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.
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
Disclosure: At BonfireBob, we recommend products based on unbiased research, however, BonfireBob.com is reader-supported and as an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases if you shop through the links on this page. For more information, see disclosure here.
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
Rapala Two-Piece Ice Chisel
One of the best fishing brands in the world, it stands to reason that Rapala would offer a decent entry, considering their extensive back catalog of quality angling accessories.
And indeed they do, with this extra-long, 62-inch ice chisel. Specifically designed to keep holes open all season long, it’s made from super-tough welded steel, with a comfortable foam-grip handle, for controlled strikes with reduced vibration.
The two-piece design ensures it’s easy to store and transport, and there’s an extra-thick, rugged lanyard strap, so you don’t accidentally lose the thing down a new ice hole.
As a dedicated ice spud bar, it’s up there with the finest ice chisels on the market.
- Name to trust.
- Solid construction.
- Comfort handle.
- Durable chisel teeth.
- Blade guard included.
- Weight not specified.
Another quality fishing accessory from Rapala, they also make some fine walleye ice fishing lures if you’re interested. But as far as ice chisels go, this is going to get the job done and then some. Don’t venture out onto the ice without it.
Eskimo CH12 Multi-Faceted Ice Chisel
Eskimo are known for their quality ice-fishing products, and they make some of the best ice shelters on the market, (as well as just about everything else to do with the sport) so follow that link and keep yourself protected out there.
This 64-inch chipper is a multi-faceted, two-piece tool, with a triple-action head design that will make short work of the ice with fewer strokes, ensuring you can save all your energy for reeling fish in.
The fully welded steel construction offers long-lasting durability in all weathers, while the foam-grip handles provide the ultimate in comfort and anti-vibration use.
The excellent weight-to-length ratio also ensures maximum efficiency with each drive into the ice, offering the best possible impact with no energy wasted.
- Name to trust.
- Durable tether rope included.
- Comfortable user experience.
- Rugged, heavy-duty use.
- Blade guard included.
- Highly rated among ice anglers.
- None to speak of.
Easily comparable with the Rapala, (this option being slightly longer) the Eskimo two-piece ice chipper is perfect for stashing at the bottom of your sled, or sounding out safe passage when first stepping out onto the ice.
And there’s a single-piece version also available, if that better suits your needs.
Jiffy Deluxe Mille Lacs Ice Chisel
Just when I think I’ve already found the best ice spud, along comes another product to mess up my review.
But then, Jiffy are something of a household name when it comes to this sport – considering they pioneered the original ice drill over 70 years ago.
Their Jiffy Deluxe ice chisel is easily up there with the previous two entries, given the fact that it smacks of quality through and through.
They’re also famously based on traditional ice chisels, used with great effect up in Minnesota (where the winters don’t quit).
Another multi-function design, you can smash out a hole in no time, carve the ice to suit your needs, and flare out an existing hole to land a larger catch. And this particular option even has adjustable lengths, reaching up to an impressive 69.5-inches when fully extended.
- Name to trust.
- Solid, durable construction.
- Rugged lanyard strap.
- Blade cover included.
- Rapid hole creation.
- Professional-grade design.
- Popular and highly-rated.
- On the expensive side (but there’s a cheaper standard option available).
Anyone who has any knowledge of ice fishing will have heard of Jiffy, a company that has roots back to 1948, dedicated to making the best ice drills in the world. And these days, they’ve moved with the times, and offer some excellent electric ice augers as an alternative to gas.
Regardless, this product is easily one of the best ice spuds out there, so do yourself a favor and pick one up for particularly harsh winters. You betcha!
The Eskimo Redneck Bucket Ice Chisel
Here we have something a little different now, with a more compact ice chisel option.
It’s another Eskimo product, this time only 19-inches long, which means it’s more suitable for close-quarters work, say when you’re reopening existing holes for tip-ups.
The attractive red finish is a fully welded steel design, with an efficient weight-to-length ratio for effective use with maximum impact.
It features a dual-action head, for chiseling or smashing the ice with a hammer action, while at the other business end you have a more traditional chisel blade for chipping and shaving the ice with a stabbing action.
It all sounds rather aggressive, doesn’t it? And yet, that’s another advantage with this tool – it might just come in handy for self-defense if you happen to come across a large critter that’s looking for a snack.
- Name to trust.
- Built to last.
- Compact size.
- Highly portable.
- Blade covers included.
- Tether rope.
- No foam handle.
- Too small to use for safety while walking.
A great compact ice chisel to keep in your ice fishing sled (and you can follow that link for more of the best ice sleds on the market), this is the perfect weapon tool for when you’re on your knees… sculpting fishing holes, obviously.
To be honest, having two ice chisels of different sizes is a great idea.
Bully Tools Steel Tamping and Digging Bar
Next up in our review of the best ice fishing spud bars, is this beast of an instrument from Bully Tools. It’s a 48-inch long steel tamping and digging bar, designed to be used for commercial grade jobs.
While it’s not specifically for ice fishing, it’s more than adequate for chipping through the stuff, with a 3/8-inch thick head, the one-inch diameter steel bar, and a 3/8-inch thick plate.
Designed to last, it’s rugged and durable, it weighs 11.69 lbs, and highly versatile for other tamping and digging jobs you might have on or around your property.
- Solid, durable construction.
- Heavyweight pole.
- Chisel and tamper built-in.
- Highly rated.
- Versatile for DIY jobs.
- Heavy-duty use.
- No lanyard or comfort grip.
A great, multi-use tool that will come into its own if you ever need a tamper or general post-digging head (I wish I had this while laying a fire-pit base recently).
It’ll make short work of dirt, rocks, hard clay, and – of course – ice. Although you’ll definitely want to fashion a lanyard for that purpose, and adding a foam grip wouldn’t hurt, either.
Nims Spud for Ice Fishing
Our next entry is this Nims ice fishing spud, which is a solid steel, one-piece tool for heavy-duty chiseling. It’s 54-inches long, with a serrated chisel edge that improves your shaving efficiency.
The T-handle at the top is a nice touch, which can help with grip and prevent you from throwing the bar down an ice hole, and although it doesn’t come with a lanyard, there is a place to attach one.
The shaft is solid, 1-inch in diameter, and the tool is versatile enough to be used around the home and garden – not just for ice fishing.
Made for ice anglers by ice anglers in Michigan, this will get the job done and then some.
- Great price point.
- Durable, built-to-last construction.
- Simple, no-nonsense design.
- T-handle for grip.
- Heavy-duty look and feel.
- Versatile use.
- Tether not included.
It might not win any awards for cutting-edge ice chisel design, but it’s more than effective at breaking up the stuff when required. Heavy, strong, and durable, with a serrated edge – the ice doesn’t stand a chance.
NISUS Folding Heavy Duty Ice Chisel
Now, here’s an interesting ice chisel that seems to offer some polarizing opinions around the internet, but I’ve included it here for you to make your own mind up.
It’s the only spud bar that comes in three pieces, which creates an ice chisel that is 54-inches long when connected, and just over 20-inches when it’s packed down for storage and transport.
The handles are made of wood, while the chisel itself is a durable steel, with a step-head design for effective chipping. There’s no foam grip, but the wood is contoured for comfort, and the whole unit is lightweight at just under five pounds.
It offers a nice weight-to-length ratio – which is all-important for effective performance, but the jury is out when compared with heavier, single or two-piece chisels.
And I have to admit, I’d be much obliged if anyone could tell me what those two metal hooks are for…?
- Highly portable.
- Carry bag included.
- Blade guard.
- Attractive wooden handle.
- Great gift idea.
- Might not be as effective as an all-steel chisel.
On paper this is a great idea, and it certainly looks attractive and practical, offering unbeatable portability. But you might be left wanting when it comes to the overall weight.
And are those hooks ice picks? Scrapers? For hanging fish? Getting food out of your teeth? I’m stumped, folks. Let me know the answer in the comments.
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.
Remember, ice is never 100% safe to walk on – even if it is super thick. You never know what might happen, so tread carefully and use common sense.
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.
At the very least, a quality ice fishing jacket is going to protect you from that bitter cold, and you might want to think about a good heater if you’re using a shelter.
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.