When those nights start getting longer, and the temperatures start getting colder – you know it’s only a matter of time before your favorite fishing spot will be frozen over.
But that doesn’t mean you have to stop fishing.
This is where the best ice chisels (spud bars) will come in handy – especially for safe practice on new ice early in the season, and melting ice in spring.
Even if you already own an auger, these tools offer a bunch of practical uses, which we’ll explore in detail as you read on.
Let’s take a look at what’s on the market, with a complete buyer’s guide to follow.
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Table of Contents
- Why You Need an Ice Chisel for Ice Fishing
- The 7 Best Spud Bars (Ice Chisels) for Ice Fishing
- What is an Ice Chisel/Spud Bar?
- How to Use an Ice Chisel
- How to Choose the Right Ice Chisel for Ice Fishing
Why You Need an Ice Chisel for Ice Fishing
It’s true that ice chisels aren’t as popular as they once were, largely thanks to the advancement of the ice fishing augers. And you can follow that link for some great options if you need an upgrade.
However, for fishing on new ice, a good-quality ice chisel is going to be essential in helping you understand how thick the sheet actually is – and if you can safely walk on it in the first place.
And while your preservation is the number-one benefit, an ice chisel is also useful for re-opening old holes, as well as starting new ones, or expanding a current hole, in order to land a larger fish.
In short, if you’re venturing out onto the early (or late) ice, then a chisel is going to be an essential tool to help keep you topside.
And through the season, you’ll reach for it time and again as a general purpose tool for use in a variety of situations and circumstances.
It’s more than just a walking stick (although it’s very useful for that, too).
The 7 Best Spud Bars (Ice Chisels) for Ice Fishing
What is an Ice Chisel/Spud Bar?
I believe that ‘spud’ bar comes from an old Scandinavian word meaning “spear.” Or, it might have something to do with digging up potatoes.
Either way, that’s exactly how you use these tools – to dig and spear at the ice, causing it to chip away.
Designed to be a hefty weight in order to offer an efficient strike, ice chisels come in a variety of lengths – depending on what you’re looking to use them for.
They have a variety of uses, but the following are the most useful and important for ice anglers:
- Sounding out how thick the ice is – and if it’s safe to walk on.
- As a walking aid while traversing ice and snow.
- Opening new ice fishing holes.
- Reopening old holes – particularly if using tip-ups.
- Flaring, or widening existing holes in order to land a larger catch.
- Any additional ice sculpting or shaving requirements.
They can also have other uses, which we’ll explore in more detail, below.
But make sure you’re using some quality ice fishing cleats to help you stay upright if you are walking on the ice, and you’ll need a decent ice fishing pair of boots, too. Follow those links for more.
How to Use an Ice Chisel
There’s no use simply hacking, stabbing, and hammering at the ice like a demented serial killer – there is a proper technique that will ensure you don’t waste energy and your efforts are effective.
And this is particularly important when you’re using the chisel to check the thickness of the ice, and if it’s actually safe to walk on.
In order to find this out, you need to take a couple of downward swings at the surface with your ice chisel, and note if water comes through.
Depending on your chisel, and your strength, you can roughly figure out how thick the ice is by comparing how many swings you take, and when the water begins to seep up.
For a visual demonstration, watch the excellent video below.
It’s widely agreed that four inches of ice is the minimum it should be to walk on, but some people are comfortable with it being three. Anything less than that is dangerous and should be avoided.
Once you’re out there safely and comfortably fishing on the ice, you can also use your chisel to flare holes – should you need to land a larger fish.
Just be mindful of how you do this – always use a lanyard or tether rope, so you don’t lose the chisel in the hole, and WATCH YOUR FEET!
You can also start new holes with an ice chisel – in order to drop in an ice fishing fish finder – which will help up your game when you’re out there.
You should always be wearing one of these ice fishing suits or equivalent if you’re going to be out there for any length of time. Look out for float suits with added buoyancy in case you do break through.
How to Choose the Right Ice Chisel for Ice Fishing
There’s not a great deal to ice fishing spud bars, but it’s worth exploring nonetheless, so you make sure you get the right product for your needs.
Spud Bar Length and Weight
Length and weight are two important measurements when it comes to your ice chisel, and the product that’s right for you will depend on a couple of factors.
For the most part, ice chisels that are used to sound out the thickness of the sheet are going to be between 45-65-inches long.
Basically, so you can use it comfortably from a standing position.
Spud bars come in a variety of weights, and you want to strike a balance between weight and length in order to get maximum efficiency out of the tool.
Around 10-11 lbs is good weight for a standing ice chisel bar, but you can get heavier options. Remember, you still need to be able to lift it comfortably.
Shorter, more compact ice chisels are also available, commonly around 30 or so inches in length.
While not suitable to sound out the ice, they are useful when you’re working down by an existing hole, for removing new ice, flaring the hole, and other uses at close quarters.
I would highly recommend having both options in your ice fishing arsenal – you’re going to need them. And using one of these awesome ice fishing bibs is also a great idea if you are carrying a lot of gear.
Number of Pieces
Like a good travel fishing rod, some ice chisels can be broken down into more than one piece.
They are particularly useful if you’re short on space, and you want to stash it for easy transportation in your sled, or throw it over your shoulder.
One-piece ice chisels are generally stronger, more durable, and more effective at breaking up the ice, with the obvious trade-off that they are more challenging to transport.
Again, the type you choose depends on your needs and preferences, but I personally prefer portability to power.
Be sure to examine the business end of the tool you’re most interested in, as not all designs are created equal.
Some ice chisels come with a simple, flat blade, which is useful for general-purpose ice clearing, and breaking.
More dedicated ice fishing chisels will have a blade that has a number of stepped or serrated teeth. This makes the tool more effective at shaving and sculpting ice, and more efficient at breaking through to the water.
A blade with this design offers more versatility for ice management in general, and as such, they are strongly favored among anglers in the community.
Handle and Materials
Ice chisels are generally made out of durable steel, but they might also have wooden or covered handles for comfort and a pleasing aesthetic.
I would highly recommend using a chisel with foam handles for three, key reasons.
As well as being pleasant to use, it will also help dampen the vibration after each strike to prevent fatigue and injury, and the extra grip will prevent it from slipping dangerously out of your hands.
Extra Features/Points to Consider/Other Uses
Good ice fishing chisels are designed to do one thing – break up the ice.
But the best ice fishing chisels will offer extra features, and thus provide more versatility to the angler and homeowner.
They might have a tamping bar at the other end – to double as a tamping tool for flattening building materials, such as sand, dirt, and concrete.
Some ice spud bars come with a hammer-style business end, to give you another option when you’re breaking through the ice.
As previously mentioned, this can also be used as a weapon in the worst case scenario of an animal attack.
Most of these tools can also be used to break up ice around the home and garden – particularly those models that are specifically designed for this purpose.
Some models come with a carry bag, to keep all the pieces together, and there are others that have blade-guards included, so you can keep the chisel protected and in good condition.
Last, and certainly not least, the top ice fishing chisels come with a lanyard or tether, to stop you firing it down into those freezing dark depths.
I wonder how many chisels are sitting at the bottom of lakes and rivers around the world?
It’s not a matter of if these tools will slip out of your hand – it’s a matter of when. So if your model doesn’t come with a rope, I strongly recommend you attach one before use.
And make sure you’re wearing some good-quality ice fishing gloves that will offer you a good grip, and protect your hands against the cold. Follow that link for more.
Ice fishing chisels don’t cost the earth, and you’ll get a good one for under $50.
However, spending that much on a piece of metal can put some folks’ noses out of joint.
The question is, how much value do you put on your own safety?
These products are going to be more effective, more efficient, and more successful than anything you can make or fashion together at home.
Invest in a good-quality spud bar, and it just might save your life.
At the very least, it’s going to help you catch fish. And for more help catching fish, check out this article on the complete ice fishing checklist.
How do you use a spud bar?
There are several tips, tricks, and techniques you can utilize when employing safe spud bar practice, aside from using it to open holes in the ice.
One of the most important aspects of the tool’s use – is to not rely on it as a walking stick. If you do that, there’s a strong possibility you might meet with some weak ice and fall in – particularly early and late in the season.
The trick is to repeat a ‘spud-step-spud-step’ technique – until you safely reach your destination. Take your time, and allow the spud bar to sound-out ice thickness – not your own boots.
If, at any point, the bar breaks through the surface, or there’s more water coming through than you’re comfortable with, you need to slowly retreat back the way you came, and either exit the ice, or try an alternative route.
The video below offers a great demonstration of this, so check it out when you can.
Do I need an ice chisel for ice fishing?
Technically, no, you don’t need a chisel for ice fishing. If it’s the dead of winter and the ice is thick enough, you can probably get away with just using an auger.
But what if you don’t have that? What if your tip-up holes freeze over? What if you need to find a safe way back to shore? What if you’ve no other tool to make an ice hole with?
All experienced ice anglers will have at least one chisel in their locker – so you should too.
Can you walk on two inches of ice?
I wouldn’t recommend it. The minimum I would personally walk on is four inches, but to each their own. But two – certainly not.
Four inches of ice should safely hold up to 200 lbs. Five inches will hold 800 lbs. This article from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources offers more detailed, visual information.
How heavy is a spud bar?
They come in a variety of different weights, depending on what you need the tool for, and how much you’re physically capable of carrying/using.
For the most part, a good full-length spud bar is going to come in around the 10 lbs mark.
The ice chisels are going to keep you safe, and help you punch through a thick sheet in order to gain access to those hungry fish in the chilly depths, below.
Let me know which tool you’ve gone for and why, and please feel free to ‘chip in’ with any advICE for winter fishing in the comments below (zero).
I’ll get my coat. I’m going to need it, anyway.