Ice Fishing Tips and Techniques for Beginners
Learning how to catch fish through the ice is easy. Here are the top beginner ice fishing strategies for catching perch, crappie, walleyes, whitefish, pike and trout.
Beginners only need to know a few of these top ice fishing techniques and tactics to ice fish like a pro.
Beginner Ice Fishing Techniques and Strategies
The first thing you need to do is get the required ice fishing equipment. It doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, the basic gear for beginners is very affordable and can produce a lot of fish.
To get information on all the equipment, including tip-ups, lures, baits and clothing you need for ice fishing, go to the Ice Fishing Equipment Tips page.
Best Places to Find Fish When Ice Fishing
Catching fish in the winter requires an understanding of the lake you are going to fish on. Generally, the fish will be located near submerged structures, islands and drop-offs. In fact, if you know where to find the fish during the summer, odds are they will be in the same area during the winter. You just have to determine if the fish are near the bottom or suspended in the water column.
One sure way to tell where there might be fish is to look for a large group of fishing huts. Don’t be shy about approaching other anglers and asking for tips or advice. For some reason, fishermen tend to be more forthcoming with information during the ice fishing season.
The beginning of winter tends to see fish closer to shore. As the winter progresses the fish move into deeper water. When spring approaches, they will begin to migrate back into shallower water.
How to Ice Fish for Jumbo (Yellow) Perch
Ice fishing for yellow perch is very popular and rewarding, especially when you find a large school of the fish.
Begin by fishing shallow water near the shore. If you don’t get any action in the first 15 to 20 minutes move further out until you are in an area with 20 to 30 feet of water.
Present your ice-fishing jigs, spoons or bait at 4 to 6 inches off the bottom. Perch often bite very softly in the winter so it is best to use 4 pound line unless you are in an area where larger fish are likely to compete with the perch for the bait.
If you are lucky enough to find a school of aggressive perch, they will hit just about anything you offer.
How to Ice Fish for Crappies
Ice fishing for crappies is the favourite winter pastime for many beginner anglers.
There are two types of crappies. Both black crappies and white crappies are found in schools. Once you catch one, you are likely to fill your limit. As with fishing for crappies in the summer the biggest challenge is actually locating the fish. Try your favourite spots first, then move around to different locations. It’s all about mobility!
A good trick is to present the bait all the way up the water column starting at the bottom and slowly moving your bait right up to within a few feet of the ice. Once you find the fish, continue to target the same depth until you get your limit or the fish move to a new location.
Crappies are very soft-biting fish so ultra-light gear is usually the most effective. Using line as light as 2 pounds is common when ice fishing exclusively for crappies.
Small jigs presented in a quick jerk and drop technique will often entice reluctant fish to bite.
How to Ice Fish for Walleye (Pickerel)
Ice fishing for walleye or pickerel can produce a wonderful mid-winter meal.
Walleyes are great for ice fishing beginners because the fish are almost always found near the bottom and in the same locations that you will locate them throughout the rest of the year. Underwater structure is the key. Search for reefs, submerged islands, or sharp drop-offs.
Ice fishing jigs and spoons that are worked near the bottom will often produce a lot of walleyes. As with the summer jigging technique, jerk the bait up and let it settle to a stop just off the bottom. Wait a few seconds and repeat the motion.
Start by presenting the bait close to the bottom and slowly move the bait higher. Walleyes may be sitting as much as two feet off the bottom depending on the conditions. Also vary the time between movements until you start to produce fish. Stick with the technique and depth once the fish become active.
Sometimes winter walleyes are caught in the middle of the water column near structure or drop-offs.
How to Ice Fish for Whitefish
Ice fishing for whitefish is very popular with beginners because it is the easiest time of the year to catch these delicious bottom feeders.
Whitefish tend to be more active in the morning during the winter. Whether using live bait, jigs or a combination of the two, it is important to present the bait about 8 inches off the bottom. If the fish are reluctant to take the bait, a popular pro trick involves dropping down to the bottom to stir up a bit of sediment and then bringing the bait slowly back up 4 to 6 inches and letting it sit for a few minutes.
How to Ice Fish for Northern Pike
Ice fishing for big pike is very popular because few things match the adrenalin and excitement you can get from pulling a 40-inch fish up through a hole in the ice.
In fact, it might be the ultimate ice fishing experience for a beginner.
Anglers normally catch pike using a tip-up rigged with a hook and a big live minnow. It is a simple but effective technique. As in the summer, the pike tend to follow their food and are often located near structure, along drop-offs, and between islands. In the winter pike can be caught at almost any depth. Start by presenting the minnow, spoon or jig within two feet of the hole, and gradually work your way to the bottom. Remember to use heavier line and a wire leader.
Beginners often catch big pike by accident when ice fishing for perch or walleyes. The pike either hit the smaller jigs, or take a perch or walleye that is being brought to the surface.
If you are ice fishing for perch or walleye in an area that contains large pike, it is a good idea to use some heavier gear in case a big northern pike comes along to sample your offering.
How to Ice Fish For Rainbow Trout
Ice fishing for rainbow trout is usually most productive in shallower water in protected bays. Popular beginner baits include salmon eggs or trout eggs, jigs tipped with worms, grubs or maggots.
Look for areas with 10 feet of water or less and start by presenting the bait about a foot below the ice. Slowly work the bait deeper until you get a bite. Don’t be afraid to drill holes in areas as shallow as five or six feet of water.
How to Ice Fish for Lake Trout
Ice fishing for lake trout is done in the same locations that you find them during the rest of the year. While they are known to prefer deeper water, the winter tends to produce lake trout at a full range of depths.
Spoons and jigs tipped with a minnow or a dead cisco tend to produce good fish. To determine the best depth you have to experiment a bit. Begin by jigging near the bottom of the lake and slowly work your way up. Make adjustments of five to eight feet, and work each depth for 10 or 15 minutes. Once you get a hit, continue to fish the same range.
Go to the Reading The Ice page to learn about safe and dangerous ice conditions.
Go to the Ice Fishing Clothing and Safety Gear page for tips on the best way to stay warm and safe out on the ice.
The Great Ice Fishing Gadgets page highlights the hi-tech gear that advanced ice anglers use to find and catch fish all winter.