Ice fishing season is upon us, and it’s time to gear up for the season. I’m not the kind of guy who has to replace or upgrade every year, but I am always looking to be more efficient on the ice. When it comes to my ice fishing gear, I factor price and longevity with every purchase. I can’t stand ice fishing gear that doesn’t last, so I thought I’d break down my personal top 10 must-haves for ice fishing I will start with the NEEDS and end with the WANTS.
Ice Fishing Gear Needs
Ice Rod/Reel Combo
Let’s face it, you need an ice fishing rod and reel combo to get started, and I’ve already reviewed my personal favorite for all species. Most guys I know have a lot of rods, and I’m guilty of it too. I have a medium-heavy pike rod, a handful of medium action walleye rods, and of course, my panfish rods. They all have their time and place, of course, but if you’re on a budget then I would check out the Fenwick/Pflueger combo I wrote about last year.
For around $100 you can get a solid setup that’ll last for years. Don’t be fooled into buying a $20 combo, they just don’t have the performance and they don’t last. I know, they’re tempting for the price, but take my advice and invest in a better setup.
Ice Fishing Gear – Drill Auger Setup
I really don’t think there is a perfect ice auger on the market yet. I’ve owned gas, propane, and battery-powered ice augers. I think battery-powered is the future, but so far I think they just don’t last as long as they should. Companies taught how many holes they drill, but I’ve found that to be an overstatement and it sucks to run out of juice in the middle of an outing.
Last year, I finally took the plunge and went with the cordless drill ice auger set up and I won’t look back. Why?
Well first off, everyone needs a solid drill in their home. And if you’re already using a good drill, it can be used as an ice auger as well. Now keep in mind, not just any drill will work. You’ll want a name brand, brushless drill to get it done. I wrote on this and tested them extensively last spring. You can check out the drill ice auger review for more details.
They’re FAST, light, and cut ice like a dream. I still have a 10-inch ice auger for pike, but other than that my old augers are all up for sale. Keep an open mind on augers for your ice fishing gear.
Ice Fishing Lures
Throughout the winter, I fish for a variety of species through the ice. It’s no secret if you follow my writing that walleyes are my personal favorite, but I will not pass up a good opportunity for crappie, perch, bluegills, or big pike. I’m an opportunist, and luckily, I can find all of these species in my home state of North Dakota all winter long. I will break down my favorite ice fishing lures, by species, below.
I wrote extensively about my favorite walleye ice fishing lures last year, and that hasn’t changed much. Although, I am getting excited about the new Rattling Spoons from PK Lures. They come in 2 sizes, and not only do they rattle, but they have a flasher at the top of the lure to help draw in fish in dirtier water. These have just become available, and I’m excited to have a handful to try out at first ice.
Crappie / Bluegill
I tend to stick to vertical jigs when it comes to crappies. I have to travel a distance to get into giant bluegills, but I have solid crappie options closer…so I fish them more often. The reason I prefer vertical jigs is that crappies typically come up to take a bait (not sideways). If you don’t know what I mean by a vertical jig, it essentially is tied at the top of the hook and hangs down (like a J). Horizontal jigs are usually tied in the middle and are a sideways J. I hope that makes sense.
And if I had to choose just one style of a vertical jig, it would have to glow as I fish often at night for crappies. Color can vary, but if I had just one color to choose from it would have to be pink (personal preference). Work the bait aggressively or subtle, depending on the fish’s mood. You can tip the hook with pretty much anything, but I usually use wax worms or SMALL minnows (hooked in the tail). Experiment and find what works best for you.
Let’s face it when you’re on a hot perch bite, and they’re aggressive, they will pretty much take anything. But when perch get finicky, they can get downright frustrating. Ever have those days where your sonar is lit up all day and they just won’t bite? Been there many times, I get it. But if I had to choose any perch ice fishing lure, it would have to be a small spoon like the Northland Buckshot Spoon.
More often than not, I use small crappie minnows for perch as my personal bait of choice. But I usually have wax worms along, in case that’s what they prefer. I like to use small treble hooks on my spoons over single hook setups. I just feel I get better hooksets, that’s my personal preference. A rattle or no rattle can vary on the water clarity, in clear water I tend to use plain.
Keep in mind, I have a tackle box LOADED with various perch baits, but small spoons are always what I try first.
Usually, when we’re fishing for pike, we’re targeting fish over 40 inches. We’re talking BIG pike. I’m fortunate to live within an hour of some fantastic pike fisheries. While most guys target pike with tip-ups, I like to catch them on a rod and reel.
My favorite go-to pike bait is large darter type lures. They are shaped like a minnow, and there are a lot of them on the market these days. I prefer Lindy or Salmo Chubby darters because of price and the rattle option, but I like to change out the hooks. The stock hooks just aren’t strong enough for giant pike, and I like to size up a bit for strength and hooksets. Color doesn’t matter, but I prefer natural colors if I had a choice. In dirty water, I may use flashier colors but in clear water, I like white, silver, and black.
Yes, you can ice fish without using sonar, but I find myself fishing blind without one. The price tag of today’s fish finders can blow your mind…but you can get away with a cheaper model. Trust me, if you’re reading this and don’t own an ice fishing sonar you’re missing out!
Like I stated before, you don’t need to break the bank if you don’t want to on a sonar. For a couple hundred bucks, you can get started. But I highly recommend at least getting a model with a zoom option. It really helps to hone in on the target area where your bait is at, and it makes seeing your bait much easier (especially if you’re using a smaller lure or fishing deeper).
I could write for hours on sonars, and I have written about the best ice fishing sonars on the ice the other winter. So feel free to check that out if you want more details.
Ice Fishing Houses
Like ice sonars, I could write forever about what you want or need out of an ice house. I wrote an extensive article about the best ice houses last winter, as well as my favorite flip over ice houses if you’re looking for a specific model. But there are a few things to consider when buying an ice house.
Remember the ice houses of 10+ years ago??? One thing they all had in common was thin, weak support poles. If you owned one, you know what I’m talking about. When frozen, they would stick…and when they stick, they have the tendency to bend when putting them back together. Over time, this would make extending and sliding back poles to be a nightmare.
Nowadays, I won’t buy an ice house without thick, solid poles. They just last longer PERIOD.
The sleds are important as thin plastic sleds will wear fast. You have 2 options here, either buy an Otter brand sled or get runners on the bottom of your sled. Both options have their time and place, but if you want your sled to last you’ll want to go either route. Although the one bad thing about Otter sleds is they’re HEAVY…so if you fish solo and have to take the house in and out of your truck, you’ll want to keep that in mind.
I highly recommend getting an insulated fabric ice house. Not only will it hold heat better on cold days, but it helps eliminate moisture build-up as well. Most ice house manufacturers have well-insulated tents nowadays, but you’ll be paying for them as well.
If you’re planning to spend a long outing on the ice, I recommend investing in an ice house with well-padded seats. I don’t care for the hard plastic versions, it leaves you sore and I have a bad back. You’ll thank me later if you get a padded seat, it’s worth the extra money.
Ice Fishing Gear Wants
The first 5 ice fishing gear ideas I consider MUST-HAVES to enjoy a day on the ice. But if you’re a gear junkie like myself, you’ll want to consider these other 5 ideas as well.
Have you ever slipped and fell on the ice before? It sucks, it really does. The worst experience for me was picking up a portable ice house and sliding it in the truck. Not only did I slip and fall, but the ice house came down on top of me…ouch. So nowadays, I feel I have to wear ice cleats.
There are a variety of ice cleats on the market today, and they can vary from cheap to very expensive. So are the expensive ones worth it??? Well, kind of, but the price tag doesn’t always mean the best. I wrote about my favorite ice cleats last winter, so you can read up on the brand I recommend there.
Pretty much every ice fisherman I know has tip-ups. Depending on where you live, you can have a lot of lines out in the water. Here in North Dakota, you can have 4 lines on the ice. So while you’re fishing with a rod and reel, you can have 3 tip-ups out as well. Some guys prefer deadsticks and bobbers over tip-ups and I get that, but it’s not a bad idea to have some tip-ups ready to roll.
Like everything else, there are a lot of tip-up styles on the market. I’ve own tons of cheap tip-ups but they just don’t cut the mustard for me. The reason? They freeze up in cold temperatures. So I wrote about the best tip-up for ice fishing and you can find out about that model and why there.
Insulated Minnow Bucket
You don’t need to break the bank on a minnow bucket, the cheap foam buckets will work. But they don’t last and you’ll find yourself buying them again and again. So I invested in a solid, aerated minnow bucket for my ice fishing.
Not only do they last longer, but they help keep your bait alive as well. And in extremely cold conditions, it’ll help keep your bucket from freezing up (along with your bait). There are only a couple of brands on the market worth buying, and there are pros and cons to each. But if you ice fish a lot, you’ll probably want to invest in one.
Ice Fishing Gear Lights
I see a trend in ice fishing, where guys are tricking out their ice houses with all these various kinds of lights. Some are sweet, some are kind of overkill, but you don’t need to invest a ton of time and money in lights if you don’t want to.
For me, I got lucky and found what I feel is the best ice fishing light on the market. It cost 20 bucks, is rechargeable, and has a hook to allow the light to hang from the top of your ice house. And let me tell you, this light is BRIGHT.
I wrote about this light and where to get it at the best ice fishing light article. Check that out, you’ll be glad you did.
Ice Anchor Drill Adapter
Do you own an ice fishing hub? If so, you’ll find that screwing the ice anchors into the ice to be a pain in the rear. Sure, it can be done and it’s a slow process, but there’s a great adapter for your cordless drill on the market for this.
I wrote all about this ice anchor adapter last winter, and you can read more about the brand and where to get it at that article.
Your ice fishing gear can really be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be. A bucket full of rods, bait, and an ice auger is all you really need to get started. But if you plan on ice fishing often, you’ll want to up your gear and find ways to make it more comfortable. These gear ideas I hope will help you get there.
So tight lines and good luck this winter!