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school of fishing

We live in Canada, eh? How else would you want to spend your winters? Keep safe out on the ice!

ice fishing monte.jpg

Ice fishing 101

I love ice fishing! For me, sitting on the ice, jigging my ice rod up and down in anticipation of the bite is pretty hard to beat. Add a hot drink or two, some good snacks, and good company makes for a great day, even when the fish are not biting. 

Preparing for your day

First and foremost, you need to plan your day. It's a good idea to check the weather for recent weather reports, When I am unsure of the ice conditions, I will go to a lake with a fishing dock. This way I can drill a hole and fish while standing on the end of the dock, and I am not tempted to chance the ice. I find it hard to drive all the way home without putting a line in the water.

Monte Lake kokanee.jpg

You will need a few things to get started ice fishing.  The essentials are an ice auger, ice rod and reel, hooks, weights and bait. That is enough to get you fishing, but there are many more things that can make your ice fishing day more enjoyable.


Other items include a good sled to pull your gear, an ice fishing tent, a strainer to scoop the ice out of your hole, a chair, a propane heater (for those very cold days), a shovel, and a fish sonar. My favourite non essential item is my under water ice camera. Don't forget some hot drinks!

ice fishing camera.jpg

Here are a few tips:

  • Dress in layers, bring an extra jacket and mitts- getting cold sucks.

  • Keep your auger blades sharp. The best way to do this is by keeping them covered. An auger blade that is dull, or worse yet slighty out of adjustment, WILL NOT CUT IT. I have struggled for hours trying to dig holes because I tried to self-sharpen my blades with a file. I now replace my blades every 2nd season.

  • Bring several types of bait. Fish can be picky for trout, shrimp, meal worms, dew worms, power baits, and maggots. For tips on what the kokanee bite on, see my jigging for kokanee page.

Ice Safety

As much as I love ice fishing there are plenty of ways it can become unenjoyable very fast. I don't need to say it, but falling through the ice could be catastrophic, and should always be your foremost concern. It is imperative that you check the ice depth and quality before you venture out to deep water.


How to check ice quality


Drill a test hole near shore where the consequences of going through the ice are minimal. Take a look at the hole and pay attention to the colour and the thickness of the ice.


Loud popping and cracking noises from the ice doesn't usually mean that the ice is dangerous to be on. This happens when the temperature changes and the ice expands or contracts. It can sound eerie but if you have the required amount of good clear ice then it is not a concern. 

Often you will find different layers of ice, caused by cycles of melt and thaw. Clear ice or blue ice is strong ice. Snow and water will often freeze on top of the good clear hard ice. This ice will be white in colour and is half as strong as the clear ice. If there is a layer of slushy or greyish-coloured ice, this layer will not support weight, and in fact, will add unwanted weight on top of the good ice. 

ice depth.jpg

It is said that you should have minimum of 4 inches of strong ice to walk on. Personally, I will not venture out on the ice unless there is 5 inches or better of good clear ice. That being said if I am fishing in only 3 or 4 feet of water I won't be as strict. Falling into 3 or 4 feet of water would suck but the consequences are not as severe.


If that hole proves there is sufficient ice in thickness and in quality then go ahead a few more steps and drill another test hole until you are satisfied that the ice is good to walk on.


Many ice fishers will venture out on 2.5 or 3 inches of ice and will often be just fine, but I have seen ice thickness change very quickly from one spot to the next on the same lake, and I like knowing that there is a greater margin for variations in ice thickness when I've tested and found five inches of strong ice. If you are heading out on the ice use caution, and don't assume that the ice thickness will be the same everywhere on the lake.

Another factor that can make ice unsafe is moving water from the presence of an inflow or an outflow. This will create random thin areas of ice that are not visible from the surface. Because of this, even with test holes, it is not safe to walk across ice over moving water. 

ice fishing paul lake bc.jpg
Ice fishing.jpg

Another tip is to be prepared. Wearing a PFD is one way to ensure that your upper body stays above the water, if the worst happens and you do fall through. It's also a good idea to carry ice picks (or better yet: attach them to your sleeves!) to help you to pull yourself out of the water. 

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