Ontario Ice Fishing

"A Beginners Guide to Ice Fishing"
By  Justin Hoffman

Ice fishing is growing in popularity with each passing year, luring eager anglers to the sport with a passionate frenzy. Most become hooked with that first crank of the auger handle, igniting a life-long hobby and fascination with the "hard stuff."

But what are the necessary requirements when it comes to outfitting yourself for a day on the ice?

For those interested in taking up the sport, an auger is a definite necessity. Although it would be nice to have the newest and fanciest gas auger, a simple hand model will do the job nicely.  The larger the hole diameter, the harder the effort required to ultimately drill through the ice. My preference is for a six-inch model, as this will work fine for panfish, walleye and pike, without hurting the arms and back too badly. Don't forget to pick up an ice scoop, as this will be necessary to clean the slush out from drilled holes. A metal scoop is often desired over the plastic varieties, due to it's added strength.
Approximate Cost - $70.00

For those starting out, I would suggest an initial purchase of two separate rod and reel combos. An ultralight model is an excellent choice for panfish. A standard length is approximately 28-inches, and a fast-action tip is mandatory.  A medium-action rod is tailor made for walleye, small trout and pike, and will work well as your second combo. Look for a rod in the neighbourhood of 28 to 30-inches in length, with a solid backbone throughout the lower 2/3rds. Although there are many rods on the market, stick with a well-known manufacturer, and one that is graphite. Rods are extremely important out on the ice, and it's best not to cut corners in this department.
Approximate Cost - $60

Regardless of the species you are chasing, an ultralight reel is your best choice when ice fishing. It will complement the rod in weight and size, and will allow the line to run more true through the rod guides. If you already have ultralight reels that are used for open water fishing, these will do just fine. You may want to clean out the grease inside, as this can freeze when the temperature really dips, seizing up the entire unit. Many ice fishing reels come standard with "cold weather lube," and are quite inexpensive. The nice thing about buying a few is the option to use them once open water arrives, giving them a dual life.
Ensure that drags are smooth, as light line is often used for ice fishing. Rods and reels can often be bought as combos, saving you the added expense of buying each separately.
Approximate Cost - $50.00

Line is an important link in your ice fishing outfit. Mono has worked well for me over the years, and I always stick with a reputable brand. There are many new ice lines out on the market, and these lay claim to less memory and higher strength yields.  Whatever line you choose, go with 2 to 4lb test for panfish, and 6 to 8lb test for walleye, trout and pike.
Approximate Cost - $10.00

A small assortment of lures will suffice out on the ice, and a basic selection would include spoons, jigging cranks, jig heads and plastics for tipping. Adding to your collection is part of the fun of ice fishing, but when starting out, just stick with the basics. A reputable dealer or online resource can help you in making your selections.
Approximate Cost - $40.00

Tip Up
A tip up allows the stationary presentation of live or dead bait, and can be a useful tool to utilize while simultaneously jigging. There are many on the market, but for those days when the weather is brisk, a Polar Therm-style will keep your hole free from ice and snow. You will want to spool up with tip up line or Dacron, and have a prepared minnow spread or simply tie on a weight and hook.
Approximate Cost - $25.00

Minnow Bucket
If you plan on using live bait, either for jigging or for set lines, you will need to purchase a minnow bucket. You don't need to get fancy with this one, and in fact, I still use a plain old bucket to this day. You will also need a minnow net for fishing your bait out.
Approximate Cost - $15.00

In order to drag your gear to and from the ice each day, you will need to purchase a sled or toboggan. Again, no need for anything fancy, but make sure they are capable of holding all of the gear you have.  Strong ropes are a must.
Approximate Cost - $20.00

Once out on the ice, you will need something to sit on. Many folk use a large 5-gallon pail for this purpose, and those designed with the angler in mind sport padded lids. Pails are also useful for carting and storing your gear. Folding camp chairs also work well for this situation, with improved comfort levels and back support. Many even offer a handy drink holder!
Approximate Cost - $5 - $15

Ice Picks and Rope
Ice picks are a safety tool that should be standard equipment for those that venture on the ice. They are inexpensive and could literally save your life out there. A long length of rope should also be mandatory, and always kept close at hand in case an accident occurs.
Approximate Cost - $10.00

And there you have it. The necessary tools for getting into the game of ice fishing. As you can see, an initial investment of $300 should just about do it. Now, the real money is in portable huts, electronics and gas augers, and although these things certainly do add to the game, they aren't needed to get you out on the ice. Besides, once the ice bug has bit, you'll be well on your way to purchasing everything under the sun!

Enjoy your season and welcome to the ice fishing fraternity.