice fishing is good clean fun for the whole family. You will be rewarded with a good warm feeling inside from all the camaraderie and the warm filets in your belly. Let's go over the basics on how to get started in this exciting sport.

There are three rules of ice fishing that Poppee has dubbed his golden rules. You will do well to heed them.
Rule #1: Be safe. Never ever walk out on unsafe ice. Drowning over a bucket of perch is not an option. We'll give you a list of safety items that you'll need in questionable situations.
Rule #2: Don't be cheap. Ice Fishing is one of the cheapest sports. For under $100 you can get everything you need to get started. Head to a reputable tackle shop for all your gear and let the pros outfit you...don't try to set yourself up on the cheap at a discount store, you will end up with garbage tackle and gear that won't catch you nothin'.
Rule #3: Don't be a moron. This is the most important rule of all. When you are getting started in ice fishing, being a moron is very detrimental to your success ratio. You might think that any moron can ice fish, all you do is drill a hole, sit on a bucket and catch fish. A good fisherman is not a moron!
So don't show up on the ice with your open water fishing outfit. Don't wear tennis shoes and complain about how cold it is. And for gosh sakes, don't walk up to a stranger on the ice who is catching fish and ask; "Could you move your foot, so I can drill a hole and fish here?"
Good ice fishermen are a secretive bunch, but they will let you in their club if you act as cool as the ice on which you are standing. The moron club meets over there...they are the guys sitting on lawn chairs, wearing tennis shoes, price tags hanging off their new orange caps, with open six-packs on the ice, complaining about the cold with no fish in their buckets.

At early ice, late ice, in areas with current and in lakes with ice under six inches thick, you need safety items. It's a good idea to keep these items with you on every trip, regardless of ice thickness. We've been ice fishing in every situation and condition imaginable and haven't fallen through in more than 20 years, but we still keep these safety items with us.
1.) Spud bar: A spud bar is a long heavy metal rod with a chisel end. Before the advent of augers, guys used spud bars to make a fishing hole. If you try that now, you revert back to being a moron, since banging a metal rod on the ice will spook fish and make everyone around you very mad. As you walk out on to the lake slam the spud down ahead of where you are stepping. If it bounces off the ice, keep walking. If it pierces through, then slowly back up. Keep spudding your way out to the spot you intend to fish and you will never fall through.
2.) Twenty-five feet of rope with a 2x4 attached: Use this to toss out to someone who falls through.
3.) Ice picks: A few companies make these with a thin rope attached. Keep them around your neck so that if you happen to fall through, you can grab them quickly and use them to pull yourself from the ice.
4.) Ice cleats: Metal cleats that fit over your boots are the safest way to travel on the ice, anyone who has ever slipped and landed flat on their back will tell you that falling on ice isn't fun at all.

Like we said before, it doesn't cost much to get you started. Here is a list of the items you need if you want to start catching fish today.
Ice auger: An auger is a big drill that makes a nice hole for you from which to fish. A good auger is important. I prefer a five- to six-inch Strikemaster Lazer for panfish, it cuts quick and makes a clean hole. For walleye a eight- to 10-inch blade is better. Keep in mind that the bigger the auger, the harder it is to drill. Also, the more holes you drill, the more fish you usually catch.
Plastic scoop: Get a red and black plastic scoop, you'll need it to get the ice chips out of the hole.
Bucket: You'll need a five gallon bucket as a seat and to hold all your gear.
Rod: A nice quality ultra-light rod and reel combo will catch you more fish since you will be able to detect bites better, plus it will put more fun in the fight. Frabill makes some great ones. Their Arctic combo sells for under $35. It has a nice light tip that will let you detect strikes, plus you'll have a lot of fun pulling in fish on this little gem. Get the ultra-light size for panfish and spool up with four-pound Cortland Ice Line. Try their light action for walleye/bass with six-pound line.
Jigs: Our favorite jigs are made by Custom Jigs & Spins. Ratfinkees, Demons, Shrimpos, and Ratsos are great for all species. Panfish will prefer size 12, 10 and eight hook sizes on the jigs while walleye/bass will attack the size six and fours. Get an assortment of fluorescent and glows for stained water and darker colors like black, green and red for clear water.
Bait: Waxworms and spikes (maggots) are top choices for panfish. Large fathead or medium roach minnows are used for gamefish.

There are some lakes that are better than others for panfish. They are usually weedy and have a lot of shallow bays or channels. Others are better for walleye and they have more rock/rubble/sand bottoms. Talk to the pros at the bait shop for easy access spots on popular lakes in the area you intend to fish.
When you first attempt ice fishing on your own it is better to head to popular spots so you can see how other anglers fish. It won't take you long to see who is doing well and to duplicate their success.
One last tip; if you buy all your gear at a real bait shop, the pros will give you a lot more accurate and detailed information than if you just pop in like a moron yelling; “Where are they bitin'!”

Ice fishing is a simple sport. It is easy to get started, doesn't cost much and is a lot of fun. Check out some of my other articles this month for more tips and techniques. If you live in the Chicago area, stop in our store; Water Werks II and check out our huge ice fishing department. I'll be on hand to answer all your questions and help you out. Call 630-393-0100 for more information.

Poppee didn't get to be the ice fishing king by being a moron, find out the basics in this article

A little plastic scoop and an assortment of jigs from Custom Jigs & Spins are just a few of the items you'll need to get started ice fishing.

When you first attempt ice fishing on your own it is better to head to popular spots so you can see how other anglers fish. It won't take you long to see who is doing well and to duplicate their success.