Ice Fishing

Back to Basics

In the parts of the country where lakes and ponds freeze in the winter, ice fishing is an excellent cure for cabin fever. It is a relatively simple and inexpensive passive recreational pursuit. In order to join the fun you will need at a high level basic safety equipment, an auger, circle hooks, ide line, tip ups and as an option, a jigging rod.

Ice Auger and a Beaver Dam Tip Up
Ice Auger and a Beaver Dam Tip Up

What follows is a discussion on basic tackle and gear, for more details on fishing tactics,check back to our Ice Fishing Blog Category.

Selecting An Auger

The first decision you will make is between a gasoline or hand auger. Generally in warmer climates where the ice freezes to about one foot we recommend a hand auger. The gasoline auger will assist you in boring through the thicker freezes. There are also size options for the bore, most commonly six inches of eight inches, in diameter. Remember to consider weight and portability, it is not uncommon to hike up trails through snow seeking less heavily trafficked hard water.

A Discussion on Tip Ups

There are many different versions of tip up designs on the market. Each model has its upsides and pitfalls. Below, I have shared three styles with you, a modern “Polar Tip-Up” which sits horizontal over the hole with a shaft in the water, the “Thermal Tip-Up” for use in cold climate and the more traditional style of tip up. The Polar Tip-Up model is the simplest to use and set up, it is also priced in between the traditional and the Thermal Tip-Up

Some states in the Northeast allow you to have five tip-ups out on the ice at one time, as long as they are labelled with your name and address. States out west, Utah for example, bans live bait and has a strict two pole limit (second pole permit required). Before purchasing a tip-up you should take into account state and local regulations.

Tip Up Tossed Aside, Landing the Largemouth.
Tip Up Tossed Aside, Landing the Largemouth.

What Type of Line?

Traditional mono-filament or braided line is not going to be satisfactory for rigging the spool on your newly purchased tip up. A typical ice fishing rig will feature braided or vinyl ice line, a swivel and then a section of leader line. The ice fisherman/ woman will change out the leader depending on the species targeted.

Selecting a Leader for the Species Targeted

As we have been over thus far, a leader is attached to ice line using a swivel. This enables the ice angler to use the durable ice line for hand lining the fish in while preventing hook shyness in your quarry. I have used three types of leader line including 10lb to 30lb mono-filament, 6lb fluorocarbon and steel leaders. Heavy species, pickeral and bass, will require a 10lb mono-filament set up. Trout will need to be on a flurocarbon leader 6lb test max as they tend to be hook shy. Northern Pike and Muskellunge, a steel leader is a must, if unavailable, we recommend at least 30lb mono-filament.

Hook Options

We can speculate about leader set ups, augers and tip-ups, no ice fishing tackle set up is complete without the correct hook. Depending on the species being targeted you will need to make hook selections. Key decision points include style, size and shape.

  • Trout – Size six to eight
  • Bass – Size four to six
  • Pickerel – Size four
  • Northern Pike/ Muskellunge – Treble Hooks (Quick Strike Rig)

With any live bait rig, a split shot sinker will be required. We recommend switching to the tin sinkers as lead can be harmful to wildlife. If you use lead, please pick up any discarded sinkers to prevent them from being consumed by waterfowl.

Bass and Pickeral can be caught using 10lb test mono-filament and a size 6 circle hook.
Bass and Pickeral can be caught using 10lb test mono-filament and a size 6 circle hook.


When the MKFF crew heads out on the hard water we vary our approach to increase the chance of hooking into a hog. Panfish including Perch, Crappie and Sunfish are attracted to small jigs. They hit in a flash and put up a spirited fight. We recommend a light to medium jigging rod and some basic jigs. Don’t be afraid to experiment with cut bait on small jigs as well. As with all fishing do not underestimate the power of the Rapala. When jigging, lower the presentation to the weed line and slowly work the lure up. Make only motions that seem natural.

Stay Comfortable When Jigging
Stay Comfortable When Jigging


You can never be too careful heading out on frozen water. At the very least there should be a consistent four inches of ice throughout the area you are fishing. There are several pieces of equipment that the ice angler should pack in order to stay safe. First and foremost besides a good pair of boots you should have a set of ice cleats. Additionally helpful for pulling yourself out of frozen water are a safety tool called ice spikes. Finally, the whistle is the most basic safety device for all anglers.


No recreational activity is complete without accessories. We outdoors-people love researching the latest gear on our down time and rushing out to but it. Nothing is better than a package waiting for you when you pull up to your house.

This description of gear should be enough to get you started on the ice. Your local bait shop should be able to offer guidance as to the best bait you should use and where to fish.

For more info on ice fishing check back to our Ice Fishing Blog Category.

Gearing up for ice fishing can cost a few bucks. Would you like to give it a shot without the need for gear and equipment?



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