Ice Fishing Tips — Hot Bites During Cold Weather

When ponds and lakes freeze over, many anglers hang their rod and reel up for the winter but not the adventurous ice fisherman.

To some anglers, ice fishing can seem like a daunting task to take on. In reality, it is not that difficult to enjoy a day on the frozen water.

Man on lake with ice fishing tips
Ice fishing is a mental game. Can you brave the elements?

I remember as a child going with my father to a river that had frozen over. The ice was clear enough you could see through it. I remember seeing fish swimming underneath the ice and could not understand how they were able to do that.

In this article, I am going to cover the ice fishing basics. Tips and tricks that will help you be successful in your ice fishing adventure.

Let’s go ice fishing!

What is Ice Fishing?

When rivers, lakes, and ponds freeze over, it can make fishing seem inaccessible. Alaskan people solved this problem many years ago because it meant the difference between food and starvation.

Ice fishing can easily be defined as the act of boring a hole into the ice above a frozen fishing area large enough to pull a fish through.

Ice fishing in areas such as Alaska is a big deal and taken very seriously. They have fishing houses that are heated and have a hole in the floor that can be situated over the borehole for fishing.

Frozen Lake
Ice fishing is beautiful.

The ice shanty is stored onshore until the winter freeze. They are then rented to fishermen who slide them onto the ice and over their selected fishing hole. Many more simply brave the cold and fish right out in the open.

The ice that must be bored or cut through can be several inches thick. Actually, the thicker the ice is the better. This makes being on the ice much safer.

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Here’s an example of an ice auger you can use to drill your fishing hole in the ice.

Where to Go Ice Fishing

You don’t have to go all the way to Alaska to enjoy ice fishing. Minnesota, Devil’s Lake North Dakota, Lake Michigan, Colorado, Lake Winnebago, and Wisconsin offer some of the best ice fishing anywhere.

It is well known that areas like Colorado and Lake Winnebago have some of the best fishing in the summertime. These are also prime spots for some good fishing in the winter as well.

Lake Winnebago ice fishing is known as a “once in a lifetime experience” of ice fishing from a spear house. This is where an angler can try out their spear skills.

This type of ice fishing requires using an auger to cut through the thick ice and sit above the hole and wait for one of the many large sturgeon to swim by then thrust the spear. It is not uncommon for an angler to pull out a 100-pound sturgeon.

Sturgeon Spearing 2018 | Lake Winnebago

Everyone knows Colorado gets some very cold winters. Waters in Colorado can easily freeze solid enough to support the weight of a vehicle.

The many anglers who flock to Colorado for fly fishing can use this as an opportunity to try out their walleye ice fishing skills.

Ice fishing Wyoming is another trip that is well worth taking. No including the unmatched scenery, Wyoming offers great locations to ice fish.

Minnesota Ice Fishing

According to Tina Chapman, Owner of Chapman’s Mille Lacs Resort, Mille Lacs Lake is a hot spot for ice fishing.

In Minnesota we drive vehicles on most lakes and on Mille Lacs Lake where we are located there are many miles of plowed roads that include bridges, speed limit and road signs.  There is an art to plowing ice roads.

Tina Chapman

Recommended Fishing Line

For Mille Lacs Lake, when fishing for walleye or panfish, use a lighter line and small hooks. Heavier line is used for Northern Pike due to their teeth and not so much their fight.

Hot Spots

On Mille Lacs, sometimes the best spot is in the middle of nowhere away from the crowd.

How to Ice Fish

Obviously, having the right equipment and knowledge is the focal point to a successful and unforgettable ice fishing excursion.

Anglers that ice fish regularly, will most often have or rent a boring machine to open up holes in the ice.

Ice Fishing With Augers

This machine consists of a gas-powered engine and a large drill bit, also known as an auger or ice auger.

This auger bit is usually the correct size for the hole you will be fishing through. This eliminates the need for multiple drilling to get the correct sized hole.

Let the adventure begin ice fishing
If you haven’t tried ice fishing. It’s time to start now!

Ice Fishing Saws

Another method is an ice saw. This is a handheld saw with teeth specially designed for cutting through ice. This allows the angler to cut open any size hole they would like to fish.

Since casting is not required for ice fishing, some anglers omit the reel altogether. Considering the area you are fishing and the potential size of fish you may catch, a substantial rod may be in order.

Ice Fishing Line

Another consideration when ice fishing is the type of line to use. Since anything you catch will be pulling against the edges of the hole you are fishing through, you will need a line that is as abrasion-resistant as possible.

Braid line is probably going to be your best option.

Ice Fishing Hooks

Hook choice again will depend on the type of fish you are going after. These fish can be anything from perch to crappie to walleye or sturgeon.

For this reason, it is a good idea to have a variety of hook sizes as well as shot weight. Some anglers use a bell to alert of a bite as well.

Ice Fishing Baits

The best fish bait to use is more often live/cut bait. This is especially true if you are going to let your bait “sit” until a hungry or curious fish swims by.

Jigging is a method known to most anglers. Jigging for walleye is another common style of ice fishing.

This is done in much the same way as when fishing normally with the exception of going straight up and down.

It is a good idea to know the general depth of the area you are fishing. This can make a difference in the decision of jigging vs still bait.

Using an attractant in some cases is also a good idea. Considering you are limited as to where you can put your bait. If it is hard for you to get to the fish, bring the fish to you.

Attractants such as bait clouds work great. These are attractants that once placed in the water, they radiate out a very powerful scent that can travel the currents under the ice. Fish will often follow this scent to the source.

Ice Fishing Tips And Tricks

Ice fishing is a challenging yet rewarding experience. We’ve researched some of the best tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your ice fishing trip.


Many ice fishing anglers use spoons and minnow heads to make their jigs look and act as lifelike as possible.

However, we have found that soft plastics actually kick it up a notch, especially when used with attractant.

It is much more convenient to replace a lost soft plastic than it is to set up a whole other jig arrangement.

By simply sticking a pack of soft plastics in your pocket, you can replace a lost bait in half the time and get back to fishing.

Hot Spots to Ice Fish

Since small baitfish frequently cruise the shoreline, this is a prime spot to set up to fish for predatory fish. This is also true of drop-offs and grassy areas where baitfish are known to hide.

Another area to check out is open pockets. These are places larger predatory fish use to lay in wait for an unsuspecting meal to swim by.

It is not necessary and in some cases not productive to set up out in the middle of a frozen fishing area.

Fish tend to feed and stick to the same routine as they do in the summer. The only difference is they can be less reactive.

Be Quiet

Water levels can be quite low in some of the areas you are ice fishing. Noise on the ice above will travel and can be amplified to fish underneath.

Any movement and noise on the ice above can just about assure that you will spook the fish below.

There will be some noise involved in getting set up. Once you have everything ready, it is a good idea to start with some attractant and try to be as still and quiet as possible.

As the fish’s appetite gets the best of them, they will return.

Final Thoughts on Ice Fishing

Ice fishing is a great way to shake the miss fishing blues of anglers who are feeling the effects. It is a pretty straight forward way of fishing.

Ice fishing does not require a lot of special gear. This makes traveling to a fishing spot much easier.

There is a variety of fish that can successfully be landed during the winter, as mentioned in this article.

We hope you will go out and give ice fishing a try and let us know how it worked out for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the best ice fishing lure?

A: For walleye, jigs have been the most successful. However, you can not rule out live bait which works in most cases, when nothing else will.

Q: What are some good jig techniques?

A: The best technique is to keep the jig looking and acting as realistic as possible. In many cases, this can be achieved best using soft plastics and a slow and steady drop and retrieve.

Q: Does ice fishing require a special license?

A: It is always advisable to check with the state conservation office where you will be fishing. In most cases, no “special” license is required other than a fishing license.

The Anglers Behind This Article:

Jon Stenstrom
Founder & Angler

Johanes Godoy
Fishing Editor

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Articles » Techniques » Ice Fishing Tips — Hot Bites During Cold Weather