How to Begin Ice Fishing (USA)

This article provides an overview of getting started in ice fishing in the United States by helping you understand the basics of ice fishing, the specifics for US ice fishing and the accompanying terminology. There are also some pointers on what to watch out for in terms of possible dangers.


  1. Image titled Begin Ice Fishing (USA) Step 1
    Do your homework. Check with your local Ministry of Natural Resources Publications of wildlife agency to see which fish is in season and in what location. Most anywhere where the ice freezes for a while is a good place to fish.
  2. Image titled Begin Ice Fishing (USA) Step 2
    Know when the fish will be tastiest. Ice fishing is best during cold winters when the flesh of the fish is warm and flaky. The fish tastes the best during this time because you stay away from muddy flavored fish that you may catch from fishing during the summer.
  3. Image titled Begin Ice Fishing (USA) Step 3
    Prepare the right shelter. It is important when ice fishing that you have an ice hut. This will keep you warm when the weather is windy and the hut will allow you to stay out fishing longer. Additionally, the hut will also protect you from the sun when it becomes bright and blinding. You can purchase an ice hut at any fishing store or if you have the time and patience, you can build one on your own.
  4. Image titled Begin Ice Fishing (USA) Step 4
    Prepare the fishing hole. Once you find the perfect fishing spot, drill a large hole completely through the ice until you can see open water. Then, get out the ice chisel to widen your hole. Unpack your ice hut or equipment and take out your rods to catch the fish.
  5. Image titled Begin Ice Fishing (USA) Step 5
    Obtain a comfortable seat. You will probably need to sit on a portable seat so that you can look directly through the hole to see what's happening. Make sure it is sturdy and comfortable.
  6. Image titled Begin Ice Fishing (USA) Step 6
    Use a skimmer to keep the hole clear of the ice and slush that forms during the day. Once your line is set, you'll need to keep a close eye on it or watch for the flag on the tip-up to see if you've caught a fish.
  7. Image titled Begin Ice Fishing (USA) Step 7
    Have a storage container. Keep a cooler to store the fish in once caught. The pleasure of ice fishing is being in the great outdoors, plus you have fresh fish to take home to eat.


  • Ice Fishing Vocabulary:

    • 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 (30.5 cm) 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 (18.9 L) bucket.
    • Dip net - Used to dip into minnow buckets to retrieve bait and keep hands dry.
    • Hook disgorge - A tool like a needle nose pliers to help you get the hook out of the fish's mouth.


  • In case the ice breaks and a person falls into the water, a self rescue device should be on hand in advance. This device is made of 2 spiked handles connected to a string that helps the victim to be pulled out of the water.
  • Caution: Care must be taken when going out on the ice because swift currents may leave the frozen ice thinner in some areas then others. It is recommended before ice fishing that the ice is at least 4 inches (10.2 cm) thick. However, if you are using an ice hut or a snow mobile then the recommended amount of ice is 5 to 6 inches (12.7 to 15.2 cm).
  • Another danger you must be aware of is the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from fish house heaters.
  • Lastly, frostbite is a concern which occurs from long exposure to wind and low temperatures.

Things You'll Need

  • Equipment: You should be well prepared when ice fishing and there are several items that are required and recommended:

    • Ice fishing rods
    • Ice fishing rods
    • Fishing Reels
    • Ice fishing line (4-8 lb)
    • Ice fishing bucket
    • Ice scooper or Ice Fishing Auger
    • Good gloves
    • Bait or ice fishing jigs
    • Fishing License & ID
  • All of these items except for the fishing license ID can be purchased at a discounted price at some auctions. Therefore, before you go out and purchase new equipment at a retail store, remember you can save money if you check out fishing equipment auctions online.

Article Info

Categories: Fishing