8 Expert Ice Fishing Tips to Make Angling Easier

Jan 10, 2018 2 min read

While some people lament the bitter cold of winter, others get practically giddy when temperatures dip and stay below freezing. That means it’s time to get back to fishing. If you’re one of those folks who likes to spend hours out on the ice, watching a tiny hole and waiting for a bite, then these ice fishing hacks are for you. They could just up your fishing game and make your shanty neighbors shiver with envy.

Find the fish

Just like fishing during the warmer months, finding a spot in the winter can seem overwhelming. A good rule of thumb: Talk to your fellow fishers. Groups of fish houses have likely found success there, but the fish may be more guarded. Interested in catching certain types of fish? The Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation and Iowa Department of Natural Resources have some suggestions for when and where to find certain fish.

Gimme shelter

Ice fishing isn’t a sprint. Without the proper gear, you’re likely to be left out in the cold and without much to show for it. Ice shelters can offer a warmer, and often more enjoyable, ice fishing experience. When choosing an ice shelter, think about the weight (how often you’ll move it, if you’ll have help moving it), the comfort (will you feel claustrophobic, does it need to hold multiple people) and ease (does the set up and tear down take too long, is it easily stored).

Stay warm

Although the objective of ice fishing is to catch fish, true anglers know it’s all about having a good time. If you’re going to enjoy yourself, you’ve got to stay warm. The disposable adhesive back-pain relief wraps you can get from any pharmacy will offer you eight hours of heat, or pick up a few heat packs like HotHands. Wear a few underneath your base layers and you’ll stay toasty all day — staving off stiffness to boot. Be sure to wear a wind- and water-resistant layer like GoreTex, warm socks and boots, and water-proof gloves, and know the signs of hypothermia and frostbite.

Create your own bait

Fool the fish with DIY leeches. A tube of black caulk is all you need to make some lengthwise blobs. Squeeze onto greased foil and remove with a spatula when dry. Carry them in an empty pocket-sized mint tin.

Test the ice

Always check the ice thickness before you start a fishing trip. A good tip is to contact your local bait shop about conditions, but still check when you arrive! Follow guidelines for minimum ice thickness, which recommend at least four inches of new, clear ice for ice fishing. Ready to drill?

Decide whether you want to use a hand or powered auger to drill your hole, then use these tips to drill safely and successfully.

Stay open

Just because you drill a hole doesn’t mean Old Man Winter will let it remain open for business. Bring along interlocking foam garage-floor mats, black shingles, or even an old front-door mat. Cut to place around your tip-up. The dark color will absorb heat from the sun. If you’re fishing on a particularly windy day, add a painted-black coffee can with the bottom removed. Coat your line lightly with petroleum jelly to keep it from freezing.

Draw the fish

Set a Bluetooth speaker on the ice and play light music or audio using your phone. Fish will follow the vibration, and you’ll have a good time in the process. Just be sure not to annoy your neighbors.

Get organized

Have a five-gallon bucket in your garage? It’s a perfect tote for your rods and gear. If you’re looking to DIY a tote with built-in organization, take an old milk crate and, using zip ties, attach PVC pipes (cut to the height of the crate) inside the four corners. The piping can hold your rods while the interior functions as a catchall for other gear or odds and ends. Mount the crate to your sled with bungee cords.


We hope you have fun with these hacks. Be sure to follow rules and regulations for your area and stay safe with these tips. Happy fishing!

Want to learn more?

Contact a local FBFS agent or advisor for answers personalized to you.

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