Ice fishing tips from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

Fri, 12/31/2021 - 2:45pm

For many outdoor enthusiasts, ice fishing is one of the most anticipated activities of the year. Not only can you fish for many different species, but you can create memories with friends and family, spend time outside, enjoy beautiful winter scenery, and can provide yourself with some delicious table fare.

Like most activities, there are a slew of tools that are available to interested fishers, but getting set up with the essentials is all you need to start. Many anglers start out with second hand gear and borrow from others until they are ready to purchase the rest.

Anyone over 16 years of age must have a fishing license. For those new to ice fishing, there is a Free Fishing Weekend from February 19 to 20, 2022, in which you do not have to have a license to fish. 

The most important gear is proper clothing to keep warm. Insulated boots, waterproof gloves, thermal layers, a warm beanie, snow pants, a jacket, and wool socks are some of the primary staples among ice fishers. Warm clothing doesn’t need to be expensive or even made specifically for fishing to work well.

A chisel or auger is an important tool to cut your ice fishing holes. An ice chisel is most effective early in the season but can also be used as a safety tool to check ice thickness throughout the season.

An ice auger is the most commonly used tool to drill holes through the ice. There are many options whether it’s a hand, electric, gas, or propane powered auger. Which tool you choose typically depends on your budget, although all are adequate. A hand auger is most often the cheapest and best way to get started, and when it is paired with a sharp blade a hand auger is a great choice for beginner fishers.

The real purpose of ice fishing is quite obvious: to catch fish. The next essential piece of gear you’ll need is a way to catch those fish. Setting “traps'' or “tip-ups” paired with live bait is the most common way to fish through the ice in Maine. A trap or tip up is a device that sits on top of the ice, holds the fishing line, and has an indicator flag that “trips” when a fish tugs on the line. Some popular brands are Polar, Frabill and some Maine-made brands like Heritage and Jack Traps. In most Maine waters, you can have five lines set at one time, so most anglers tend to own five traps total. For those who enjoy a more active style of fishing, a jig rod is a great option. Tackle to attach to the end of your line is also an important tool to take along when fishing.

Besides the absolutely essential gear needed to cut the ice and a rig to fish with, there are a few other pieces of gear that you’ll need, including a sled, a bait bucket and net, an ice scoop or "skimmer," a bag to carry your gear, ice cleats, fishing pliers, a depth sounder, ice safety picks, and a chisel. 

It is important to remember that ice conditions are always changing. There are many factors to consider when determining whether the ice conditions are safe, and they can vary from day-to-day and from one water body to the next. Click here for some important tips and tricks to keep in mind when judging ice conditions.