Fully Prepped: The Essential Ice Fishing Equipment List (A Quick Guide)

I’m sure you already know how vital it is to be fully equipped when fishing, especially when you might be pursuing your sport in extreme conditions.

But what kind of equipment is truly essential?

Well, if someone were to give you an ice fishing gear list, that you could take away and then build on, that would be a great starting point.

In this article, I’ve asked myself what I would find really essential, and then made a guide to help.

What is “Essential Ice Fishing Gear”?

I consider essential to be anything I really don’t want to be without. It is the absolute minimum I think I will need to have a successful day.

If you’ve ever forgotten a key piece of gear, you’ll know how frustrating it can be… and how long the walk back to the car seems.

I’ll answer some obvious questions…

three anglers ice fishing on frozen lake

What Should I Wear?

There’s something unique about ice fishing. You’ll normally find that it is pretty cold!

To make your day more enjoyable it’s absolutely vital that you keep snug and warm. For that, you will need suitable clothing.

Get Wrapped Up… Base Layers

Ask any outdoor expert and they’ll tell you that the key to keeping warm is lots of layers. By layering up you will ensure you are really well insulated, and as a plus it gives you the freedom to strip back a little if you find that you are too warm.

A good base layer should be light, breathable and easy to put on and remove.

If your core gets cold your body will divert blood from your extremities, meaning numb fingers, toes, ears and everything else. When you get the base layers right, the rest tends to follow.

But keeping warm doesn’t stop there…

Stay Dry, and Breathe… Outer Layers

Now that you are well wrapped it is time to add another layer to make sure that you stay dry. One of the best ways to do this is with a waterproof outer shell. You’ll want to look for several things. First, it should be waterproof, the higher the mm rating of an outer layer, the drier it should keep you. Nice features on ice fishing jackets and pants are taped seams, preventing pesky leaks.

Breathability is a big plus. As you perspire, moisture can collect within your outer layer. If it can not escape and vent, you may find that regardless of the weather, you will still end up getting soaked. When it is cold, this is not a good feeling.

A good outer layer should also be roomy enough to give you freedom to move. This extra room should also afford you enough space to wear a suitable amount of base layers

All makes sense so far? Good, let’s continue…

Think About Your Feet… Boots

You’re going to want to get to the ice and then you are going to be stood on it for the day. You will want to make sure your feet are well cared for. Warmth and comfort are king when it comes to feet. If either of these are not guaranteed, fishing may not be a pleasant experience.

The best ice fishing boots generally tend to be quite well insulated. They will be in constant contact with the ice, so you don’t want the cold soaking up through the soles.

By trapping a layer of warm air around your feet, a good pair of ice fishing boots will mean you don’t even notice the cold.

Your boots also need to be waterproof. The best insulation in the world won’t work if it is saturated with icy cold meltwater that has managed to sneak its way in to your boots.

Protect Your Extremities… Hats and Gloves

Windchill is a thing. When it’s a bit blowy the temperature can feel much colder, especially on the parts of your body that are exposed. The way around this is to cover them up and keep them dry.

Gloves are tricky when it comes to fishing. They aren’t normally suited for dextrous skills like tying knots and unhooking your catch.

Aside from the obvious things you’d normally want in a pair of gloves such as being warm and waterproof, look for extra features such as foldable mitten sections or removable sections for fingertips, they give flexibility while offering the same level of cold protection.

There’s a vast array of fishing hats. The main area to focus on is ear protection. Whether you choose a beanie style or something a bit less mainstream you ideally want your ears covered at all times. A good balaclava will cover absolutely everything from the neck up.

Nice and warm? What’s next..?

fisherman with a northern pike on a frozen lake

Getting Down to the Fish…

So, you have made your way to the ice and have arrived warm and dry. But now you will want to start fishing. So, what’s the problem? Well you need to get to the fish, and there is a layer of ice in your way, fortunately, you’ll be arriving prepared…

The ‘Hole’ Truth and Nothing but… Ice Augers

There’s a whole range of different technology you can use to make a decent-sized hole in the ice. Whilst technology makes life easy, I tend to find that simple solutions tend to be the most effective.

If you opt for a powered ice auger, such as a gas auger then you’ll need to ensure it is full. Also gas engines tend to be a slightly ‘temperamental’ in the cold, and if you can’t start it, you can’t use it.

The solution?

It’s easy, I normally take a hand ice auger. They are easy to carry, lightweight and rely on nothing to run but a bit of elbow grease. By taking a hand ice auger you can 100% guarantee that your day won’t end before it even begins.

Catching the Fish…

Now for the fun part. Who doesn’t like talking about tackle? I know I do. Rods, reels, lines, lures… the list is endless.

But what tackle makes for the best ice fishing gear? Technology aside, I would probably say one that is likely to catch the most fish. Ice fishing tackle is quite unique, so I’m going to discuss some features you may want to look for…

winter fishing on ice

The Long and Short of it… Ice Fishing Rods, Reels and Lines

When I go ice fishing, I tend to end up walking a fairly long distance to fish in a very small hole. Therefore, size matters, I really don’t want to be taking a lot of cumbersome and heavy gear. So, I tend to choose a rod that suits a variety of roles.

I find a medium-sized ice fishing rod tends to be a good compromise between pulling power and weight saving. Rod’s that are around the 6ft mark will handle most fish, and the slightly longer blank tends to offer reasonable shock absorption resulting in fewer break offs. The key is considering what species you are targeting and to pick a rod accordingly.

But you’ll want to consider your reel too…

Well as I said, I much prefer using a shorter rod and as a result It is quite easy to end up with an unbalanced set up. The truth is you do not need a big reel. You aren’t going to be casting, therefore you will not need as much line, so something smaller should be ideal.

Things to look for in a reel are a minimal number of ball bearings, especially when using a fixed spool reel (fewer moving parts means less can go wrong). For this reason, it pays to consider an inline reel, simplicity tends to equal success and they are far less prone to tangle.

If you have ever tried to untie a snag with cold fingers, you’ll know how much that can spoil the mood.

Have you forgotten something?

Ah, of course, the line. Fish tend to move slower in colder water and as a result bites can be a lot more speculative. When it came time to choose a new line I wanted something that gave me a blend of features, so I went for fluorocarbon fishing line.

Fluorocarbon is very dense meaning that it sinks well. It also has a low refractive index, in basic terms this means that when it is submerged it is practically invisible to the fish.

As a result, you can afford to go a little bit higher on the breaking strain without worrying about the fish seeing it. As a nice middle ground, I tend to use a line of around 6lbs.

The final benefit is that due to its density, fluorocarbon has just the right amount of stretch to give a bit of suspension to particularly big fish. It is also stiff enough that bite detection and ‘feel’ is greatly improved.

The End of the Line? Not Quite… Terminal Tackle and Bait boxes

Obviously, you’ll need bait or something that resembles it. Terminal tackle depends heavily on what you are trying to catch.

I really like lure fishing, as it allows me to keep things pretty simple, and is normally quite successful provided I use the right lure. You’ll really want a lure box that is easy to organize and access.

An often-overlooked feature is ease of opening and closing. If the weather is wet and cold there is a good possibility that complex catches can freeze shut. If you have to remove your gloves to get into the box then you may end up with cold fingers, this isn’t ideal when the next step is to tie the lure on.

Alright, but I want to fish with live bait…

Live bait doesn’t have the benefit of several outer layers and will quickly die if left exposed to the elements. This is particularly true for the common varieties of worms.

For that reason, if I’m using live bait, I tend to take an insulated bait box. The best ice fishing bait box will offer a good balance between ventilation and insulation.

By keeping your bait warm and healthy you can ensure a full days fishing.

man is fishing from a hole on ice

Want Something Extra?

Ok, so… you are warm and dry, you’ve remembered your essential tackle and bait, and you have a way of actually getting to the fish. That’s all you need right? Well yes, but there a few extra things that might make your day run a little more smoothly.

Here’s some extra things I like to take…

Make Your Day Run Smoother (Literally)… Ice Fishing Sleds

If you’ve ever walked a considerable distance in cold conditions, you’ll know that snow and Ice can be super heavy going. Even more so if you have a lot of tackle.

From a safety point of view, by spreading weight you are reducing the small risk of overstressing the ice on which you stand. Wheels won’t work, but by using a sled you can use the lack of friction to your advantage.

Whilst any sled will work, I have found that an ice fishing sled, custom-built for the purpose will do the best job. They generally tend to be more spacious, and several come with custom-fitted covers or lids, so your tackle should stay dry regardless of what the weather throws at you.

Glaringly Obvious? Eye Protection

If you have got lucky with the weather you might be fishing on one of those crisp, bright, blue-sky days.

Great! What’s the problem?

We forgot to mention the blinding headaches that can come as a result of squinting at bright white ice for several hours. The way around this is to follow the lead of winter sports enthusiasts and take a pair of sunglasses.

The best sunglasses for ice fishing will completely cover your vision. I prefer to use wraparound sunglasses. These also have the added benefit of fitting more securely to your face.

Ask me how I learned about this the hard way… I’ll give you a clue, it involves leaning over a hole in the ice.

You’ve Got the Power… Portable Batteries

There’s a good chance that you will be somewhere fairly remote, and whilst ice fishing is relatively safe, it is certainly wise to be cautious. Regardless of the situation you are in, if you have the ability to charge a phone you can ensure instant communication if you need it.

You need to know this…

Mobile phone batteries deplete at a faster rate when they are cold, so even if your phone is fully charged at the start of the day, it may end up running out of juice when you need it the most. Counter this possibility by taking a portable battery.

Most portable batteries will fit in a pocket and may provide essential power if the weather takes a turn for the worse. They are compatible with most conventional phones and its far better to have one and not need it than the other way around.

Let’s wrap it up…

In Summary

Obviously, my ice fishing gear list only deals with the essentials, meaning things that you definitely will need. As you progress you will probably find additions that you just can’t do without.

Why not leave a comment below and share your experiences about what you find essential, it might be the next addition to my list…

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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