Ice Fishing 101: The Ultimate Guide To Ice Fishing Gear

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Ice fishing is probably my favorite type of fishing. We have ice from about mid-December until April, and the fish we’re targeting most are kokanee, rainbow, brook, and lake trout.

What’s cool about ice fishing is that you can literally get started for under 100 bucks. You don’t need a boat, motor, or fancy rods. Sure, you could spend a lot on your gear, but you don’t need to.

What we’re going to be talking about is the gear I like to use when I’m ice fishing. We’ll cover the best rods and reels to use for different fish, what line you’ll want to use, and the lures I’ve had the best results with.

Best Ice Fishing Reels

What’s nice about ice fishing is that you can pretty much use whatever for your reel. You can use spinning, baitcasting, line counting, inline, or even a stick with a piece of line attached.

The best fishing reel for ice fishing is a spinning reel sized between 1000 and 3000. Size 1000 reels are perfect for fish such as panfish and smaller trout. Size 3000 reels are well suited for bigger fish such as lake trout and pike.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like having a bunch of different rods and reels for different situations. That’s why I like to use the same reel for all species. That’s why I use a 3000 series spinning reel.

I almost always use an Okuma Ceymar C-30 (on Amazon). It’s small enough for kokanee and rainbow, but it’s still powerful enough to bring in lakers.

Spinning vs Casting vs Inline Reel

These 3 types of reels can all be used for ice fishing. It really comes down to what type of reel you prefer to fish with.

Spinning reels are the most versatile and that’s why I prefer them. Spinning reels can also be used for trolling and casting smaller lures.

I use the same spinning reel for ice fishing as I do for trolling/jigging trout and kokanee, and casting from shore. Why have more than one reel laying around when you don’t really have to.

Ice Fishing Reel vs Regular Reel

The question I hear a lot is whether or not I need to get a separate reel for ice fishing. A lot of people do, but it might not be the cheapest and most convenient option.

The main difference between ice fishing and regular reels is that regular reels have oil and grease on them that could freeze. It isn’t something that happens often and that’s why I use a regular reel.

All I do is take the reel off my normal rod and slap it on my ice rod. I’ll also use the same line, so it’s more convenient and cheaper on the wallet.

Best Ice Fishing Rods

If you want to save the most money possible, you could just use your standard rod and reel for ice fishing. I really like a shorter rod and would highly recommend getting one (they can be cheap).

The best ice fishing rod length is between 26 and 36 inches long. 26-inch rods are perfect for smaller fish such as panfish and kokanee or will work well in smaller ice shacks. 36-inch rods are good for fishing outside or for bigger fish such as lake trout.

It really comes down to personal preference and whether or not you’re fishing in a small shack. I fish for kokanee, rainbow, and lake trout mostly, and I use the same rod most of the time.

My go-to rod is a 36-inch medium-heavy spinning rod. The reason is that I go after lake trout as well. If I was just going after panfish or rainbow I’d go with a medium power rod that’s slightly shorter. The Fenwick HMG (on Amazon) is a great option.

Rod LengthPowerIdeal For
26-36 InchesLightSmall Panfish
26-36 InchesMedium-LightBigger Panfish
26-36 InchesMediumTrout
Bass
Walleye
Kokanee
36+ InchesMedium-HeavyLake Trout
Pike

Best Ice Fishing Rod For Panfish

The best ice fishing rod for panfish is a spinning rod that’s between 26 and 36 inches long. Light to medium-light powered rods is perfect for panfish.

The size you pick will all depend on personal preference and whether or not you’re fishing in a small shack. The rod power will depend on the size of the fish you’re after.

Best Ice Fishing Rod For Trout, Kokanee & Walleye

The best ice fishing rod for trout, kokanee, and walleye is a spinning rod that’s between 26 and 36 inches long. Medium-powered rods are perfect for these fish.

You could go lighter or you could go heavier, but medium action rods are the most versatile ones around. They’re good for pretty much everything.

Best Ice Fishing Rod For Lake Trout & Pike

The best ice fishing rod for lake trout and pike is a spinning rod that’s at least 36 inches long. Medium-heavy powered rods are the best option for these fish.

These fish are obviously bigger than panfish and rainbow trout and that’s why you need more backbone. Slightly longer rods will also help you control the fish.

Best Ice Fishing Line

When Should You Use Braided Fishing Line

When it comes to line, there isn’t really a right and wrong option. Obviously, you need something heavy enough to bring in the fish you’re after. But really, it doesn’t matter if you use braid, mono, or fluoro.

Here is my favorite fishing line for ice fishing:

You could use any of these lines on your reel and have success. I use a braided line as my main line and then I’ll normally use fluorocarbon as my leader (30-36 inches of leader).

I like braid because I can use the same line for lake trout and kokanee. I’ll just change out the leader for whatever fish I’m targeting.

Ice Line vs Regular Line

A lot of companies have line that’s designed specifically for ice fishing. They’re supposed to be more abrasion resistant and have less memory in the cold.

In my experience, ice fishing line has no benefit over regular fishing line. I didn’t see any increase in abrasion resistance and that’s why the extra cost isn’t worth it for me.

Best Ice Fishing Line For Panfish

The best ice fishing line for panfish is 4 lb braid with a 3 lb fluorocarbon leader. Braided line is a great choice because it’s the most sensitive. Fluorocarbon works well because it sinks and doesn’t stretch.

I know a few people who just use 3 lb fluoro for panfish. That’s a good choice too, but I like using 4 lb braid because I can still use that line if I’m fishing for bigger fish.

Best Ice Fishing Line For Trout, Kokanee & Walleye

The best ice fishing line for trout, kokanee, and walleye is 4-6 lb braid with a 4-6 lb fluorocarbon or monofilament leader. Fluorocarbon works well for trout and walleye and monofilament is best for kokanee.

I like using fluorocarbon for walleye and trout because it sinks better than mono and it doesn’t stretch. I like monofilament for kokanee because they have softer mouths and the stretch helps with shock absorption.

Best Ice Fishing Line For Lake Trout

The best ice fishing line for lake trout is a 10-14 lb braid with a 12-14 lb fluorocarbon leader. Braid and fluoro work well because they don’t stretch and will improve sensitivity and give better hooksets.

I know this might seem a bit light, but as long as you have your drag set loose, you’ll have no problems bringing in big lakers. Sure, you can go a bit heavier, but I’d rather use a smaller line to make sure it’s not as visible.

Best Ice Fishing Line For Pike

The best ice fishing line for pike is 20 lb braid with a 25 lb fluorocarbon leader. Pike can get quite big and have sharp teeth, so having a line that won’t cut easily is important.

You could also use a wire leader if you want to be absolutely sure it wont break. 25 lb fluoro is pretty strong though and should do the job every time (just make sure you check it for cuts).

Best Ice Fishing Lures

I’m sure you know the guy who shows up at the lake with 2 boxes full of different lures and baits. I don’t know about you, but I’d way rather have the least amount of gear possible.

That’s why I’m only going to list a few different lures here. As long as you have a couple of different colors and sizes of each, you should be able to land fish in any body of water.

These are the only 6 lures you need for ice fishing:

  1. Spoon
  2. Minnow
  3. Jig Head
  4. Fly Jig
  5. Lipless Crankbait
  6. Tube Jig

I’ve had the best results fishing smaller lures than you’d expect, but everywhere will be different, so try a few. I like to have one that’s natural-looking and one that’s brighter.

Some lures can be run by themselves and others work better under a dodger/flasher. The 4.4 Sling Blade (on Amazon) works well.

Spoon

This is probably the most versatile lure out there and is a must-have for ice fishing. I like these a lot because they’ll catch any type of fish and can be used for ice fishing, trolling, jigging, and casting.

My favorite is probably the Kastmaster (on Amazon). I like it because it comes in a bunch of different sizes and colors, and is available pretty much everywhere.

For smaller trout, you really can’t go wrong with silver or gold. The size I normally go with is either 1/16 or 1/12 oz.

For kokanee, I like using a lure that’s light/orange or light/pink. Again, a size between 1/16 and 1/12 oz should do the trick.

For lake trout, I almost always start with a lure that’s silver/blue or gold. You could catch them on the same smaller lure, but I’d go a bit bigger to get down deeper.

What you’ll want to do is have some sort of dodger/flasher above your spoon. The 4.4 Sling Blade works well. I like to have my spoon 14-18 inches below the dodger.

Tip it with some sort of bait, drop it down the hole, jig it up quickly, and let it flutter back down.

Minnow

The second most versatile lure is probably some sort of minnow imitator. Any sort of predator fish (trout, walleye, pike) will love this because it looks like what they already feed on.

The one that’s most widely available seems to be the Rapala Jigging Rap (on Amazon). I like having one that’s more natural-looking and a brighter one (green/yellow works well).

For smaller fish, I’d get a fairly small one because they want an easy meal. For bigger fish in deeper water, you’ll want to go bigger so it sinks down.

With this lure, you’ll want to jig it up, pause, let it fall down, pause. You don’t have to, but it might be a good idea to tip the hook with some sort of bait.

Jig Head

A small jig head is perfect for trout, kokanee, panfish, and walleye. It’s probably the most popular thing to use these days and you’ll absolutely want to have some.

For smaller fish like trout, kokanee, and panfish, you’ll want to slap on a small piece of bait (worm, maggot, etc). For walleye, you can attach a live minnow to the jig.

What’s nice about these is that you can either jig them or run them on a dead stick (drop it down the hole and leave it). I like running one dead stick rod and one jigging rod at a time.

As for colors, something with gold in it and something with chartreuse is always a good starting point. Here is a little jig kit on Amazon.

I’ve always had the best results running these under a dodger/flasher. 12-14 inches between the lure and dodger seems to work the best.

Fly Jig

If you’re fishing for any type of trout, this is one you’ll want to have. In certain areas, this is the only thing I could get them to bite on.

All it is is a fly with weight. An example is the VMC Fly Jig (on Amazon). It’s another great option if you’re running a dead stick. Have it by itself or tip it with a maggot.

Again, you can fish it by itself if you know where the fish are, but if not, put a dodger 12-14 inches above the fly.

Lipless Crankbait

If you’re fishing for walleye or lake trout, this is an awesome lure. It’s the same type of lure you’d use for bass fishing, but it also works awesome for ice fishing.

An example is the Live Target Shiner (on Amazon). I prefer a more natural-looking color and all you have to do is slowly jig it up and let it flutter back down.

Tube Jig

A white tube jig is the absolute best lure for catching lake trout. You’re allowed to run 2 rods in most places and this is one you’ll always want to have down the hole.

An example is the Zoom Salty Tube (on Amazon). All you have to do is drop it town, slowly jig it up, and let it sit for a few seconds.

Best Ice Fishing Baits

What Kind Of Fish Can You Catch With Mealworms

With most of the lures, you can just run them by themselves and catch fish. That being said, it’s not a bad idea to tip your hooks with some sort of bait. Having a bit of scent can make all the difference.

Here are my favorite baits for ice fishing:

  1. Maggots
  2. Worms
  3. Live Minnow

If you’re fishing for kokanee, trout, panfish, or are using anything other than a jig head, you should add a little bit of worm or maggot to the hook.

Both worms and maggots work really well, but I’d recommend real worms or maggots over artificial. If you have to use artificial, maggots seem to work better.

For jig heads, maggots and worms work best for kokanee, trout, and panfish. For walleye and lake trout, nothing seems to beat attaching a live minnow.

What To Wear Ice Fishing

Shirts: The first thing you’ll want to have is three layers, so you can take one of them off if it gets too warm. Here are the three layers I use:

  1. Moisture Wicking Base Layer
  2. Wind Breaking Fleece
  3. Insulated Outer Shell

For the base layer, you’ll want some sort of dry-fit material that’ll take any moisture away from your body. This is the same type of shirt you’d wear playing sports because it’s warm and comfortable.

The next thing you’ll want to have on is a fleece-lined windbreaker. It doesn’t have to be fleece but it’s what I prefer. I find it to be the most comfortable and it’s sometimes warm enough if the sun is out and there’s no wind.

The final layer you’ll want to have is an insulated outer shell that’s waterproof and wind resistant (could be the standard snow jacket that you’d wear skiing).

Pants: I normally wear two layers when it comes to pants, and it’s pretty similar to the shirts I wear. Here is what I wear for pants:

  1. Moisture Wicking Base Layer
  2. Waterproof Outer Shell

The moisture-wicking base layer is the same dry-fit material as above. It can be long johns or something like that but I like the Under Armour style.

The waterproof outer shell could be what you’d wear skiing. You’ll also want to make sure it’s wind-resistant. The problem with ski pants is that they’ll get wet if you kneel on the ice.

I prefer wearing a bib over snow pants. The Frabill I-3 (on Amazon) is a really good choice. A little pricey, but you won’t have to deal with those wet knees.

Waterproof gloves: One of the more important things is a good pair of waterproof gloves. I don’t know how many times I’ve been out on the ice and had to sit with cold wet hands or keep changing them because they weren’t waterproof.

There’s just no way around it, your hands will get wet and it’s one of the most uncomfortable things. The good news is that they aren’t that expensive and can be used for other things as well.

What I currently have right now is the IceArmor Edge Mitts (on Amazon). They’re pretty affordable and are extremely warm and waterproof. I even wear them when I go skiing.

Waterproof boots: Having a high-quality pair of boots is one of the main things you should spend good money on and you’ll want to make sure they have a good grip on the ice, will keep your feet warm, and will keep water out.

There are a lot of different boots to pick from and a lot of it’s going to depend on what else you’ll be using them for. I’d recommend you grab a pair of boots that you can use for more than just ice fishing.

A great set of snow boots is the Nortiv 8 (on Amazon). They’re a cross between a snow and hiking boot, and I like that because they’re a lot more comfortable to walk in than your standard snow boot.

Additional Ice Fishing Gear

If you want to make things a little easier, you might want to get a few extra things to take with you. You don’t have to, but I’m glad I got them.

A sled: Having a little sled you can put all your gear in and pull behind you is essential if you have a lot of stuff or are walking far.

A chair: I don’t know if I’d recommend bringing a lawn chair out with you, but any sort of small stool or bucket makes things so much better.

A fish finder: I just recently got myself a fish finder and I’ve caught a lot more fish because of it. Before, I was just guessing and waiting. Now, I can see if a hole is good or not from the start. The Lucky Portable (on Amazon) is the one I got to try and it’s pretty solid for the price.

A powered auger: I don’t know about you, but I get pretty tired after manually drilling through a foot of snow. If you want to drill a number of holes when you go out, buy yourself an electric or gas auger.

An ice scoop: I’m sure you’ve drilled a hole and used your hands to scoop out the slushy ice. Your hands are either completely frozen or your gloves are wet. Get an ice scoop and that’ll be over. Here is an example on Amazon.

Jon Webber

I'm by no means an outdoors or fishing expert, but it's something I've been interested in for over 20 years. I created this site to test out different gear and techniques to see what actually works.

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