There is nothing like the peaceful silence on a clear, cold day with the brilliant winter sunshine sparkling over the white expanse of your favorite lake. Ice fishing can add many months to your enjoyment of fishing. It is also a wonderful way to enjoy the great outdoors during a beautiful time of year. All you need to get started is warm clothes and a minimum amount of special equipment and you're ready to go.
You can get started ice fishing with a minimum amount of equipment and listed here is a list of the basic items that you will need to make the time you spend on the ice productive and enjoyable. Remember, you will have to choose your gear to match up with the fish you are after, generally the larger the fish, the heavier the tackle.
Ice spud or auger....The first thing you will need is an ice spud or an auger to get through the ice. An ice spud is the most economical to purchase or you can make one for little cost but it should be heavy with a sharp chisel head to make cutting through the ice as easy as possible. An ice spud can be used when the ice gets thicker, but a hand auger will work a bit easier. The hand auger makes short work of thick ice and there are several nice models out there and it is hard to choose one that could be considered the best.
Another item that is nice to have is a "power" ice auger if you live in an area where the ice gets very thick. If you have to go through over three feet of ice before hitting water, a power auger will make short work of going through that much ice. Considerably more expensive but an absolute most for the really thick ( 3' to 4'+ ) ice. There is nothing more frustrating than getting the fish to your hole and finding that it will not fit through it. An ice spud can enlarge the hole to get the fish landed.
Ice skimmer.... You also need an ice skimmer to remove the ice and snow from the hole you just made, it looks like a small colander with a handle attached. They come made out of plastic or aluminum but be careful! There has been more than one person who has had it slip out of their hand and go down the hole.
Rods....Think small. Put your 6'6" graphite rod away from the soft water season as it has no place on the ice. Use ultra-light rods with a length of thirty inches or less no more. Ice fishing rods are readily available and are relatively inexpensive. Most ice fishing rods will accept any type of reel you choose and use slip rings to secure the reel. Adding a little electrical tape is always a good idea.
There are many different kinds and styles of jigging rods, and the most important thing is to get one you are comfortable with. You need a rod that will let you feel the lightest hit. Remember, the water is COLD and the fish sluggish, so the hits are generally light and hard to feel.
Reels...By using the ultra-light rods and light lines as suggested you have traded off "fish fighting ability" to attract and hook more fish. To compensate for this trade off you will need a very good drag system that will allow a fighting fish to easily pull out more line.
Ice anglers use a wide variety of reels including fly, baitcasting, spinning, and closed bail reels. The later is often used as it prevents ice and snow from interfering with the line, although most closed bails do not have the best drag system. For this reason spinning reels appear to win out over all other choices.
Use Cold Water Line....Most monofilaments do not perform well in cold water. The biggest problem is coil retention or "memory" that will severely affect your fishing success. Remember you will be using jigs as small as 1/64th ounce. Four pound test in clear/invisible works as good as any and is capable of handling most pan fish. If you are fishing for the larger species, then and only then go with a stronger line. Avoid fluorescent colors as the fish will see it and might not bite. Braided lines work well in the cold water as far as memory and toughness goes, yet they are usually not very transparent and easily spotted by the fish.
Baits....Grubs and small worms are by far the most productive baits for panfish such as bluegill, crappie, perch and rock bass. Baitfish such as minnows, chubs and shiners do well for crappie and perch and are highly favored by bigger game-fish such as bass, pike and walleye. You could also use meat baits, such as strips of belly meat from previously caught fish, perch eyes and strips of raw beef. Artificial lures are also the norm.
Grubs and Minnows....Many types of small worms and grubs work well for ice fishing, and some of the best can be purchased by the dozen from bait shops. Grubs, waxworms and mousees are top panfish baits and are usually readily available. Meal worms are easy to raise, although they are not usually as effective as waxworms or mousees. Natural baits gathered from the wild are another alternative. However, gathering bait from the wild can be tedious, and the supply is not always dependable. Minnows are readily available from bait shops wherever ice fishing is popular. Small and medium-size minnows work well on crappie and perch, while medium and large minnows also entice bass, walleye, pike and other big fish.
Lure-Bait Combos....Artificial lures also are used by ice fishermen, though they are rarely used alone. Most anglers use artificial lures sweetened with live. The flash and action of the hardware attracts a fish's attention, while the food appeals to its appetite. The most common artificial and bait combination is the small panfish jig of the "teardrop" variety combined with a grub-type worm such as a waxworm. Many anglers believe this combo is unbeatable for bluegill, and it also works well on other panfish and bass. "Teardrop" is the commercial name of one particular lure, but the word is commonly applied to many lures of the same general type. Generally, the smaller ones, those constructed on No. 8 or No. 10 hooks and measuring less than one-half inch overall, are the most effective for bluegill. Other artificial-and-bait combination lures include standard open-water jigs and spoons enhanced with a minnow or grub. A particularly potent bait for yellow perch is a small spoon, jig, teardrop or a plain hook baited with a perch eye. Spoons are commonly used through he ice. They flutter and flash effectively when jigged up and down-about the only motion the lure can make when it is fished vertically through a small hole.
The above items will get you started into the sport of ice fishing at a minimal cost. Just be sure to dress warm and have a good time!!
Another item is tip-ups....this contraption is a must have in any ice fishing box. There are several different styles and makes to choose from ranging in price from $5.00 to $25.00. The most important thing is to get one that has a free turning spool so when a fish takes your bait it doesn't feel the spool as it is taking out line.
Pictured to the left is the most common type of tip-up used ice fishing and cost anywhere from $5.00 to $10.00 in any sporting goods store. The horizontal sticks sets over the hole and the spool that holds the fishing line sets in the water under the ice to keep it from freezing. There is a wire trigger that runs to the spring wire that has the flag attached that holds it down until a fish strikes, this releases the spring wire and allows the flag to pop up letting you know that there is a fish on.
The spool is free spinning so if a fish runs after hitting the bait it will feel no resistance, causing the fish to spit the bait. This is a good setup for pike, trout, walleye and perch and is the type used most often.
To setup this type of tip up you tie a hook to the end of the line placing a small split shot about 12 inches above the hook. Use only enough weight to carry your bait to the depth you wish to be fishing.
Now you clip a depth finder to the hook (merely a lead weight with a spring clip on it) and drop it in the hole, allowing it to go to the bottom. Then you raise it to the depth you wish to fish at and mark the line at the spool with a small split shot so if you have to re-bait you already know how much line to run down without having to measure the depth again.
I use minnows mostly when fishing tip-ups but you can use about any kind of natural bait you wish. Lures are not effective on these due to the fact that they will impart no movement to the lure so there will be no action to attract fish to hit, although there are tip ups that will bob your bait up and down due to the wind. I hear they are effective, but haven't tried them myself.
You can also make a cover to place over the hole to keep the light from shining down into it. This will some times spook the fish and keep them from hitting when fishing in shallow and/or clear water. A piece of cardboard with a slit in it to slide over the tip up works well and is easy to come by. There are tip ups that cover the hole and they work very well, but they are a tad bit more expensive. If price is not a concern then by all means get a couple of these. They are nice if the wind is up , they will not tip over if it is windy because of their low profile and rarely do they give you a "wind hit".
Still more gear??....Some items that you can get along without, but will make for a more comfortable time on the frozen water.
Ice fishing shanty....One of the nicest things to have is an ice fishing shanty, even on the coldest days you are out of the wind and toasty warm. Traditionally the shanty is a small wooden shed with holes in the floor to fish through but now there are any number of portable ice fishing shelters you can buy that will fit in the trunk of a car when it is broken down.
Portable fish finder....Another nice thing to have is a portable fish finder that runs on batteries and this is one luxury that anglers find the most useful. You can check the depth of the water and locate fish without getting a line wet. This sure takes a lot of the guess work out of looking for drop offs and other structure. There are several models and types of fish finders made for the ice fisherman and the prices range from $100.00 to $500.00.