If you’re new to the sport of ice fishing and wondering what a basic ice fishing setup looks like, you’re going to want to pay attention!
If it’s been a while since you’ve stepped foot on the ice, you’re going to want to take a peek!
ANGLR got together with Ryan Fox, one of our ANGLR Experts who has plenty of ice time under his belt, and put together the list to end all lists: exactly what you need to gather for a successful day on the ice. We’ve taken the guesswork out of your trip so you can focus on catching your share of perch and crappie.
Basic Ice Fishing Setup: Comfort is Important
You’re going to want to keep yourself comfortable, so some sort of popup ice shelter or tent can really come in handy. You can put a small heater inside and head in for a quick warm-up when the wind starts to blow and it gets really cold. You can even drill holes inside the tent and fish inside when the weather outside is less than ideal.
You’ll definitely need to dress warmly, and in layers.
Waterproof, insulated boots and waterproof pants or bibs are essential. Many times, you wind up kneeling on the ice, so you don’t want your knees getting wet. As for the rest of your attire, warm clothes and hand warmers are important. Often times, ice fishing turns into a friendly get together with other anglers, so you’ll want to be sure you’re comfortable when you’re not running around drilling holes. When you’re cold, there’s no possible way to have any fun.
Coffee or a warm beverage of your choice is always helpful to keep you going and warm you up from the inside. It takes a lot to set up for ice fishing, so you’ll want to plan to be there for at least a few hours, if not the whole day. I like to bring cans of soup. When I turn the heater on in the tent, I’ll place the cans on top (with the labels peeled off) so they’re nice and hot when I’m ready for them. Bring anything else you like to snack on: sandwiches, chips, or sodas.
Sunglasses are important, too. When that sun comes out and beats down on that white expanse, it can really hurt your eyes. Make sure you’re protecting them.
Basic Ice Fishing Setup: A Good Sled
You’ll need a sled to haul all your good stuff out on the ice, and lucky for you, they make them specifically for ice fishing. They can be pretty big, but on average, they’re usually about five feet long by three and ½ feet wide with high sides to carry all of your gear. Many of them have built in rod holders, but if they’re not included, you can pack your rods in a five gallon bucket to keep them upright.
Basic Ice Fishing Setup: Ice Auger
You’ll need something to drill your holes with, and you have options. There are many choices from doing the work manually with a hand auger to gas or electric power drills. Check out our top choices for Ice Augers!
Along the same lines, you’ll need an ice scooper to scoop out the slush that starts to build back up in your hole.
Basic Ice Fishing Setup: Jigging Rod and Baits
There are two ways to ice fish: using a jigging rod or tip-ups. Most ice anglers find that they use a combination of the two when out on the ice. A jigging rod is essentially a fishing rod downsized to something between two and three feet long.
On my jigging rod, I like to use teardrop jigs. They’re just a small teardrop weight with a hook that comes out. They’re great for your panfish: perch, sunfish, bluegill, and crappie. There are other lures you can use, including a jigging rap.
That’s an ice fishing lure that, when you jig it, it jigs straight up through the water column.
There are fins on the side, so it glides on it’s way back down, looking like a minnow swimming around. They’re typically used for bigger game fish like bass, pike, and pickerel. I also like to use waxworms, mealworms, or spikes (another type of maggot). Small plastics can work, too.
Basic Ice Fishing Setup: Tip-Ups
A tip-up is a device you place over your hole with a live minnow on the end. When the fish bites the minnow and pulls the line, a flag goes up, signaling the bite. That means you can be farther away doing something else, but when you see the flag go up, you can run over to catch the fish.
You’ll be using split shot sinkers and a live bait rig with minnows on your tip-ups.
In Pennsylvania, the limit for one person is five fishing devices while you’re out. So, I’ll drill at least five holes and put up four tip-ups, and jig in the other hole. Usually, I’ll drill an extra five to six holes in different depth zones and use those holes to find the fish. Once I find what depth they’re holding in, I’ll move my tip-ups to that depth zone. I’ll set my tip-ups, then I like to jump around to other holes with my jig until either a tip-up goes off or I start catching fish with the jigs.
Basic Ice Fishing Setup: Map of the Water
You’ll typically want to have a map of the water with you showing you how deep the lake is. I like to look for sharp drops in the contours of the lake. Many times in the winter, you’ll see the fish set up on steep banks or sharp drops like a shoal that comes up in the lake.
Basic Ice Fishing Setup: Electronics
While not necessary for beginners, many seasoned anglers will use ice fishing electronics like a fishfinder. That’s a portable sonar device with a transducer that hangs down into the hole, sending a signal down to the bottom. It reads that signal and can tell whether or not there are fish in that hole.
Once you find the fish, you can drop your bait down with the jigging rod, and see it go all the way down. You can then watch the fish come up and eat your bait. That’s how you can tell when you’ve got one, if the bites aren’t very tough and the fish aren’t acting very aggressively. At that point, it may be easier to go by sight, rather than feel, taking a lot of the guesswork out of ice fishing and often making it more enjoyable.
The ANGLR App is perfect for logging your trips and it’s easy to use.
I’ll mark my catches using my Bullseye and then go back at the end of the day and see where I’ve been on the map and where I caught fish. While you don’t cover as much water when ice fishing, if you go multiple times and in different spots, you can use the log book to see what you’ve caught in different locations and create a better game plan for your next trip.
Basic Ice Fishing Setup: Safety Gear
Always carry a length of rope that’s around 50 feet with something attached to the end of it that floats. If your partner falls through the ice, you can always throw that rope to them to help pull them out.
There are ice picks you can wear around your neck like a necklace. When you fall through, you can get to the edge of the ice and stab it to pull yourself out.
If you’re not sure whether or not the ice is safe, wear an inflatable life jacket.
Ice cleats are available to strap onto the bottom of your shoes. If there’s no snow cover on top, it makes it easier to get traction to pull the sled. You can also more easily run to your tip-ups when the flag goes up. It makes moving around on the ice easier and safer.
It doesn’t really take much to get yourself set up for a day on the ice, but by being prepared ahead of time, it’ll make your trip run smoothly and hopefully end with a full cooler!
This article was contributed by an ANGLR Expert
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