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Ice Fishing: Part One
© 2006
It's not just frozen food.

It is tempting to always consider that emergency/survival situations will only happen during the summer months when everything is warm, bright, and cheery. But, that's not always true.

If disasters happen during the "cold" season that those of you who don't live in Florida call "winter", you may have to fend for yourselves while trying not to freeze to death. Some parts of our family actually prefer to live in "northern" states, where the freeze is a way of life. However, in the coldest regions of the country ice fishing is an option for food that is always available if you know how.

Like all survival skills, if you really need to know how to do it, you need to know how to do it WELL and Do It NOW...The FIRST TIME. This means that during non-emergency times, you have to practice these skills so that all the mistakes are made during "training sessions". In other words, go camping and fishing (for fun) while you can. Make each trip a "training session" to learn one or two new skills a day. Do it while it's still fun, and your life does NOT depend on it.

Fishing is always more fun when you know that there is a frozen package of hot dogs back at camp to back you up for dinner. It takes on a much higher degree of urgency when you HAVE TO FISH TO EAT.

Cold weather fishing takes a LOT more equipment that its warm-weather cousin. Check out this section to get an idea of what you want...versus what you NEED.

Ice Fishing Checklist

Minimum to take if you are just 'tagging along':
  • Fishing rods-with large guides, a sensitive tip, with some 'backbone'.
  • Reels- Micro-spinning reel
  • Line- 4-8 lb test ice-line
  • Bait: crappie minnows, wax worms, fathead lures, etc...
  • A 5 gallon bucket (to sit on)
  • Hand warmers
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Fishing License
  • Proper Identification
  • A compass
  • Bobber stops with beads
  • An assortment of split-shot
  • Ice fishing bobbers
  • Fingernail clipper (to cut line)
  • Ice scoop
  • Jigs and spoons and hooks...etc.

Ice fishing equipment if going alone:
  • Ice auger (option: Axe)
  • Sled for auger or vehicle if the ice is thick enough.
  • Mouth spreader
  • Hook sharpener
  • Bait bucket
  • Small shovel-collapsible if possible
  • Ice picks-could be a lifesaver!

Preferred ice fishing equipment:
  • Fish Finder
  • Ice Fishing Shelter
  • Propane heater
  • Spud bar (for checking ice thickness)
  • Camera (disposable works best)
  • Ice cleats
  • Ice Anchoring System
  • Small flashlight. (I prefer one that you wear)
  • Lantern
  • Matches or Lighter (for propane heater)
  • Tip-ups-preferably the freeze-free type
  • Leaders for tip-ups
  • Quickstrike rigs for tip-ups
  • Bait for tip-ups-herring, smelt sardines, etc.
  • Cell-phone
  • GPS
  • "Glow-buster" glo-jig light.

Luxury Ice Fishing Equipment:
  • Underwater camera
  • Two-way radios to talk to your buddies
  • Ice Fishing House
  • Strike sensors for tip-ups

Optional Ice Fishing odds and ends:
  • Food
  • Drinks
  • Hand Towel
  • Gaff- to remove large fish
  • Sunglasses

If you take kids:
  • Extra gloves
  • Tissues (those noses run all the time!)
  • Lot's of snacks
  • A small sled to entertain them

Step One: Find a frozen lake, chop a hole in the ice, and catch some fish.

Sounds so easy

First step is to find the proper tool. I highly recommend the auger (hand or power) since chopping is very messy and if you're not careful, the axe falls through the ice on that last fatal swing...

Here are links to a few types of augers

Hand Augers Gas Augers Electric Augers
There comes a time when "No-Brainer" comes to mind. If you have to carry this damned auger out for any distance at all, then get a hand auger. If you can drive your cart, car, or horse and buggy out onto the lake, then by all means take a power auger. Rent it out to other poor people trying to fish out there too. Wheel and deal. No hole, no fishing A hole for 25% of the catch$10.00 a hole...go for it.
Step Two:

Now that the hole is neatly drilled, you need a shelter to sit in comfort and catch that old fish. Lets start with the ridiculous, and move backwards to practical.

"Theft Proof" Fish Houses

Trailers: The investment of your ice fishing house starts with the quality of your fish house trailer. You do not want to take any shortcuts on this item. Whether you are building your own or purchasing a completed unit, you want to make sure it is of high quality that is professional welded and constructed of square tubing steel.

Do-It-Yourself-Kit Pricing

There are actually many different sizes and costs, this is just an example.

Rogue Turtle Product Sample: Do-It-Yourself "Theft-Proof" Fish House Kits

Do-It-Yourself "Theft-Proof" Fish House Kits Include:
  • "Theft Proof" trailer or Heavy-duty Tundra trailer
  • LP tank holder (fits 20# and 30# tanks)
  • Maintenance free RV door with lock and key
  • Thermal Pane sliding windows
  • Outside 12 volt porch light
  • Interior 12 volt double lights or single lights
  • Trailer light kit
  • Catch cover hole covers
  • Coated self drilling floor screws
  • Diamond plate (24" high x width of fish house)
  • RV aluminum roof cut to width and length
  • RV aluminum horizontal interlocking siding cut to length
  • Decorative RV siding trim (includes caulk tape, screw cover and screws)
You need to purchase the lumber, carpet and paneling

Approximate cost ($3,700 - 6' 4" x 12') ($3,775 - 6' 4" x 14') ($4,000 - 6' 4" x 16')

For this and other ice fishing shelters, visit Fish House Supply

The trailer is towed out onto the ice, the front end taken off the vehicle and parked on the ice. You take the towing gear with you so you can leave the trailer there for the entire winter. If you have a "hot spell", good luck finding your sunken fishing shelter.

Some of these shelters I've seen have been monuments to "power lounging". Fishing becomes only a secondary task after getting set up. Since refrigeration is not a problem, keeping the beer cold is easy. You get the idea here, I bet: You can add Stoves, Porta-Potty, bunks, chairs, battery operated TV and radio, and you can probably get a satellite dish for it now. The one think you should probably avoid, though, is a heater that is TOO GOOD. You don't want to melt a hole in the ice under you.

OK, I think you get my point. The only limitation on how fancy you can make your ice fishing your wallet.


The rods used to ice fish are very short compared to what you are used to. The sizes range from 24" to 30" in length. This is because you don't have to cast... just drop the line down into the hole. Like normal rods, they come in light, medium and heavy strengths, based on the type of fish you will be going after. The "Tip Up" is a hands off version for ice fishing.

Rogue Turtle Product Recommendation:
Berkley ProLite "Lightning Rod"

Berkley ProLite "Lightning Rod" Ice Rods by Dave Genz $28.95 and up.

Mr. Ice Fishing, Dave Genz, captain of the Ice Team, has helped Berkley design a rod series that flexes just like a six-foot rod, with solid graphite blanks specifically made for ice fishing.

Rogue Turtle Product Recommendation:
Frabill Stow-Away Compact Tip-Up

Frabill Stow-Away Compact Tip-Up $9.95 + shipping.

The Frabill Stow-Away Compact Tip-Up is a compact, molded plastic tip-up. Its features include:
• Self contained, fold up style for compact storage
• Pre-lubricated spool shaft for ultra-smooth operation
• Special hook keeper feature
• Available in black or orange

Normal nylon fishing lines won't hold up in severe cold weather. You need special line designed to do this work. Try Mason Braided Tip-Up Line (around $3.00) or Seaguar Carbon Ice Fluorocarbon Ice Line (around $6.00 per spool)

FISHING LURES: If you cannot find or keep fresh bait (always my first choice), then you will have to lure the fish in biting your hook. Every fisherman has his "favorite lure" and its is always different than the fisherman he is sitting next to.

P.S. Fishing lures must be used with a fishing rod to give them some "action". Live bait is best used on the Tip Up.

Rogue Turtle like Heddon Sonar Flash Lures (around $3.45 each) or Lindy Techni-GloTM Frostee Jigging Spoon ($2.25 to 2.35 each)

Fighting Fish When Ice Fishing

I found a great guide that will help you reel in the monster fish on the hook. Fighting fish through a small hole in the ice requires a bit more consideration than fishing from shore or on open water. Don't let the article by David Genz get away.

Ice Scoops: The longer the handle the better. Available at almost all kitchen supply stores. There are commercial (stainless steel) models out there with a handle over 24" long. This will help you from NOT falling in while you scoop out the glaze ice that forms in the hole after you've drilled it.


The object of choosing clothes for ice fishing is to dress to stay warm in any type of weather. The old saying goes "You can always peel off layers if you're too hot, but you can't add them if you don't have them." This means dress in layers, and lots of them! This is the same type of clothing you'd wear to a late season Packer game at Lambeau Field. (For Floridians, that's in Green Bay, Wisconsin.)

Here are some of the basics for any winter sport. Start with the layer closest to the skin. This is where you want to be sure to stay dry. Believe it or not, just a slight bit of perspiration (sweat) can make you cold down to the bone and could lead to frostbite or hypothermia. Wear an under-layer of moisture-wicking material such as polypropylene, including a shirt, pants, socks, and mitten liners. This is better than cotton if you have a choice, but cotton can also be worn. Be aware that cotton may get wet and stay wet, so try to stay as dry as possible and wear layers.

A good tip for staying dry is also to wear your boots or overshoes loosely tied until arriving at your site. If you get hot along the way, be sure to unzip your jacket to let out some of the heat or even take off a layer. You could also carry a few extra pairs of dry felt boot liners, moisture wicking socks, and mitten liners. Moisture or sweat can make you very cold when the wind begins to blow.

The next layer is the warmth layer and wool is a great fabric for this. It keeps you warm when dry and damp! Fleece is also a popular warmth layer as well as down jackets. Wool is great for hats and mittens as long as they have a protective windbreaker fabric on the inside or outside.

A face mask or neck warmer may be the ticket in windy weather. Also, be sure your hat has generous ear flaps to cover your entire ears if the wind gets a howlin'. A one-piece insulated coverall is ideal for this sport, especially if it has a hood that can be left open or pulled tight around the face and neck.

The final layer is the windbreaker. Leather can protect against the wind, but it can stiffen and crack in extreme cold temperatures. Down jackets are nice since they often provide a windbreaking shell on the outside. If you choose to wear wool or fleece as a warmth layer, be sure and top it off with a rip-stop nylon windbreaker shell. The wind can cut through even the warmest wool sweater or jacket when you're out on the lake.

Goggles tucked in a pocket can also help protect you against the blustery wind.

Your feet take the most beating since they are on the ice and snow for hours at a time. Pack boots usually do the trick and offer several layers of insulation as well as a protective rubber layer to keep you dry. Avoid soft-sided hiking boots or street shoes that can get wet and let the wind through. Waterproof and well insulated winter boots are the best footwear for ice fishing.

Creature Comforts

Ice shanties are small shelters which can help keep you out of the wind and blowing snow as you fish. Shanties are made of wood or plastic and can be rented from many sport fishing outlets or can be made at home. Typically, they are about 6 feet by 6 feet with a bench for two, and tall enough for you to stand.

Portable canvas shelters also make for a protected area for fishing for long periods of time and they can be set up at a moments notice if the weather turns bad. Inside, some anglers use stoves and heaters to keep warm. Others use small burners outside on the ice to warm their hands or to keep them warm as they sit to fish. As always, use caution with any heater.

Sometimes shanties can be left on the lake most of the winter and people group together in a "shanty town." Late in the season, portable shelters can be used but they must be removed daily. Be sure and check your current fishing regulations for ice shanty rules.

Remember, moving around can help you keep warm. Bring your ice skates and glide around the ice while you watch your tip-ups. A well-insulated jug of hot chocolate or soup is always a great treat out on the ice and it will keep you energized to stay out if the fish are really biting.

Stay on Top of It!

You don't want to be walking on "thin ice" with this sport! A safe rule of thumb is to be sure the ice is at least 4 inches thick. Be sure and check ice conditions before heading out and follow a path if there is one. Because ice thickness can vary across an area, check more than one spot. In spring, "rotten" ice, no matter how reliable it looks under that fluffy snow, can give way easily. When on a snowmobile, be sure the ice is thicker than 4 inches and use the trails already made. Watch out for holes in the ice or open water. Remember this rule of thumb: "Thick and blue, tried and true. Thin and crispy, way too risky."

Keep Your Bearings On the Ice

On a large lake you can lose your sense of direction if you get caught in the dark, or if the weather should turn nasty. Some anglers have a compass strapped right to their arm where it's visible or one in an accessible outside pocket. These anglers take a compass reading (bearing) of their intended route before leaving shore. If a blizzard or a "white out" should hit, they can follow their compass in the reverse direction to get back to shore quickly. It wouldn't hurt to take a bearing from your fishing hole back to a visible landmark as well. Careful planning begins with checking the weather report and getting back to safety before dark.

Tools of the Trade
  • Toboggan or sled This is a practical way to haul equipment onto the ice. Some anglers put their gear on top of their shanty, which is transported on runners.
  • Ice auger This tool is for drilling your fishing hole in the ice. The hole should be no more than 12 inches across.
  • Skimmer This handy tool is needed to scoop out slush or chips from your fishing hole. It looks like a long-handled soup ladle, with a shallow, sieved bowl.
  • Ice chisel Called "spuds," ice chisels are used for chopping holes early in the ice fishing season when the ice is thinner. Be sure to secure these thin, but hefty, poles with a line tied to your arm. Many spuds have slipped from angler's grasp and plummeted to the bottom of a lake.
  • Bait bucket Holds live bait such as minnows.
  • Spud an ice chisel. (See ice chisel for description)
  • Gaff hook A special-purpose, large and heavy hook to help hoist a slippery fish through a hole in the ice.
  • Seat Something to sit on such as a small stool or folding chair, sometimes even a 5-gallon bucket.
  • Dip net Used to dip into minnow buckets to retrieve bait and keep hands dry.
  • Hook disgorger A tool like a needlenose pliers to help you get the hook out of the fish's mouth.

Ice Fishing Tackle
  • Jigging rod Light and flexible rods used mostly for panfish (bluegills) and walleye. A short, firmer rod is better for perch.
  • Tip-up A clever device that signals when a fish hits on your line. A flag "tips up" when the fish strikes and gives you the freedom to leave the fishing hole for a moment.
  • Hooks Small number 10 or 12 hooks are recommended for panfish. Short shank number 3 hooks are good for walleye. Northern pike go for large number 2/0 to 6/0 hooks. Swedish hooks, also called pike hooks, are used for northern pike.
  • Lures Ice flies and teardrop lures with live bait are recommended for panfish.
  • Jigs Walleyes can be caught on minnow imitation jigs.
  • Line Light monofilament (a thin plastic length of string), 2 to 4-pound test (breaking strength), is all you need for panfish. Game fish require at least 10-pound test.
  • Leaders A leader is a short wire that the hook is attached to. The fishing line is then tied to the other end of the leader. For walleye, take 2 or 3 monofilament leaders, at least 12-pound test (breaking strength) and about 3 feet long. For northern pike, 2 or 3 wire leaders, and about 15-pound test will do the job, but in most pike waters, some say, 8-pound test is enough.

Look for part two of the ice fishing series in the next Rogue Turtle Newsletter...