Ice Fishing Tips and Techniques

November 19, 2020

Safety First

It is always best to err on the side of caution. Read local fishing reports and pay attention to other anglers on the ice. Groups tend to congregate where the fishing is best, and it’s also comforting to know where others have already found safe ice. In order to safely ice fish, you need at least four inches of solid, clear ice. If you aren’t sure how thick the ice is, drill test holes as you go. The thickest ice is usually found around the edges of the lake. Always use the buddy system when ice fishing. Once the ice reaches 8 inches in thickness, it is generally safe for snowmobiles and other small ATVs. If the ice surpasses 12 inches in thickness, it will support full-sized vehicles pulling ice shanties. This typically only happens in extremely cold northern climates. Ice fishing is a simple concept—cut a hole in the ice, drop lures and bait to the fish below and try to wrestle the fish to the surface. At first, it might seem like ice fishing requires a lot of specialized gear. But in truth, all you really need is an auger, a sled, an ice scoop, some ice rods and a handful of jigs. Realistically, anglers can get started at a relatively low cost. In addition to equipment, you’ll need to know how to stay safe and warm on the ice. As you might expect, ice fishing can be an extreme weather activity. You definitely want to bundle up with your warmest, driest winter gear. It’s always better to layer down if you get too warm than to underdress and freeze.

What Types of Ice Fishing Techniques Should You Use?

A few popular ice fishing techniques to consider are jigging and tip ups. These are both great techniques to use when looking for fish.


This is one of the most effective ways to cover ice looking for active fish. Drilling holes and breaking down lakes like points, shoreline, brakes, reefs, and drilling holes around these areas will increase success rates finding fish. When it comes to buying ice jigs, anglers are faced with dozens of choices, including: colours, brand names, hook and jig sizes. One of the most basic features of an ice fishing jig is its style. There are three main types of ice fishing jigs: horizontal, vertical. Each should take up some space in your tackle box, here’s a look at why and when you should use them.

Horizontal Jigs

These jigs sit in the water with the body and hook in a horizontal position. One of the best features of these baits is that their horizontal posture makes them display well on flasher and sonar units. They also don’t flutter on the drop and have a fast sink rate. Another great feature of these style of baits is they are well suited for the triggering tactic known as “tickling”. Tickling is the slight quivering of baits that causes them to rock up and down every so slightly. Tickling requires extremely subtle shakes of the hand, but is a deadly manoeuvre to turn gazers into biters.

Vertical Jigs

As their name implies, these jigs hang vertically in the water with the hook eye at the top of the bait and the hook at the bottom. These baits don’t give off as good of a reading on a sonar or flasher as horizontal baits do when stationary (meaning you need to turn up the sensitivity to spot them); however, when jigged, their flashy, fluttering action is easily visible on a sonar screen. Vertical jigs’ action on a lift-fall sequence is a big-time fish attractor. A slight hopping or jiggling of these baits will also trigger hits. I particularly like using vertical jigs with minnows on a secondary, deadstick rod for crappie, perch and walleye. I’ll match the jig to the size of the minnow. To rig the bait, hook the minnow through the back, behind the dorsal fin. Also, make sure you insert the hook off to one side, as to avoid the minnow’s spine. Otherwise, you’ll limit the action on the bait. As the minnow struggles, the jig will flash and flutter. This adds additional vibrations and visual queues all of which signal the baitfish’s distress to nearby predators.

What Type of Ice Rod Should You Use?

What are you trying to catch? This is the primary deciding factor of what type of rod you need to bring.

Ultra-light Rods- Panfish.

Light Rods- Bass, Perch, Panfish.

Medium Rods- Walleye, Smaller Pike, Trout.

Heavy Rods: Pike, Musky.

Don’t forget that the strength of your line also plays a significant role here. Having the proper test depending on what you are fishing for is almost more important than the action of your rod. There is less room to manipulate the direction of the fish when you are ice fishing which increases the chances of snapping your line. We would recommend bulking up to a specific ice fishing line that can withstand cold temperatures. Having a rod with the right action determines how quickly you feel the nibbles and how well you can hook the fish.

Ice Rod Action

Ultra-fast action- Rod bends only at the tip.

Fast-action- Rod bends only at the tip.

Medium-action- Rod bends to the middle of the blank.

Slow action- Rod bends to the bottom of the handle.

If you are using a slow-action rod, it bends so much that it would require the fish to pull your line an inch or two before you would even feel it. In ice fishing, allowing this to happen increases the likelihood of the fish getting away with your bait or evading the hook. Fast-action rods are the best for ice fishing because you get alerted to every single nibble, and the rod has enough strength in the blank to handle larger fish. When you are shopping around, you’ll want to take the rod and bend it at the tip to see how it flexes. This gives you an idea of how the rod would react to a nibbler so you get a feel for whether or not the rod will work for you.

Trophy Ice Fish Guide Service

Come fish the legendary frozen waters of Green Bay with Trophy Ice Fish, the #1 ice fishing guide service in all of Door County. Our knowledgeable guides rely on years of local experience to ensure your time on the ice is safe and fun while putting you in the best position for a successful trip. Our team strategizes on the latest fish catching locations to put our clients on the best bites in Door County. Our guides instruct on jigging techniques to give your group the best experience possible.

Book The Ice Fishing Adventure of a Lifetime