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Ice fishing 101 | A beginner’s guide to ice fishing

So, you’d love to ice fish, but aren’t quite sure how to do it?

Well, I’m going to cover the basics of ice fishing – an Ice Fishing 101 – so you can get out, safely fish, and share moments on the ice with your family and friends.

  1. Locate an ice fishing spot
  2. Be sure ice is safe
  3. Ice fishing clothing
  4. Ice fishing gear
  5. Drill hole in ice
  6. Bait the jig
  7. Jig the lure

Step 1: Locate your ice fishing spot

man at ice fishing spot
Once you locate a good ice fishing spot, it’s best to fish 50 to 100 yards from shore.

Now, the first step to getting on ice fishing is to find a good place to ice fish. Once you do that, you’re going to want to start to fish in the first 50 to 100 yards from shore.

You’re going to typically target 10 to 15 feet in depth and that will allow you to catch panfish, crappie, bluegill as well as pike and hopefully largemouth bass as well.

If you are ice fishing for the first time in a particular location and don’t know exactly where to fish, a good move is to get started right next to some other shelters. There are great communities out on the ice and everyone is fighting the cold and usually love fishing next to each other.

Step 2: Check for safe ice conditions

man making sure ice is safe for ice fishing
Always be sure the ice you are planning to fish is safe before drilling and ice fishing.

You should always be sure that the ice conditions are safe before attempting to fish a certain location. I highly recommend that you call or stop into your local bait and tackle store and make sure that the lake you picked out has safe ice conditions.

You can typically see where other people are safely fishing as well as sticking to the foot paths that they’ve already created, so you know it’s generally safe ice.

I highly recommend drilling holes (we’ll get to that further down) every 10 to 20 yards to double check the ice thickness.

I don’t recommend going out on any water that has under 5 inches of ice. If you have 5 inches, you’re going to be good, but you want to keep checking to make sure that there’s no variation in thickness.

If you do get to an unsafe spot, get off that lake. Five inches is the minimum.




Step 3: Wear appropriate clothing

man wearing ice fishing clothing
Be sure to layer up in the appropriate clothing: coat, mittens, hat, snow pants and snow boots.

Before you go ice fishing, be sure to gear up with warm winter clothing. It’s a good idea to dress in multiple layers as well as a coat, mittens, hat, snow pants and snow boots.

Safety gear is an essential part of your clothing

Safety spikes and ice cleats and floating bibs are very important components of proper ice fishing clothing.

The cleats help you walk on the ice without slipping and the safety spikes allow you to pull yourself up out of the water in the event that you fall in.

The floating bib has material in it that will allow you to bob back to the surface if you were to fall through the ice.

Now, if you don’t have higher end ice fishing bibs that can float, I highly recommend taking some sort of floatation device with you, most notably, an inflatable life preserver that’s easy to carry and lightweight.

man holding ice fishing safety spikes
Safety spikes are an essential part of your ice fishing safety clothing.
man holding ice cleats
Ice cleats help you walk on the ice without slipping and falling.


Step 4: Ice Fishing Gear Inventory

Once you get your winter clothing taken care of, you need to get your ice gear taken care of.

ice fishing gear and tackle

There are a few pieces of gear that are rudimentary and essential to getting out on the ice to fish.

Sled: First, because you will likely need to drag your ice fishing gear and equipment with you for long distances, you will need a sled.

ice fishing sled
You’ll need an ice fishing sled to hold all your tackle and gear.

Auger: Secondly, you will need an auger. An auger is a drill that will cut through the ice. It goes from 6 inches to 10 inches, and some even go up to 12. If you’re just getting started, I highly recommend just having a 6-inch hand auger.

ice fishing auger
You’ll need an auger to drill a hole in the ice.

Bucket: Another important thing to have is a bucket. This bucket is going to carry all of your tackle, your bait, all in one thing. And it also serves as a stool so you have a place to sit when you’re out on the ice.

ice fishing bucket
Your bucket holds your tackle and also gives you a place to sit.

Scooper: Next, you need a scooper. This is going to allow you to hold the ice out of your hole, clean it up and fish that hole consistently without having the ice interrupt your fishing or the fish coming through the hole.

ice fishing scooper
You’ll need a scooper to clean the ice out of the hole you drilled.

Ice Fishing Rod: When you’re ice fishing over a hole that’s right in front of you, you don’t want a long freshwater fishing rod, because it will put you too far away from the hole. You won’t be able to fish with it inside of a shelter. Plus, they have very low sensitivity. I recommend a 28″ rod.

man holding bent ice fishing rod catching fish
The size of the ice fishing rod is important. It needs to be small. 28″ is recommended.

Jigs: Next, you need some jigs. The Tailored Tackle Multispecies Ice Combo allows you to jig or deadstick for a multitude of species. It includes micro jigs, tungsten jigs and others that you’re typically going to be using.

tailored tackle jigs
You’ll need jigs to put your bait on for ice fishing.

Bait: Lastly, you’re going to need some bait. Spikes are maggots that are used in ice fishing. You tip two to three of them on your jig and you jig them up and down to catch all sorts of species; primarily panfish, like perch and crappie.

spike maggots for ice fishing
Spike are a great bait for ice fishing that can attract a variety of species to bite.

Step 5: Drill A hole in the ice

Once you arrive at your ice fishing spot, you’ll need to drill a hole in the ice. You will need to take the safety device on top of the bottom of the auger and remove it. Drill down into the ice by moving it clockwise.

man holding ice fishing auger
Make a hole in the ice with your auger by moving it clockwise. Once you have drilled your hole, pump the auger up and down three to four times to remove all of the big bunch of slush out of the hole.

Once you have drilled your hole, remove the excess slush with your boots.

man removing slush from ice fishing hole
Once you have drilled a hole in the ice, kick the sides of the slush off the side. Be sure to cover up the auger blade with the safety guard so that while it’s standing there, nobody trips and falls on it.

Scoop the hole

After drilling the hole, you’ll need to scoop it, using your scooper. Dip the scooper slowly into the hole and pause.

man scooping ice slush out of ice fishing hole
When scooping the hole, wait for all of the ice and slowly lift it up. Don’t do it quickly, or you’ll just push the ice around. Do that until the hole is nice and clean.



Step 6: Bait the jig

Once you have drilled the hole and scooped out all the ice, it’s time to bait the jigs.

a hand holding jig head for ice fishing
A jig head, like these from Tailored Tackle, are great for baiting your hook with spike maggots.
baiting a jig head with spike maggots
Spike maggots are great for ice fishing and can attract a bite from many species of fish.

Once you have baited your jig, lower the lure down into the hole. Open the bale on the reel and let the line out. Fishing one to two feet off the bottom is very effective.

man letting out line ice fishing
Set your drag loosely and pull out your line until your lure is on the bottom. This helps get any kinks out of the line. Then crank the reel a few times so that your lure is one to two feet off the bottom.

Step 7: Jig the lure

man jigging ice fishing lure

The next step after lowering you lure and getting it off the bottom is to jig.

Lift your rod tim up and back down and then pause 2 to 3 seconds. That’s just a basic jig. Lift up. Drop it down. Pause 2 to 3 seconds.

You can even last a couple of seconds longer, maybe 5, 6 seconds for the pause. The bites are going to happen on the pause. So, the jigging is calling in fish and the pause is letting them come up and take a bite.

Another jigging cadence you can try is to softly jiggle it in place or work it upwards in little blips upwards just like that. So mix your jigging cadences. Try different techniques, big swoops, lift-ups, jiggling in place, or just the regular jig. Pause.

man holding bream caught while ice fishing
Wait until you feel that tap, tap, tap. Then, set the hook lightly, by lifting the rod tip up 3 to 4 inches and then reel the fish in.

Now, when a fish comes through and is interested in the bait, you’ll feel a tap, tap, tap.

It will be easier to handle the fish by taking off your mittens and using your bare hands.

When releasing the fish, kneel down and drop it into the hole. Sometimes a bigger fish will need a tail wag in the water and it will be on its way for someone else to catch!

Good luck ice fishing!

Ed Hitchcock of Tailored Tackle
Ed Hitchcock of Tailored Tackle.

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ice fishing family in tent

Let’s Go! Best Ice Fishing Locations For Your Family

Nothing builds family relationships quite like drilling holes and catching fish together on the freezing ice!

Wait, what?

Yes! Ice fishing is a fun, relaxed activity to do alone, but it’s really great when the whole family can take part. 

It can be nearly impossible to find good ice fishing spots in some parts of the country, considering the sub-tropical climate. But, if you’re willing to take a bit of a fishing road trip with the family, here are some of the best ice fishing locations for your family that are worth the trip. 

Pactola Reservoir, Deadwood, South Dakota 

Fishing at Pactola Reservoir is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and not just because you may catch a trophy fish!  

Beneath the water, at a depth of 150 feet, lie the remains of an old mining town. This old town has now become home to a variety of fish species, including Northern Pike, Largemouth Bass, Yellow Perch and Trout. 

mother and son hold yellow perch while ice fishing

Don’t let the cold keep you from experiencing the thrill of ice fishing. There are several great ice fishing locations in the U.S. you can travel to for ice fishing adventure!

When ice fishing here, challenge your family members to see who can catch the largest fish for the day. If you’re lucky, you may catch the Lake Trout that sets a new state record! 

Lake Erie, Ohio 

Ice fishing on one of the Great Lakes should be on every angler’s bucket list. Lake Erie is a great place to take the family ice fishing. 

You can hire a licensed ice guide, who’ll take you to the best ice fishing spots, where your chance of catching Large Walleye and Perch are good. They’ll also be able to advise you on the fishing regulations in the area, which are very strict. 

The guide will also know the migration patterns of the fish, and will have all the necessary equipment to make your family’s ice fishing trip enjoyable and memorable. 



Silver Lake, California 

Tucked away in the Golden State, sitting snug at the foot of Carson Peak, is an angler’s paradise. Silver Lake provides fishing year-round, but ice fishing here is a unique experience. 

Every member of your family will be able to ice fish for Lake Trout, Brook Trout, Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout or Cutthroat Trout. With such a large variety of trout, it could be a close contest to see who catches the biggest fish of the day. 



Deep Creek Lake, Maryland 

Deep Creek Lake has a winter activity for every member of the family, from cross-country skiing and sledding to ice skating. One of the more popular activities is ice fishing, as the lake contains a variety of fish. 

northern pike caught ice fishing

Northern Pike are just one of the many species of fish you can catch while ice fishing on Deep Creek Lake in Maryland.

The family will be able to pick and choose which fish they want to catch, as there are plenty of Walleye, Northern Pike, Trout, Bass, Yellow Perch, Bluegill, Sunfish, Pickerel and Crappie.

Here you can challenge your family to see who catches the most fish on the day. 

If you’re looking for a slight advantage over the rest of your loved ones, then fish where the water is the warmest and keep your fishing line close to the bottom of the lake. This is where you’ll find the fish! 

Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin 

For an experience that every member of your family will remember, head to Lake Winnebago. While you can fish for Perch, Crappie, Northern Pike, Walleye, Bass, Bluegill and Muskies, it’s the huge Sturgeon that are the main attraction. 

You can expect to catch Sturgeon up to 80 inches long, and weighing up to 140 pounds! Finding the Sturgeon may be the easiest part of the day, but getting them to bite is a whole different story. 

If you want a great story to tell, then make sure that you use a braided line with a weight capacity of up to 100 pounds. Sturgeon put up a fight that can last for an hour, and the last thing you want is for your line to break



kids ice fishing with dad holding fish

Ice fishing trips with family can make for some unforgettable moments!

Chambers Lake, Colorado 

If your kids are old enough to handle some winter hiking, then fishing at Chambers Lake will be a great outdoor family experience. Start your hike at Inlet Bay, as this will lead you to one of the best trout fishing spots on the lake. 

Anglers can catch large Lake and Rainbow Trout between 14 and 20 inches in length. You may even find a Kokanee Salmon on the end of your line, especially if you’re fishing with jigs. 

There are also tent camping sites on Lake Chambers.

One of the best things about planning an ice fishing trip to Chambers Lake is that it will often stay frozen until late March. 





Devil’s Lake, North Dakota

Have you or your loved ones ever caught more than one trophy fish in a day? If not, then add Devil’s Lake to your ice fishing bucket list. 

You’ll find that Devil’s Lake is home to a variety of fish, including Black Crappie, Northern Pike, Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, Bluegill and Brown Trout. 

black crappie and bluegill ice fishing

Black crappie and bluegill can both be caught on Devil’s Lake, during the ice-over from December to March.

Every member of your family will stand a good chance of catching a trophy Northern Pike, Walleye or a Perch, all on the same day! The lake is frozen from December until March, and depending on your travel plans, you can choose to get either a 3-day or 10-day fishing license

Just make sure that each member of your family has their fishing license on them at all times, in case they need to show it to the authorities. 



Conclusion 

If you’ve fished as a family before, you’ll know how the activity can make for a great day out, and some close family bonding

If  you love the bonding experience of fishing together, ice fishing as a family should be on your joint bucket list. 

Even if there aren’t any ice fishing spots near your location, you can make a trip of it. Why not take a weekend, go on a trip to a new place, and see which family member can catch the most fish, while sipping hot chocolate on the ice? 

Hopefully, you have learned about some of the best ice fishing locations.

If you want to get away from the cold entirely, you can always take a family trip to a warm weather destination, but we recommend giving ice fishing a try at least once. You may just fall in love with it! And if you go, we hope you put a hook N1!

Kenneth Reaves, of the Perfect Captain.

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man hold fly fishing rod with water in the background

Traveling with fly fishing gear | Get it there safely

When planning a fly fishing trip, our excitement is so strong around the destination and the experience that we might have, that we often overlook the most important details; getting our gear there in one piece.

Nothing puts a damper on a highly anticipated fishing trip like losing
your gear to a situation that could have been prevented.

Whether you are traveling by plane or car, your fly fishing gear should receive first class care.

Knowing how and what to pack for a plane trip, and how to store a fly rod in a vehicle that might not be sporting a roof rack, will make your trip smooth sailing and a lot of fun.

Taking Your Fly Fishing Gear On a Plane

It seems like every airport, airline, and T.S.A. agent’s standards, directions, and verdicts vary greatly. This unfortunate reality can make traveling all the more anxiety ridden.

It also doesn’t help that fly fishing gear can have some questionable components that may raise some red flags such as fishing hooks, pliers, knives, etc.

wing of an airplane

Before you fly, be sure to check with your specific airline to find out what their regulations are pertaining to fly fishing equipment and supplies.

Fortunately, fly rods and their reels are deemed acceptable as checked luggage by most airline carriers, regardless of the carrier’s size.

To be absolutely sure that you will not have an unexpected hassle during your airport and plane experience, it’s always a good fail-safe to
check with your specific airline carrier.

A great way to think of it is that T.S.A cares about what is inside your bag or on your person, whereas the carrier cares about how much your bag weighs and how much space it takes up.

Check out this T.S.A resource that helps you determine what you are permitted to carry and what you are not.



Containers for flying with fly fishing gear

Once you have determined what you can and cannot bring, you’ll need to think about what type of container you will use for transporting your fly rod.

Four-piece rods and rod tubes are always the most ideal given that they are built for this purpose.

That said, the most important thing is that the chosen container is a hard case, extremely durable, and shock absorbent.

orvis fly rod tube

A fly rod tube will allow you to take your own gear on your next fly fishing trip and also save you lots of space.

Hitting a batch of heavy turbulence is an anxious situation all on its own. Don’t give yourself even more stress by worrying about what damage that said turbulence may inflict on your fly rod.

Flying with a 4 piece rod and rod tube will save you a ton of space and headache. Although all things have their pros and cons, it’s better to fish with your own gear than with rental gear used by all sorts of anglers because you had to leave yours at home.



Where to put “questionable” fly fishing items

So, what questionable fly fishing gear items might raise T.S.A eyebrows? It’s a good idea to leave all tools (such as snippers, pliers, and hooks) in your
checked luggage.

It will also serve well to remove your fishing line from the reel and transport them in their respective packaging to prevent any security issues.

Other than that, so long as you don’t pack anything you can’t fit in your carry-on or checked baggage with ease, you’ll be
down and off the runway with no problem.



Traveling With Your Fly Fishing Gear via Car

There are some really impressive fly rod roof racks on the market that are hands down the best way to travel via car with your fly rod.

Roof racks like Riversmith are exceptionally durable, can accommodate multiple and varying fly weights, and have protective liners that ensure your fly rod has a smooth and highly protected ride.

But, sometimes you might travel in a rental vehicle, with a buddy who doesn’t have a roof rack, or simply in a vehicle that is not your own. This can require fishermen to get creative with how they’ll go about getting their fly rod to its destination in one piece.

truck parked by river and people fly fishing

Roof racks are a great way to protect your fly fishing rods when traveling by vehicle.

Here’s how you should protect your fly rod when traveling by vehicle:

  1. Disassemble your fly rod down to the number of pieces it was manufactured to break down to.
  2. Then, gently tape or strap the rod’s components together in several places.
  3. Once these parts are secure, place them in the vehicle pointed in a direction safe from windows, doors, and other passengers or obstructions.
  4. With the handles or butts of the fly rod down and a sock placed over the tip facing up, the rod should then also be strapped to the vehicle to prevent it from rolling around.

This security works both ways; it will ensure the vehicle doesn’t inflict damage to your fly rod, and that your fly rod won’t inflict damage to your vehicle.




Get Your Gear to Its Destination in One Piece

There is no such thing as caring too much about your fly rod and fishing equipment and doing everything in your power to get all of your gear to your fishing destination safely. So, take the extra minute to call your airline carrier and get information relevant to your rod and gear.

Invest some money into a fly rod roof rack for your personal vehicle so you can get from fishing spot to fishing spot with gentle ease. But, most importantly, don’t make impulsive and uneducated decisions on the fly so that you find yourself or your gear in a bad situation.

Do all your homework up front and your gear will thank you!

Kyle Rutten of Riversmith
Kyle Rutten of Riversmith.com

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