winter sport, winter fishing fishing outside on the ice
Getty Images, Алексей Филатов

A Complete Guide to Ice Fishing Gear

To have fun ice fishing, you need to come armed with all the right gear.

For most fishing enthusiasts, winter is a slow time of year. It's hard to launch a boat when the lake is frozen. Similarly, casting a fly when the rivers are frozen is tricky. However, for the select few who aren't fazed by walking, driving, or snowmobiling out onto a frozen body of water, winter is the perfect time for the coldest type of fishing around: ice fishing. To do that, you need the right ice fishing gear.

Catching a 20-pound lake trout through the ice in 2020 launched an obsession I never saw coming. Today, I live 10 minutes from Colorado's iconic Blue Mesa Reservoir and have access to over 9,000 acres of fishable area just out my front door. I guide ice fishing trips, too, where I teach women how to be safe, confident, and effective anglers on the ice.

To start ice fishing, you'll need gear that other types of fishing don't require, such as augers, ice fishing rods, fish finders, shelters, and more. However, don't feel intimidated by the long list of gear requirements; this gear is easy to use with a little practice. After a few successful outings, you'll find that watching your jig bounce around on your fish finder is almost as addicting as actually catching fish.

Here's a breakdown of everything you'll need to go ice fishing this year.

Ice Fishing Rods and Reels

Have you ever wondered what those cute little fishing rods were for? Now you know! These pint-sized rods range from 24 to 36 inches and are ideal for ice fishing because they're not designed for casting. They keep you close to the fishing hole so you can easily see your fish finder; plus, managing tension on the line is easier than using a full-size rod. If a fish gets tangled up in the line at the hole, you're ready to untangle it and get it safely into the water (or cooler).

The three main types of ice fishing rods are light, medium, and heavy. (Of course, there are ultralight, medium-light, and medium-heavy rods, too, but the main three are the perfect place for beginners to focus.)

  • Light rods are made for panfish such as perch, crappie, and sunfish.
  • Medium rods can land sizable trout, walleye, bass, and even small pike.
  • Heavy rods are designed for your local lake's biggest fish, such as lake trout, musky, and big northern pike.

I recommend having one of each; you never know what you'll encounter when ice fishing.

Action: Light | Length: 32-inch rod, 3.5-inch bobber | Material: Carbon fiber | Fish: Panfish, small trout, small walleye

Tuned Up's Fusion is one of the best light ice fishing rods. They recently teamed up with Ice Strong to add their spring bobber to the end of their best-selling Fusion rod, creating the Fusion 32 Inch Spring Bobber edition. Thread your line through the bobber to detect light panfish bites more easily, or skip it if you're chasing more-aggressive fish. Either way, the sensitive, bright bobber will immediately tell you when there's an interested fish down there.

Tuned Up Fusion 32-in. Spring Bobber - $149

Ugly Stix GX2 Ice Fishing Rod

Ugly Stix

Action: Medium | Length: 26, 28, or 30 inches | Material: Graphite and fiberglass | Fish: Perch, trout, walleye, bass, small pike, small lake trout

This was my first-ever ice fishing rod and is still my favorite one. It's unbelievably versatile. You can invest in a tough rod that can land everything from a 6-inch yellow perch to a 10-pound lake trout for a shockingly affordable price. I know because I've done exactly that. If you're looking for an all-around, wallet-friendly, reliable, entry-level ice fishing rod, stop searching and get an Ugly Stik GX2.

Ugly Stik GX2 Ice Fishing Rod - $25

St Croix Rods Mojo Ice Fishing Rod

St. Croix

Action: Heavy | Length: 28, 32, 34, or 36 inches | Material: Solid carbon | Fish: Large trout, large walleye, northern pike, lake trout

St. Croix is known for its quality fishing rods, and its ice fishing collection follows in those footsteps. The Mojo rod is constructed of carbon, which is light enough for you to feel gentle hits but tough enough to bring in heavy lake trout and pike. Set it up as your deadstick rod or use it to jig for big fish; either way, you'll be grateful to have a heavyweight rod on hand when the big one finally bites!

St. Croix Mojo Ice Fishing Rod - From $56

Ice Fishing Jigs, Lures, and Bait

Ice fishing gear

Getty Images, Steve McSweeney

You need a hook to fish, right? Jigs and lures are the most common way to catch fish through the ice. In some places, it's legal to use live bait, which can be rigged up to a hook to help you bring in big fish. In other areas, chunks of sucker meat or scent-based baits are the ticket to enticing fish. I recommend adding the following lures and jigs to your tackle box.

Acme Kastmaster Spoon Kit - 3 Pack

Wide Open Spaces

Kastmasters are my go-to ice fishing lure. Yellow perch, rainbow trout, brown trout, and even lake trout are some species I've caught on a 1-inch silver Kastmaster. These simple spoons are reliable and effective, and they are super easy to attach some sucker meat or scented eggs to.

Acme Kastmaster Spoon Kit 3 Pack - $12

PowerBait Power Tube


Berkley's Power Tube jigs are my favorite setup for catching big fish. Use them as jigs or on your deadstick rod, and top them off with a little bit of sucker meat. Big, hungry brown trout and monster lake trout love to slam these tubes. The 3.5-inch lengths in the white and Watermelon Red colorways are the most effective where I fish.

Berkley PowerBait Power Tubes - $8

Berkley Gulp Alive Minnow Bait


Berkley's Gulp minnows are my go-to soft plastic for perch, rainbow, brook, and brown trout. These scented minnows come in various lengths and colors, but I've been the most successful with the 1-inch black shad option. Rig them up to a brightly colored jighead. For such a wallet-friendly price, it's worth it to pick up a pack or two and add them to your ice fishing bait collection.

Berkley Gulp! Alive! 1-inch Minnow Soft Bait - $7

Ice Fishing Electronics

Electronics can make or break your ice fishing experience. Without a depth or a fish finder, you're blindly drilling holes out on the ice, hoping that the depth is adequate and there are fish below you. Take the guesswork out of ice fishing by investing in a quality fish finder. Trust me, it will significantly improve your experience and help you pull more fish out of the hole.

Fish finders come in two versions: flashers and sonar. I prefer flashers, but plenty of folks enjoy sonar, too. Some products have both sonar and a flasher on the same screen. Do a little research, decide which view works best for you, and you'll wonder how you ever ice-fished without one.

Vexilar FL-8SE Genz Pack 19 Degree Ice Ducer Ice Flasher

Wide Open Spaces

This entry-level Vexilar flasher has been my go-to fish finder for years. The battery lasts for several days worth of fishing, the 19-degree angle increases the area you can view underwater, and it's super easy to tell when a fish comes into view. It measures depths up to 120 feet, so you can bring it to all your ice fishing spots and know what's under you.

Vexilar FL-8SE Genz Pack 19 Degree Ice Ducer Ice Flasher - $320

Garmin Striker 4 3.5-inch CHIRP Fishfinder Bundle

Wide Open Spaces

Garmin's Striker is an awesome, portable, sonar-based fish finder. Since this one is from Garmin, it also comes with a built-in GPS that lets you save waypoints. This friendly-priced bundle comes with an LED lantern and paracord multitool bracelets that will be useful in your ice fishing shelter or any outdoor adventure.

Garmin Striker 4 3.5-inch CHIRP Fishfinder Bundle - $213

Humminbird Ice Helix 7 CHIRP GPS G4 All Season Fish Finder

Wide Open Spaces

Like any gear, you can spend a little or a lot, depending on what you're looking for. This is true for ice fishing electronics, and Humminbird's Ice Helix is the perfect fish finder to splurge on. This one features both a flasher and a sonar view on one screen, and it can be mounted to your boat in the summer and carried as a portable finder in the winter. Buy once, cry once; invest in a fish finder that can do it all year round.

Humminbird Ice Helix 7 CHIRP GPS G4 All Season Fish Finder - from $880

Aqua-Vu AV715C Underwater Camera


If light bars and squiggly lines aren't your jam and you'd rather actually see the fish swimming below you, pick up an underwater camera. Aqua-Vu makes reliable products, and this setup comes with a camera housing and a tripod, which protects the camera and holds it steady underwater. You can even record your watery explorations and share them with others.

Aqua-Vu AV715C Underwater Camera System - from $280

Ice Fishing Augers

Ice fishing augers and gear

Getty Images, Sergey Kuznetsov

You can't go ice fishing without an auger. Augers are necessary for drilling holes into the ice. Most augers come in 6-, 8-, 10-, and 12-inch sizes, and are powered by hand, gas, or batteries. Gas augers are heavier and generally dirtier. Battery-powered augers are lighter, but the battery can lose its juice quickly in cold environments. Some augers are even drill bits, so you can attach your power drill to them and carry multiple fully charged batteries on the ice.

Do some local research and see which type of auger will work for you. For example, 6-inch holers are perfect for panfish. Eight- and 10-inch holes are versatile and work for most ice fishing applications; I use an 8-inch battery-powered auger. Twelve-inch or larger holes pose a tripping hazard and are illegal in some states. A gas auger works great for snowmobilers. A lightweight hand auger may be best if you're walking out on the ice. If you're small-framed like me, battery-powered augers work great and allow you to drill many holes without tiring out. Consider your fishing conditions, body size, and portability needs to select the best auger for you.

Bass Pro Shops Hand Ice Auger

Wide Open Spaces

Hand augers are the lightest, most portable, and most affordable type of auger. However, they require some muscle. If you're tall, strong, and don't mind physically drilling your holes, hand augers are the way to go. 

Bass Pro Shops 6" Hand Ice Auger - $48

Eskimo Sting Ray 8" Power Ice Auger


Eskimo's Sting Ray gas-powered auger will slice through ice like butter. It's powerful, starts reliably in cold temps, and is easy to use. However, it is quite heavy at 28 pounds, and it is a little loud.

Eskimo Sting Ray 8'' Power Ice Auger - $320

Strikemaster Lithium 40V Ice Auger


StrikeMaster's 40V electric auger is the very auger I use to guide my ice-fishing clients and fish for fun. It's high-quality, incredibly reliable, and lightweight compared with other power-operated augers. The rechargeable lithium battery lasts one full day or two half-days out on the ice, depending on how many holes I drill. I stick the battery inside my parka when it's not in use to protect its charge from the cold.

StrikeMaster Lithium 40V Ice Auger - $600



K-Drill Ice Auger

Wide Open Spaces

Why not invest in a gigantic drill bit if you own a cordless drill? K-Drill's ice auger fits into any 1.5-inch handheld cordless drill and weighs only 5 pounds. Simply charge your drill batteries, stick them in your ice fishing sled, and start drilling.

K-Drill Ice Auger - $280

Ice Fishing Shelters

ice fishing shelters

Getty Images, Imaginegolf

While ice fishing shelters aren't required for ice fishing, they can make your frosty fishing adventure more comfortable. Shelters help protect you and your gear when the wind picks up or snow falls. Most folks also stick a propane heater in there to keep it toasty warm.

There is a huge variety of ice fishing shelter options on the market. However, the three main variables are insulation, size, and style. Shelters come either in insulated or uninsulated options. Uninsulated ones are cheaper and lighter; insulated ones are pricier, heavier, and far warmer. Sizes range from single-person shelters to eight-plus-person shelters.

The two most common shelter styles are called hub and flip. Hub-style shelters have pop-out walls, creating a little "hub" that ice anglers can use as a home base. Flip-style shelters are built into a plastic sled. The walls "flip" up over the sled and down to the ground like a snail shell.

Each type of ice fishing shelter has its pros and cons. Do your research and select the best option for your ice fishing needs. A few of my favorite picks are below.

Eskimo Wide 1 XR Thermal


Flip-style | Fishable area: 17.5 square feet | Capacity: 1 person | Insulated | Weight: 65 pounds | Fabric weight: 600 denier

Eskimo's Wide XR insulated flip-style ice fishing shelter is a great option for solo anglers with a snowmobile looking to stay warm on the ice. Thanks to the built-in sled, it easily pulls behind a snowmobile and fits in a truck bed.

Eskimo Wide 1 XR Thermal - $500


Eskimo Quickfish 3i


Hub-style | Fishable area: 34 square feet | Capacity: 3 people | Insulated | Weight: 34 pounds | Fabric weight: 600 denier

The QuickFish 3i is one of the most popular insulated ice fishing shelters. It comfortably fits up to three anglers and weighs a mere 34 pounds. It packs nicely into an ice fishing sled, and the setup takes about 60 seconds.

Eskimo QuickFish 3i - $330

Otter Vortex Pro Monster Lodge Thermal Ice Shelter


Hub-style | Fishable area: 132 square feet | Capacity: 6-8 people | Insulated | Weight: 73 pounds | Fabric weight: 600 denier

If you plan to bring the whole family or your fishing buddies out on the ice, pick up an Otter Vortex Pro Monster Lodge. This huge insulated shelter is durable and has a port built for threading a propane hose.

Otter Vortex Pro Monster Lodge - $800

Safety Gear

Safety is paramount when spending the day ice fishing. Remember: You are camped out on a frozen body of water, likely in sketchy winter conditions. I highly recommend adding the following pieces of safety gear to your ice fishing equipment. Trust me, you'll want to be prepared if someone accidentally falls on an auger blade, gets a hook in their finger, or falls through the ice.

Ice fishing accidents can quickly turn into emergencies. Please make and share an emergency game plan with your fishing buddies before heading out on the ice. Identify the person who will head toward cell reception and call 911 if needed. Assign another person to keep the injured party calm and comfortable. These safety practices are free and priceless; having a plan can save someone's life.

CLAM Outdoors Floating Ice Picks

CLAM Outdoors

Ice picks help folks who fall through the ice rescue themselves. Clam's ice picks are a great option because they float. If they accidentally fall in the water or need to be tossed to someone in the water, they won't sink.

Clam Floating Ice Picks - $17

CAT Tourniquet

Spiritual Systems

Tourniquets can save someone's life if one of their limbs is losing blood fast. If you slip on the ice and fall on your auger blade, there is a very high likelihood you will need a tourniquet. Watch a YouTube video on how to use one correctly, and always take one out on the ice. I like the blaze orange ones because they're highly visible when they sink to the bottom of your pack.

CAT Tourniquet - $32


MOLLE Bag Trauma Kit

Adventure Medical Kits

Having a first aid kit on hand is always a good idea. This Molle Bag Trauma Kit is lightweight and portable, and it has enough little items that matter inside. Supplies such as moleskin, bandages, alcohol pads, aspirin, and more can come in handy whether you get a bad headache, a hook in your hand, or a slice from a fillet knife.

Molle Bag Trauma Kit .5 - $47

Consider Adding This Gear To Your Ice Fishing Collection

Rods, augers, and electronics fall into the category of ice fishing essentials. However, there are a few ice fishing accessories that, when included on your packing list, can make your icy outing extra fun. Here are a few nonessentials I recommend tossing into your ice fishing sled.

  • A cooler. Sometimes, it's too cold out there, and your fish, water, and beer can freeze. Packing a cooler on the ice helps keep things from freezing. I like backpack-style YETI Hoppers.
  • A bucket. A 5-gallon plastic bucket can be a seat, table, storage bin, rod holder, and more out on the ice.
  • A tip-up. Tip-ups are a great way to set your deadstick rod or handline a fish. You can even get little bite indicator bells to clip on top so you can hear them when a fish sets them off.
  • A camp chair. You don't want to stand for six or more hours straight on the ice, right? Throwing a camp chair into your sled is worth it.
  • Nippers and pliers. Ice fishing is still fishing; don't forget to put your nippers and pliers in with the rest of your ice fishing gear.
  • Ice fishing line. Several brands make an ice fishing-specific line that doesn't ice up as quickly as an open-water line.
  • A Buddy heater. If you're fishing in a tent, you might as well bring a Buddy heater and a propane tank to stay cozy.
  • Ice fishing clothing. Floating bibs and jackets keep anglers safe on the ice for those concerned about falling through the ice.

Ice fishing is a truly magical way to enjoy fishing in the wintertime. Getting all the necessary gear to punch through the ice, find fish, and reel them in can be pricey—but trust me, it's worth it. The second you see fishy flashes on your Vexilar and reel one in through your hand-drilled hole, you'll be as hopelessly obsessed with ice fishing as I am.

READ MORE: Essential Ice Fishing Safety Items