Equipment and techniques. Caution: Before going out on a frozen lake or river, check with local authorities for the thickness and condition of the ice and for the number of fishing lines you’re allowed to use. Pedestrian traffic requires at least 4 inches of clear blue lake ice; cars, at least 8 inches. Twice these thicknesses are needed if the ice is cloudy or slushy or if it covers a rapid river current.
When you go ice fishing, bring a sled or a large bucket to transport equipment. Rent an ice shanty, buy or build a portable shelter, or set up a windbreak. Wear heavy, insulated boots and many layers of warm clothing.
Bore one or more holes in the ice about 8 inches across with an ax, a spud (a long-handled chisel), or an ice auger. A power auger makes drilling a hole, even in very thick ice, easy and fast, but it’s expensive.
Use a skimmer to clear the hole of floating ice chips. Because most fish winter on or near the bottom, test the water’s depth with an ice sounder or a heavy sinker attached to a hook at the end of a monofilament line.
Drop the hook into the hole; when it hits bottom, clip a bobber to the line and adjust it until the hook is about a foot off the bottom. Then remove the sounder, bait the hook, and drop it back into the hole.
For panfish such as crappies, bluegills, and perch, use a special ice rod, a short jigging rod, or a handline looped around a stick. Panfish hit minnows, mealworms, grubs, mousies (fly larvae), and artificial lures such as tiny spoons, ice flies, and jigs. Make a lure more effective by tipping the hook with natural bait. Jig the bait every few minutes; raise it a few feet if fish are not biting near bottom.
For larger fish such as walleyes and pickerel-or to fish several holes at once-use tip-ups baited with live minnows, shiners, or big chubs. When a fish strikes, the tip-up’s spool turns, releasing a signal flag.