From ice augers to cleats, here's what you'll need.
By Trent Jonas
Whether you're targeting trophy walleye on Devils Lake in North Dakota or looking for trout on Lake Champlain in Vermont, ice fishing requires a few essential pieces of gear for a safe and successful trip. From ice augers for cutting holes to protective shelters for keeping warm on those long days, it's time to make a checklist for the specialized equipment you'll need out on the frozen water. Here are 7 essentials.
The fact that a lake or river is frozen does not mean that you won’t encounter water while you’re out on the ice. Strong sun can melt snow on the surface of the lake, and occasional shifts in the ice can cause water to seep up on top of the surface ice. Not to mention, simply cutting and clearing your hole can result in water around the area where you’re fishing. This is why you need a good pair of waterproof boots, like the Columbia Bugaboot Plus IV. They will keep your feet warm and dry, which is important for preventing hypothermia, when you’re out on the ice.
Ice, as you are probably aware, can be slippery—especially in places where there is little or no snow cover. A pair of ice cleats or similar traction devices, like L.L. Bean’s steel-studded Stabilicers, will help you stay on your feet and walk with confidence while you’re moving around and working on surface ice and other wintry terrain.
When you’re out on a frozen lake or river, you’ll need an ice auger to cut your fishing hole. Ice augers come in many shapes, sizes, and types. Ultimately, you’ll need to decide how much manual labor you want to put into cutting a hole, how much you’re willing to carry out to your fishing spot, and how much you want to spend on an auger. A simple manual auger, like the Strikemaster Mora, is relatively light and inexpensive when compared to gas or electric power augers. A good compromise between the two is an auger that’s powered by a cordless drill, like the Eskimo Pistol Bit, which comes in multiple sizes.
Once your holes are cut, you’ll need to prevent them from refreezing. Many manufacturers make specialty gear specifically for this purpose, like Frabill’s ice scooper. These products have extra-long handles and large ladles with holes so you can keep your hole clear of ice without getting too wet doing so.
Because the techniques are so much different from open water or stream fishing, ice fishing gear is pretty specific to the sport. Rods are shorter and lighter weight, and the reels are smaller and designed for lighter line. You can often buy the rod and reel as a package, like the Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 Combo. Another useful piece of ice fishing gear, especially if you’re fishing multiple holes are bait-and-wait fishing, are tip ups, like those sold by Bass Pro Shops, which will alert you when a fish is on the line.
When you’re ice fishing, you’re pretty much fishing blind. There are no visual clues to what lies below the surface ice. This is why many ice anglers choose to use a portable fish finder, like the Garmin Striker Plus 4. A fish finder will tell you how deep you need to fish and whether you’re in an area where fish are holding.
Although many hardy anglers simply drill a hole in the ice and plop down on a bucket to wait for a fish to bite, many others choose to do so with a little more protection from the elements and the wind that tends to whip over large, exposed expanses of ice. Ice fishing shelters range from luxury travel trailers with removable floor panels to simple lean-tos put up between the wind and the angler. In between, you’ll find a wide variety of portable shelters designed specifically with ice anglers in mind, like the Eskimo Sierra, which, with its integrated sled, tows easily behind a snowmobile or ATV.