A Beginners Guide to Ice Fishing Tackle

Ice Fishing Tackle and Gear, a Beginners Guide!

In this article we will thoroughly cover ice fishing tackle and gear. Just as in open water fishing, and really any other hobby or sport, some specialized equipment is required. Rods, reels, hooks, and lures are just the beginning. Ice fishing anglers will also need augers, proper clothing, and other equipment. They might even spring for extravagant items such as portable shelters and fish finders.

ice fishing tackle and gear

Safety is the number one factor when it comes to ice fishing! It should always be the first consideration when planning a trip. While many anglers do consider ice thickness, exposure to the cold is also a serious consideration to take into account. There are a few basic things that every angler should do before an ice fishing trip. Most serious ice fishing anglers are advised to invest in a floatable suit for safety.

Ice thickness and ice fishing safety

ice fishing auger

Ice thickness is of prime consideration. This is particularly true early and late in the season. Regions that experience extreme winters will usually have plenty of ice in mid winter. Anglers can access ice fishing reports both online and from local shops to get an idea of current conditions.

Anglers who would like to read more about ice fishing can purchase Capt Jim’s E-book, “A Complete Guide to Ice Fishing” by clicking on the title link.

Fortunately, anglers can easily check the ice thickness once they have arrived at their favorite lake. The easiest thing to do is to simply drill a hole. The angler can then measure the thickness of the ice to determine if it is safe enough to fish. A good rule of thumb is that the ice should be a minimum of 4 inches to walk on and at least 12 inches to drive on.

Ice fishing tackle and gear video

Protection from the elements

One thing that has certainly changed over the years is the quality and affordability of outdoor apparel. Thermal undergarments, boots, socks, hats, gloves, and coats are easily obtained at reasonable prices. For the most part, this gear is lighter and less cumbersome than it used to be. Properly outfitted, an angler can fish in comfort for many hours, despite the conditions.

striker jacket

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ice fishing gear

Portable, pop up ice houses are a game changer! These reasonably affordable devices really increase the comfort level for anglers when ice fishing. This may encourage children and less enthusiastic anglers to give ice fishing a try as they will be able to fish in comfort. A secondary benefit of these portable ice houses is that they block out glare from the sun. This allows anglers to see very well down into the water.

ice shelter

Shop Amazon for ice fishing shelters

Drilling ice fishing holes

One aspect of ice fishing that is probably the most obvious difference from open water fishing is that anglers need to drill a hole in order to wet a line. Once again, modern technology has changed this drastically from bygone years. Most anglers ice fishing learn early on that a gas or battery-powered ice auger is the way to go. These modern devices make drilling multiple holes a quick and easy job. Manual augers are still available for anglers that desire them.

ice fishing auger

Shop Amazon for ice augers

Ice fishing rods and reels

Most anglers ice fishing do use rods and reels. However, for the most part, the main difference is the length of the rod. Shorter rods are almost always used. It is just easier to fish the closer to the hole an angler can stand. Since casting is not required, the length advantage is negated.

ice fishing


The vast majority of anglers ice fishing use ultra light spinning tackle. Some still do use spin cast reels. Very light line is required as the cold water is quite clear and fish will not bite if the presentation does not look natural. Fortunately, anglers do not need to spend a lot of money on these rod and reel outfits. Quality combinations can be purchased for $50 or less.

Shop Amazon for ice fishing rods and reels

Ice fishing line

Line is not the place to try and save a little money! The cold water is almost always extremely clear. Light, thin lines that are nearly invisible will draw more strikes. Most anglers fish with 2 lb line for panfish and 4-6 lb line for larger species. Anglers will notice a reduction in strikes when going up any higher than that for anything other than larger pike, musky, lake trout, etc.

ice fishing line

Line manufacturers make line that is specifically designed for ice fishing. Both monofilament and flourocarbon lines are popular. Suffix has a nice selection of ice fishing lines, as does many other manufacturers. These lines are designed to produce fish and work well in the clear, cold water. They are worth the little extra cost.

Shop Amazon for braided and flourocarbon ice fishing lines

Ice fishing lures

The most popular ice fishing lure by far is the jig. Since casting and retrieving is not an option, the only presentation anglers can make is a vertical one. Jigs are perfect for this application! A jig can be lowered down to any desired depth and worked in an enticing manner. Live bait can also be used in conjunction with jigs, which will discuss and a bit.

ice fishing tackle

Jigs come in many different sizes, shapes, and colors. Basically, they all work the same. A jig is a hook with a weight molded on the shank near the eye. The weight not only allows the jig to sink, it also gives it that erratic action for which it is named.

Ice fishing jigs

Jigs can come with some type of natural or synthetic dressing such as buck tail or marabou. Probably more popular is the jig and grub combination. With this rig, jig heads are used in conjunction with soft plastic grub bodies. This allows anglers to quickly and easily change the size and color of the tail.

Ice fishing anglers have a wide variety of choices when it comes to choosing jigs.The selection is endless! However, most are very similar. In general, brightly colored jig heads are preferred. Hooks are usually small and delicate. Anglers can use jigs as light as 1/64 ounce for panfish, crappie, and small trout. Larger jigs are used for larger game fish. Local tackle shops are a great resource for anglers they will have a good selection of the most productive jigs for the area.

ice fishing jigs

Read Capt Jim’s article on ice fishing jigs

Grub bodies also come in a myriad of sizes, shapes, and colors. Most do the same job and it just becomes a matter of angler preference. Again, bright colors are quite productive. Tails can mimic minnows while many really don’t look like anything in the water. As long as they undulate seductively in the water, they will catch fish!

Other ice fishing lures 

While jigs are the most commonly used artificial lure for ice fishing, there are others that are productive and should be in the tackle box of every angler ice fishing. These mostly include hard body plugs and spoons. These lures are obviously still worked using a vertical presentation. They are extremely productive on a variety of game fish, particularly larger species. Spoons can be tipped with a live grub or worm as well.

Ice fishing plugs

The venerable Rapala Jigging Rap is an ice fishing plug that has been around many decades. It is revered by some old-school ice fishing anglers and still produces fish to this day. The best situation to use this lure is when anglers are looking for bass, pike, and walleye. The lure is obviously fished vertically and has a unique circular swimming motion. The Chubby Darter is another very popular ice fishing plug.

rapala jigging rap

Read more about ice fishing with lures

Lipless crankbaits are also used by anglers ice fishing. While not designed for ice fishing, the mid plug tie results in a lure that can be used in a vertical presentation. Rapala Ripping Rap, Bill Norman Rattletrap, and Live Target Golden Shiner are examples of these baits. Generally speaking, the smallest sizes are best for ice fishing.

rapala rattlin rap

Ice fishing spoons

walleye fishing

Spoons are another productive ice fishing lure. They are a natural for ice fishing as they are often used in a vertical presentation. Spoons are available in many sizes and finishes. The spoon is basically lowered down and worked with short jerks. Most strikes occur as the spoon flutters down. They really mimic a wounded bait fish. Spoons will catch just about every freshwater species and they are easy to use!

There are many different ice fishing spoons available to anglers. These include the Leech Flutter spoon, Acme Kastmaster spoon, VMC Rattle spoon, and the Sweedish Pimple. There are many more spoons and when fished correctly, all will catch fish.

Click to read more about the best ice fishing spoons

Ice fishing with live bait

ice fishing for rainbow trout

Many anglers ice fishing choose to use live bait. It is an extremely effective technique that certainly produces a lot of fish through the ice. Top live baits include wax worms, mealworms, nightcrawlers, minnows, and leeches.

Tackle requirement for anglers ice fishing with live bait are pretty basic. Most anglers who fish in freshwater already have most of what is required. Hooks in sizes 14 to 4 in the baitholder style will cover most angling situations. Split shot in several sizes will be needed as well. Many anglers bypass this and simply use a jig head, the weight and hook are combined in one tidy unit. Floats can be used to suspend the bait at a desired level

Fish finders for ice fishing

ice fish finder

Portable fish finders that are specifically designed for ice fishing are another piece of gear that will produce more fish. There can be a little learning curve, but once the skill of reading the unit is mastered, angling success will skyrocket! Anglers have a wide selection of fish finders to choose from. Many prefer the old school “flasher” units. Other like the more modern “graph” style. Regardless of the choice, these units will definitely help anglers put more fish on the ice!

Shop Amazon for ice fishing sonar machines

Ice fishing with tip downs and tip ups

ice fishing with tip down

Tip downs are often used by anglers when ice fishing. These are devices that allow a rod or line to be fished unattended. When a fish bites, the weight of a fish pulling causes the device to pivot. Often times the rod moves downward where the tip is in the hole of the ice is used to signal a bite. This allows anglers to fish quite a few holes at one time. It is great fun when several go off it wants and everyone scurries around to get the fish!

Tip ups are similar to tip downs. They are devices that allow anglers to fish a hole unattended. However, they do not require a rod and reel, those are built into the unit. When a fish bites, a flag pops up and anglers scramble to get to it and bring the fish in.

Shop amazon for ice fishing tip ups and tip downs

Miscellaneous ice fishing gear

A few final pieces of gear are required for anglers fishing through the ice. A skimmer looks a bit like a spoon on the edge of a stick. It is used to clear ice chips out of the hole. Otherwise, the normal fish and supplies such as tackle boxes and pliers will also be needed. One last thing, do not forget the thermos with coffee or soup!

In conclusion, this article on ice fishing tackle and gear should help anglers understand and acquire the tackle and equipment needed to get started in the fun sport of ice fishing!


Jim Klopfer

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. He grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay waters. Capt Jim has been creating an writing articles about fishing for decades, contributing to many regional and national publications. He also lives part time in the North Carolina mountains where he fishes for trout and other species. Capt Jim Klopfer is a wel rounded angler with 50 years fishing experience, and he loves to share what he has learned with other anglers!

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