Ice fishing is a rewarding sport, but you do not want to be on the cold ice without the right preparation. You need the essential ice fishing gear to pierce through the ice and fish comfortably (comfort is relative). Once you’re through the ice, you need the best ice fishing tackle to start catching fish. This list provides the basic gear to get started ice fishing, and our favorite ice fishing tackle and bait to get you landing Walleye, Perch, Panfish and Pike.
1. Five Gallon Bucket
The 5 gallon bucket is the body of your ice fishing operation. It keeps the bait fresh, stores the tackle, facilitates transportation of gear, and provides you with a seat. This is a critical component of the process, even experienced anglers who utilize shelters that provide advanced capabilities beyond the bucket find use for it in one way or another. Recommendation: Frabill Sit-N-Fish Bucket . The bucket contains insulated Styrofoam bucket to store your bait without freezing it as well as a seat snap cover.
2. Ice Auger
Your tool to break through the ice and fish. A 4-5 Ft. adjustable, 6-8 Lb. hand auger with a 6″ diameter is an effective and affordable way to get started. Best used on < 1 Ft. of ice, a sharp hand auger can cut through the surface in less than 30 seconds. We recommend a 6″ to get started because the smaller diameter provides less resistance. If you are targeting trophy predators ( > 5 Lbs.) we would recommend an 8” diameter. While capable of handling thicker ice, the effort and time to drill > 1 Ft. will make you less efficient in comparison to using a more expensive power auger. The hand auger is a practical way to get started. Recommendation: Strikemaster Mora Hand Auger (6″ Diameter, 48″ – 57″ Adjustable Handle).
3. Ice Scoop
The classic ice scoop is a critical component for effective ice fishing. After you drill your hole, a sizable portion of slush will fill up the channel. Slush hinders dropping your line and landing fish. After you drill your hole, lower the scoop horizontally, then slowly scoop vertically letting the water filter through and discard the slush to the side. We recommend a metal scoop as plastic scoops become hardened and fragile in colder temperatures. Recommendation: Berkley Ice Metal Scoop
4. Rod & Reel Combo
A 28″ Medium Power Rod maintaining a 4-8 Lb. Line Rating paired with a Size 20 Spinning Reel is a basic, versatile combo. Spool the combo with 6 Lb. Fluorocarbon Ice Line. This combo is light enough to moderately feel Panfish while also giving you the opportunity to target modestly sized predators like Walleye and Pike. The Fluorocarbon line is essential as the heavier make-up prevents twists and curls that build ice on your line. The clearer consistency provides a lower visibility presentation vs Mono-filament or Braid. Fluorocarbon is more economical for ice fishing due to the shorter spooling length (50 yards for this combo) relative to open water. Recommendations:
Rod & Reel: Tailored Tackle Ice Fishing Combo
5. Jigs & Spikes: Best Ice Fishing Tackle Classics
The basic bait & tackle paring starts with a handful of Tungsten jigs and a couple dozen Spikes (Maggots). Tying directly to your Fluorocarbon line with a Clinch Knot will do the trick. Make sure that you wick the line with spit, secure tightly, and rotate the knot perpendicular to the jig so that the presentation lays horizontal. 2-3 Spikes through the middle or tail will suffice. After the Spikes are secured, gently pinch them to push out a bit of their insides. Sounds GROSS! But, it is a very effective and natural method to improve scent. Check out our Ice Fishing Kit to get all of the jigs and lures you need to get started. Other Recommendation:
2 x Gold Tungsten Jigs (1/12 Oz)
2 x Orange Diamond Jigs (1/16 Oz)
2 x Green Diamond Jigs (1/32 Oz)
Your local tackle shop or sporting goods retailer should have Spikes available for $3-5 per 2 dozen. If access to this bait type is challenging, you can tip your jig with plastics which are effective, but more so with advanced electronics. Pairing both a plastic and 1-2 spikes improves presentation longevity. Recommendations:
Live Spikes at Local Shop or buy in bulk online @ SpeedyWorm
Plastic #1: Wax Tail Grub (1.5″) in Chartreuse
Plastic #2: Spike Larvae Grub (1″) Blood Red
6. Tip-Up Set-Up
If your State allows 2+ lines, we recommend pairing your Rod & Reel Combo with a Tip-Up. Use a Tip-Up to target larger predator species such as Walleye or Pike if prevalent in the body of water you fish. This device will allow you to “set a trap” for larger predators while jigging with your combo set-up for Panfish. Spool your Tip-Up with 30-40 yards of braided Tip-Up line and tie on a 1/4 oz Fireball Jig (+ Fluorocarbon leader for Walleye). Bait the jig with a Shiner or Sucker Minnow (3-5″) threaded through the lips or tail. Lower your presentation from 1-2 Ft. off of the bottom, lock in your flag, and keep an eye out for the orange upright. When the flag signals, let the predator spool the reel for 15-20 seconds, then set the hook stiffly with your hands. Retrieve the fish hand over hand. Recommendations:
Tip-Up: Frabill Blackhawk Assault Tip-Up
Tip-Up Braid: 50 Yard Spool, 20 Lb. Test, Black Sufix Tip-Up Braided Line
Jig: 1/4 Oz. Demon Jig in Chartreuse (Parakeet)
7. Clothing Layers + Snow Pants + Boots + Gloves + Hat + Neck Warmer
Specialized Ice Fishing apparel is ideal and has incredible capabilities. However, these capabilities come at a premium price. For a recreational ice angler (3-4 trips a season), we recommend piecing together the following recommendations from your current winter arsenal. The list is meant to be multipurpose, so if you do not own a particular item, purchasing it is a good investment for various winter activities. A key discrepancy you may find with the list is that we recommend 3-4 layers vs. a heavy coat. Due to the aerobic nature at certain stages of the sport (transporting, drilling, setting up) coupled with fluctuating temperatures, your heat conduction will fluctuate dramatically. It is best to stay flexible, removing and adding layers for your primary goal; staying dry.
Ice Fishing Layers Checklist
1.) Upper-Body Layers
– 1st Layer: Athletic Compression Long Sleeve
– 2nd Layer: Cotton Long Sleeve (Optional, best for windy days, but more absorbent)
– 3rd Layer: Fleece or Water Resistant Zip-Up
– 4th Layer: Wind-Resistant, Water-Resistant Breaker
2.) Legs: General-Use Bib Snow Pants ideally with suspenders as in our example
3.) Feet: Mid-Height Water Resistant Snow Boots. Pair these with wool socks.
4.) Hands: Water-Resistant Mittens (Optional Underneath: Football Wide-Receiver Gloves)
5.) Head: Anything that will cover your ears such as a Beanie.
6.) Neck/Face: Neck Warmer is recommended for especially windy days.
If you already have a larger recreational sled (> 4 Ft.) that will work. If you need to purchase a sled we recommend investing in a Deep-Body Sport Sled that is 4-5 Ft. long, 2-3 Ft. wide, and about 1 Ft. deep. You can get away without a sled, carrying your bucket in one hand and your auger in the other, but this is challenging work and will reduce mobility. Recommendation: Terrain Sport Sled (Dimensions: 54″ Length x 26″ Width x 9.5″ Depth).
9. Tarp Straps
3-4 Tarp Straps with Metal S-Hooks 2-3 Ft. in length are critical to securing and transporting your gear. Getting everything to stay on the sled or in the bucket with difficult terrain and windy conditions is challenging. We emphasize purely rubber straps. Avoid cords wrapped in Nylon and other cloth material, as these serve as a terrible trap for loose hooks. It is much easier to remove a lodged barb from pure rubber than cloth. Tarp Straps are inexpensive and serve tremendous value in reducing frustration. Recommendation: Pro-Grip Variety Pack.
10. Metal Cleats and Safety Picks
Safety and practicality are wrapped up in the final recommendation. You will often encounter glare ice patches while fishing, applying metal cleats will greatly reduce your chances of falling on the ice as well as increase your mobility. Safety Picks are corded, retractable ice picks you wear around over shoulders. If you happen to fall through the ice, these picks will improve your ability to climb out of the water and back onto the ice. Recommendations:
Metal Cleats: Yaktrax Cleats for Snow & Ice
Safety Picks: Frabill Ice Picks
The list provides our opinion on the best ice fishing tackle to get started. Let us know your own recommendations to help others get started in the comments below!