Ice fishing is a popular winter activity in Scandinavia, Russia, Canada and northern parts of the United States with long, cold winters. For a successful outing you need strong ice, some kind of shelter and fishing and emergency gear.
First and most importantly, you need strong ice. There are many recorded incidents of people, automobiles, snowmobiles or all terrain vehicles (ATVs) falling through the ice because people have made poor judgment calls on ice safety. Ice safety can be determined be examining, ice thickness, ice color, outside temperature, depth of water underneath the ice, type of body of water and whether the body of water contains salt water or fresh water.
If there is any flowing water, cracks, breaks, abnormal looking ridges, significant slush or thawing it is unsafe to walk on the ice, let alone drive. The color of the ice can also help you determine ice integrity. The strongest ice to have for ice fishing is black, blue or green ice. Take special care to measure black ice because it is new. After many days of below-freezing weather, white ice is the most common. It is safe, but it needs to be twice the thickness of black, blue or green ice to support the same weight.
Generally guidelines for ice thickness are as follows:
- 3" (7 cm) - Do not go on ice!!!!!
- 4" (10 cm) - Ice will hold about 200 lbs. (91 kg) It is okay to walk or ice fish.
- 5" (12 cm) - Ice will hold about 800 lbs. (363 kg) You may drive your snowmobile or ATV on the ice.
- 8" - 12" (20 - 30 cm) - Ice will hold between 1500-2000 lbs. (680-907kg) You may drive your car on the ice or bring fish with a large group of people.
- 12" - 15" (30 - 38 cm) - Ice will hold over 2000 lbs. (907 kg) It is okay to drive your truck or van on ice.
After you have determined how strong your ice is for ice fishing, the second thing you need is shelter. Some people choose to dress really warm and not use shelter at all, but this really requires you to brave the elements and is not recommended. When the ice is strong enough, some people just use their vehicles for shelter. Others tow an ice house, also called an ice shack or shanty, out on the ice so they can get out of the wind without having to go back and forth to their vehicles. Larger ice houses have a bottom with areas that open up where you can drill holes for fishing and they may have room for a television, a large space heater, a generator and even bunk beds. Smaller ice houses may be bottomless or just have enough room for one ice hole and one person.
Finally, you can’t go ice fishing without your gear. You will need an ice auger to drill your fishing holes and a measuring device to measure ice thickness and water depth. There are hand augers for thinner ice or electric augers for hard to drill through, thick ice.
Two of the most popular options for catching fish are tipups and jig rods. Tipups are placed over the hole with a lure and a line. They are spring loaded so when a fish bites a flag pops up. Tip ups work well if you live in an area that allows you to fish multiple lines. For a more hands on approach you should use a jig rod, which is basically just a little fishing pole.
Besides bringing your cell phone, a first aid kit, an emergency blanket and a change of clothes in a waterproof bag, the rest of the gear that you need for ice fishing falls under normal cold weather gear. Wear your hats, mittens or gloves, face masks, thermal underwear and socks, snow boots. If you have an ice house that will fit a space heater, you should dress in layers because it can get very warm.
On a final note, it is important before you go ice fishing to check the laws and regulations in your area. Many places require you to purchase a fishing license and they have guidelines for the number of lines and what times of the year you can put your ice house out or when it must be off the ice.