What Do You Need For Ice Fishing? (2022 Essential Gear List)

PUBLISHED 20 NOVEMBER 2022

by Bill Laney

If you’re new to ice fishing, chances are you have a lot of questions about what gear you need to bring along on your first ice fishing trip.

And while there’s a lot of gear that is potentially useful for hard water fishing, the essential gear can be distilled down to a handful of items that you absolutely need to have.

What do you need for ice fishing

In this guide we’ll cover the basic essential gear for ice fishing, to help you get started without overthinking it too much.

Essential ice fishing gear list

Here is a list of the essential gear that you need in order to go ice fishing:

  • Ice auger
  • Ice scoop
  • Ice fishing rod & reel
  • Ice fishing bait
  • Sled
  • Five gallon bucket
  • Spud bar
  • Warm clothing

These are the basic gear items that you need as an ice fishing beginner, while omitting the more advanced items that are nice to have, but not essential. 

To help simplify things, we’ll start by focusing on the ice fishing gear essentials, and then move on to the more advanced gear that will help you have the best ice fishing experience.

Now let’s examine each of these in turn.

Ice auger

An ice auger is a must-have in order to drill holes through the ice.

Photo of ice auger lying on ice

Although a pick ax might be able to accomplish this, an ice auger is much simpler to use, drills holes more precisely, and does not make a loud noise that scares fish away.

Your 3 options for this are hand augers, electric ice augers, or gas-powered ice augers.

While manual augers are obviously much less expensive than the other two options, they also require a lot more physical effort to operate.

This gets to be a serious issue if you need to drill more than 10 holes in a day; in that case, a gas or electric ice auger would be a much better option.

However, a manual auger is perfectly OK if you’re just starting off with ice fishing.

Finally, you can also use a drill to power an ice auger if you’re using a manual auger that is convertible, in which case many ice anglers also like to use a Clam auger plate.

Ice scoop

Ice scoops are crucial in order to remove chunks of ice from a freshly drilled ice hole.

Additionally, you’ll discover that the majority of ice holes frequently freeze over again, necessitating the breaking up of the fresh ice and repeated scooping out.

Ice scoops, which are typically inexpensive, are metal or plastic spoons with a sieve or grid.

In a pinch, a cooking spoon with slots or holes, or even a conventional cooking sieve, will work to get the job done.

Ice fishing rod, reel & fishing line

Now let’s talk about ice fishing rods and reels, and how to choose the right ones.

Ice fishing rod

Ice rods are considerably shorter than standard rods, and are among the specialized pieces of ice fishing equipment that can’t be used for open water fishing.

Photo of ice fishing rod and reel

And although it is possible to use a conventional fishing pole for ice fishing, this is not the best option because regular rods are frequently far too long to be effective for this purpose (especially if you’re fishing inside a shelter).

Ice fishing rods are typically 28″ to 36″ long. The longest ice rods, which can reach up to 48″, are used for large fish like pike and muskie, while the shortest ice rods, which are between 20” and 24”, are used for lightweight panfish fishing.

Compared to the summer, fish are less aggressive when feeding during the winter, and the majority of species won’t hit your bait as hard.

In fact, most fish approach a bait or lure extremely slowly and cautiously in winter, and they prefer to examine it for a while before deciding to bite.

The small length of ice rods is extremely useful in situations like this. They allow you to sit close to your hole and monitor everything that happens with your hook or lure just below thanks to this.

In fact, lighter ice rod types are frequently held between the thumb and index finger (much like holding a pen), allowing for greatest sensitivity in feeling delicate bites.

Ice rods come in a variety of models and brands, and the most basic ones start at around $15, making them quite affordable to those who wish to try the sport.

Ice fishing reel

The two main types of ice fishing reels are inline reels and spinning reels. Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

Inline reels

These were originally derived from fly fishing reels and have a fairly straightforward design. 

They do, however, differ from fly reels in that they have a longer reel stem that enables the fisherman to grip the rod comfortably between the thumb and forefinger.

Crappie, bluegill and other panfish are the species for which inline reels are most frequently used because they are typically smaller and lighter than spinning reels.

Spinning reels

These reels are by far the most popular for hard water fishing. In addition, most standard spinning reels are compatible with ice fishing rods.

However, since ice rods are typically smaller than conventional fishing rods, the spinning reels that go with them are also typically on the smaller side.

The sizes of spinning reels that are most frequently used for ice fishing range from 1000 to 3500, covering the lighter end of the scale.

Most spinning reels for hardwater fishing are similar to regular spinning reels in terms of overall design and construction.

However, some spinning reels are made specifically for ice fishing, such as the Abu Garcia Ice Max.

This reel uses cold gear lube, which is a lubricant that doesn’t solidify at very low temperatures. It also has an extended reel stem, which makes it simpler to hold the rod and reel between the thumb and index finger.

Ice fishing line

Fluorocarbon and monofilament are the two primary types of fishing line used for hard water fishing, though braid is also used on occasion.

Ice fishing line is typically lighter than fishing during the warm season. This is due to the fact that many fish are picky biters throughout the winter, and as a result approach any bait cautiously. 

Fluorocarbon is the most widely used ice fishing line, due to its limited underwater visibility, which aids in fooling wary fish.

The primary drawback of fluorocarbon is its higher price compared to monofilament (it costs quite a lot more, actually).

So if you’re a beginner, mono could be a better option for you, due to its lower cost and versatility.

Ice fishing bait

The two main categories of ice fishing bait are as follows:

  • Natural bait
  • Lures

Natural bait is further divided into live bait and dead bait. All three types of bait are widely used for ice fishing, and live or dead bait are also often combined with lures.

Let’s examine each of these in greater depth.

Natural baits for ice fishing

Ice fishing uses a variety of natural bait types:

Minnows

These are some of the most popular baits used for ice fishing, and practically every tackle shop carries them.

Minnows are by far the best live bait for walleye during the winter, and they are also popular for catching yellow perch and crappie.

You can use minnows live or dead, or even just as a piece of a minnow.

A common technique is to use an ice fishing rig that combines a minnow head with a jig, increasing its scent and allure to predators.

Try to stick with minnows that already occur naturally in the lake where you wish to fish, or that at the very least resemble them closely.

Nightcrawlers

These can be challenging to find in the winter, but they are the best kept secret of many trout ice anglers. From lake trout to rainbow trout, all trout species absolutely love nightcrawlers.

In order for the worms to move around on the hook, try to maintain them alive, which means you have to keep them warm.

Mealworms

Since larger predators avoid them, mealworms are an excellent bait for trout and panfish. 

Photo of mealworm

Mealworms have the advantage of being easily accessible in the winter because they are sold in virtually every tackle store and pet shop.

Salmon eggs

These are a traditional bait used for trout, and are among the best natural baits for trout in the winter, along with nightcrawlers.

Salmon eggs are a great bait for capturing trophy-sized brown trout on the Great Lakes, but they also work on trout of all other sizes and varieties. 

Wax worms

Similar to mealworms, these are readily available in pet stores and tackle shops.

Wax worms are an excellent choice for small panfish and perch because they are smaller than the other worm varieties.

Additionally, some fishermen enjoy using them on jigs for perch and trout.

Marshmallows

This is unquestionably an unconventional bait for cold water fishing, but occasionally you’ll only get bites if you do something out of the ordinary or unique.

When nothing else works, their texture, color, and aroma could cause bites. Ideal for rainbow trout.

Bait fish

For ice fishing, minnows are undoubtedly the most popular bait fish, but you may also use a variety of other species (both dead or live, or even cut into pieces).

Examining the stomach contents of freshly caught fish is an excellent approach to decide which sort of fish is best to use.

It is well known that northern pike and muskie eat dead fish during the winter. You can thus set up a few tip-ups for pike if you have been catching a lot of little perch and use them as dead bait.

Power bait

Trout, panfish, and perch can all be caught with this bait option. You can also use it together with worms, or on a jig.

Ice fishing lures

The great thing about using lures for ice fishing is that you don’t need to buy a new batch every time you go fishing.

In addition, they can be at least as effective as worms or minnows if the correct lure and presentation are used.

Most ice fishing lures differ from open water lures, since they are designed for vertical fishing.

For instance, many of them have hooks at both ends, and are attached to the fishing line in the middle of their backs (see photo below).

Photo of jigging rap ice fishing lure

This makes them ideal for a vertical presentation (as opposed to crankbaits or jerkbaits, which are made to be retrieved horizontally).

When you raise or lower your rod tip, many of the best ice lures tend to flutter or dart sideways, which is perfect for luring predators to strike.

The following are some of the top ice fishing lures:

Jigs

Due to the fact that they were initially created for vertical fishing, these lures are the most well-known and popular among ice fishermen.

Jigs are available in a vast array of shapes, colors, and sizes. While some lack any sort of tail at all, others feature a long plastic tail.

The smallest of these are tungsten jigs, which are ideal for finicky panfish, as they are only a few millimeters long.

Jigs have the benefit that they can be baited with a complete minnow, a minnow head, a bit of worm, or a fish eye.

Because they let you blend the greatest artificial lures and natural bait into a single presentation, jigs are highly flexible.

Additionally, unlike other lures, a jig’s motion in the water is not really affected by adding bait to it.

Some fishermen even deadstick using baited jigs (deadsticking refers to a technique where you leave a rod unattended at an ice fishing hole).

Flutter spoons

Many anglers who target perch and pike use these as their secret weapon. These lures wobble back and forth in the water when lowered because of their broad blade-like form.

And this makes them extremely alluring to many fish, especially when combined with their shiny flashing colors.

Jigging swimbaits

These swimbaits have their line attachment in the middle of their back. Rappala’s Jigging Rap and Slab Rap are two well-known examples.

One of the best-performing ice fishing lures ever  made, the Jigging Rap comes in a variety of sizes, and darts around like a wounded fish when you raise your rod tip, due to its flattened tail region.

This action is very tempting to walleye in particular, but it also appeals to many other species.

Sled

Even if you have the option of carrying your gear onto the ice, a sled makes a significant difference in how much energy you can save while moving around swiftly.

The fun of the adventure will be greatly diminished if you have to carry around your gear, which will typically weigh 40 pounds or even more.

Even a simple sled makes it easy to move big quantities of equipment and tackle swiftly and efficiently.

And if you have a lot of gear, just get an extra large ice fishing sled to transport it.

Five gallon bucket

Five gallon buckets are perfect for transporting all of your tackle, you can also use them as a chair to sit on.

Finally, you can fill a bucket with keeper fish to take home at the end of the day. 

Spud bar

Metal spud bars are long, thin bars. They feature a pointed end that allows you to probe the ice in front of you as you walk and are typically around 5 feet long.

Additionally, you can use them to create an ice hole while the ice is thin in the early ice season; later in the season, they are useful if you need to widen your hole.

Warm clothing

This one should go without saying, given that you’ll be venturing outside in the freezing cold.

Additionally, since you’ll probably spend a lot of time sitting down, you should dress extra warm in order to stay comfortable.

It is ideal to layer your clothing, starting with thermal underwear and working your way up.

Advanced ice fishing gear

Now let’s talk about more advanced ice fishing gear that, while not absolutely essential, can make your ice fishing trip a lot more successful.

Ice fishing electronics, ice fishing shelters, and tip-ups rank as the most significant non-essential gear components in our opinion.

Ice fishing electronics

The two main types of ice fishing electronics are sonar and GPS. Ice fishing sonar is further divided into flashers and ice fishing fish finders.

GPS

Nowadays, most devices have GPS tracking capabilities, however for ice fishing, Lakemaster or Navionics lake mapping software is highly effective for GPS mapping.

GPS mapping is especially helpful for fishing on huge lakes because it allows you to discover the most promising sites quickly, rather than wasting a lot of time with hole hopping.

These companies also offer extremely detailed lake maps of many locations.

Sonar

In addition to GPS, the most important type of ice fishing electronics is sonar, which allows you to detect fish in the water column beneath your ice hole.

And although you could theoretically use the same fish finder you would in the summer, it is far preferable to use a flasher, which is a sonar built especially for vertical fishing.

Flashers have two primary characteristics that make them perfect for ice fishing:

  • As opposed to a standard transducer, their transducer is suspended underneath a float, making it easier to precisely position it so that it points down vertically.
  • They only show a single 1D column of their sonar signals, which is ideal for detecting goes on straight beneath your ice hole while ignoring anything else.

In other words, flashers avoid using side imaging technology that is available in standard fish finders, but which isn’t particularly effective for hardwater fishing.

The two most popular brands of flashers are made by Vexilar and Marcum.

Some advanced fish finders have flasher functionality built in, so you can either use them as flashers or regular fish finders.

Some of them also come with GPS and mapping capabilities, allowing you to have one device for all of your ice fishing electronics.

Ice fishing shelter

Any amount of time spent on the ice will result in you being exposed to the cold weather without proper clothing, which will cause you to go numb to your bones.

Photo of portable ice fishing shelter

This is especially true if you intend to ice fish at night, when the temperature drops much lower.

Setting up a shelter on the ice and fishing inside of it is a terrific way to survive the below-freezing cold.

The most convenient option is to use ice fishing tents made specifically for this purpose, which are also quite simple to transport on your sled, and often the least expensive choice.

The most popular brands of ice fishing tents are made by Eskimo, Clam and Otter.

Even better, you may use a propane-powered portable heater to heat the tent, which will keep it warm even in the bitterly cold weather outside.

And if you add insulated flooring to your ice shelter, this will keep your feet dry and warm which is a huge plus when you ice fish for long hours.

More long-term ice shelter options are useful if you’re fishing on one of the large lakes, like Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods.

These can be full ice fishing houses or shanties that are pulled onto the lake and equipped with beds, freezers, and other amenities.

A sleeper house does not need to be constructed by you. Simply choose a reputable resort that hires them out; this is a terrific way to learn about ice fishing in a handy and enjoyable manner.

Related: How do you use a rattle reel for ice fishing?

Tip-ups

Tip ups are tools that hold your fishing line on a spool at an ice hole. In the event that a fish bites, they snap up, and set the hook, while alerting you to the bite (usually with a flag that tips up).

Photo of tip up for ice fishing

Additionally, while tip-ups are not absolutely necessary (especially when you’re just getting started), they can be quite helpful if you want to fish with multiple lines at the same time.

One common tactic is to drill a number of holes in a promising area, and then fish through them with lines baited with live or dead bait, while actively fishing with a lure in one of the other holes.

In that instance, ice fishing with tip ups will enable you to monitor each of your lines simultaneously, and they will even set the hook for you when a fish takes the bait.

Final remarks

This concludes our article on what you need to have for a successful season on the ice. 

Hopefully it will help you to gather everything you need before heading out onto the ice for some quality hard water fishing.

Finally, if you’re also thinking about getting a motorized vehicle to help you move your equipment around, check out our article on the types of ice fishing transportation.