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How to Get Started Ice Fishing

We love fishing all year long, even when the water is frozen! With the right gear, clothing and a little preparation, you can enjoy ice fishing all winter long.

5 Min. Watch | Fishing

How to Stay Warm & Safe (& Legal)

Before you start fishing, be sure to take care of these 5 important tasks:

1. Fishing License/Regulations

You need to buy a fishing license before hitting the ice. Also, make sure you have the latest ice fishing regulations with you. The number of fish you can keep, minimum lengths and even types of bait allowed can vary from lake to lake.

2. Check the Ice Thickness

It’s critical to test the thickness of the ice as you venture out. You want a solid 4 inches to be safe. Don’t assume it’s safe just because you saw people fishing on a nearby pond or lake. Use your ice auger or chisel to intermittently check the ice thickness.

Be sure to wear a traction device on your boots to prevent falls. They easily slip over your boots for on-demand grip. Just remember to take them off before you go home.

4. Check the Weather

It’s important that you check the weather forecast before you go. This way, you’ll be ready for whatever Mother Nature throws at you. And be sure to bring extra warm clothing, gloves/mittens, hats and socks in case something gets wet. 

5. Warm Clothing

Many days on the ice have been cut short by not wearing enough warm gear. Here’s what you’ll need:

Insulated Jackets:

Waterproof, Windblocking Shells:

Insulated Pants/Bibs:

Base Layers

Warm Socks

Gloves or Mittens


Winter Scarves & Neck Gaiters

Insulated, Waterproof Boots:

Hand & Toe Warmers

The Gear You Need

These pieces of gear will help ensure you have a fun and comfortable fishing trip, even if you don’t catch any fish.

Ice Auger

An ice auger will let you quickly drill a hole through the ice. If you want exercise, you can use a chisel but if the ice is thick, it will take a long time to get your holes.


Tip-ups let you easily fish live bait under the ice. When you get a bite, a brightly colored flag pops up to let you know there’s a fish on.

Jig Rod & Lures

A jig rod with a reel loaded with line lets you fish more actively than waiting for a tip-up flag to fly. You can easily fish different depths with an assortment of lure.

Bait Bucket

A good bait bucket will keep your bait alive all day. Make sure you have a small net to easily scoop bait. Ask your local tackle shop what kind of bait they would recommend.

Camp Stove/Food/Hot Drinks

Ice fishing is a great activity for kids so make it extra fun and tasty by cooking up a nice meal, making some hot chocolate and handing out some tasty snacks.


A portable shelter is great for getting out of the weather on cold, windy days. They usually have windows so you can keep an eye on your tip-ups, or you can drill a hole inside the shelter and jig.


A sled will make hauling your gear out onto the ice a breeze. Make sure it’s large enough to carry everything.

Pack Baskets

If you don’t want to invest in a sled and like to keep things simple, a pack basket or two will do the job.

Techniques You Need to Know

While ice fishing is fairly simple, there are a few techniques that will help increase your chances for success.

1. How to Use a Tip-Up

Tip-ups consist of a spool filled with ice fishing line and a 6 or 7-foot section of clear monofilament leader with a hook tied on. Just bait the hook and attach some weighted split shot about 3 feet up the leader to make sure the bait gets to the depth you want. The tip-up sits over the hole and above the ice so you can easily see it. When a fish takes the bait and pulls line, the flag pops up, alerting you to the bite.

2. Setting the Depth

Before you start fishing, you need to figure out how deep the water is. Simply slip the eyelet of a sinker over your bait hook, lower it into the hole and let it sink to the bottom. Now you know how deep the water is. You’ll want to set your bait about 18 inches to 2 feet above the bottom.

3. Choosing Bait & Baiting the Hook

Try to choose an energetic and lively bait. Scoop it out with the net and gently hold it with your thumb and forefinger. With your other hand, insert the hook into the bait just below the dorsal fin. This is the tricky part. Don’t go too low on the bait’s body where its vital organs are or too high where the spine is. You want it swimming freely and enticingly for the bigger fish you’re after.

4. Jigging

Jigging is easy, just tie on a lure, drop it to the bottom, reel up a couple feet and start jigging the lure up and down. You can vary the depth and experiment with different types of lures. It’s also a good idea to move around a lot to different holes until you find some fish.

5. Landing a Fish

When the flag flies on a tip-up, run over and observe what the spool is doing. If it’s spinning quickly, it means the fish is taking line. Gently pick up the tip-up and give the line a quick yank to set the hook. If the line isn’t moving, give it a few seconds before picking up the tip-up. Now just steadily pull the fish up to the hole. If it’s a big one that wants to make a run, just let it go so you don’t break the leader. Once you’ve pulled it onto the ice, use forceps to pull the hook out.

Now that you know what you need, you can head out onto the ice with confidence that you’ll have fun and hopefully catch some fish!

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