If you are thinking about giving ice fishing a try this year, don’t let the catalog pages full of specialty gear fool you. Like any facet of recreational angling, you can quickly drop a lot of money when it comes to ice fishing, but you don’t have to. Chances are, you already have most of the gear you to get started.
Though you can always add more specialty gear to your collection later if ice fishing is something you enjoy doing, there is one piece of equipment you really should consider investing in at the start. That is an ice auger.
I showed up at Utah’s Schofield Reservoir with a hatchet on my first ice-fishing adventure back in my college days. Not knowing where to begin, I simply followed the example of other anglers already on the ice. There were small groups of anglers scattered across the reservoir, and I picked one group that seemed friendly enough and dropped my gear far enough away to show respect for their space but close enough to learn through observation.
We exchanged pleasantries and I began working on the ice with my hatchet. After a few minutes, I realized that I wasn’t getting very far. Then I looked up and realized that several anglers were looking in my direction and laughing at my expense. Needless to say, I felt a little foolish. Just as I was about to pack up and head for the barn, one of my fishing neighbors rescued my self-esteem with the loan an ice auger.
Even a manual auger makes quick work of ice up to 6 or 8 inches thick. Beyond that they will do the job if you are prepared to do the work. Keep in mind that you may need to drill multiple holes. For that reason, my sister-in-law’s extended family chipped in together and bought a power auger. One way to make this easier is to find an existing hole that is only a day or two old and drill through the surface ice.
I also learned on that first trip about the importance of bringing something comfortable to sit on. My seat that day was an overturned five-gallon bucket. It worked, but things could have been much different had I known better at the time. Now I bring a folding camp chair.
We lose body heat from the top as well as the bottom. For that reason, be sure to have a good pair of insulated boots and quality socks; I still prefer a wool sock with a good liner to wick away moisture. Because ice fishing is a stationary activity, I wear thermals that are a mix of polypropylene and wool, along with insulated overalls. I adjust for the temperature with a coat and knit cap. Don’t forget gloves or mittens.
As for a rod and reel, any trout combination will do. I use a monofilament line in 4-pound test, but if the fish are really spooky you may want to use fluorocarbon tippet for a leader. Keep in mind that trout have a small mouth so your hook needs to be small as well. If you are using PowerBait or salmon eggs, go with a treble hook from size 14 on the large end down to a number 18. Use just enough bait to cover the hook, no more. For mealworms or wax worms use a bait hook from number 10 to 14.
Generally, ice fishing is a wait and see game, but if prefer to remain active you can jig with a small spoon or lure such as a 1/10-ounce Swedish Pimple. Keep in mind that the fish are going to be sluggish so don’t move your bait too fast.
Rainbow trout tend to hold just below the ice so that is a good place to start looking. If you haven’t had a bite after a while, lower your bait. Repeat that process until you get a bite or reach the bottom. Once that happens with no bites, it is time to try another spot.
Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.