The Ice-Cold Essentials to Ice Fishing

List of everything you need for your trip out to the ice!

By: Mike Fitzgerald

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For many, winter means a time to slow down. This seems especially true for anglers who spend all spring, summer and fall pursuing all manners of scale and fin throughout the Kawartha Lakes district, but it doesn’t have to end when the cottage is closed for the year, and the snow is flying. In this series of articles, I will run you through some of the essentials you’ll need to get you on the ice and into some fish.

#1 Survival Suit: You can have all the fanciest, most expensive equipment the angling would has ever known, but none of it will save your life if you fall through the ice and don’t have the proper winter gear on you. This whole endeavor starts with a good Survival suit, by a quality company like Mustang. Make sure you have a pair of “picks” with you. They’re essentially ice picks with plastic handles and a cord that keeps them connected. Wear these around your neck as that’s where you’ll want them in case you should go through. A good pair of ice cleats for your boots is also a great idea. You want as many advantages as you can, should the worst occur.

#2 A Sled: Though this is only necessary depending on how far out on the ice you’re planning on walking, I usually have one with me anyway. It makes life way easier if you can load your equipment up into one instead of carrying it out. Trust me, especially if you lose your balance and fall, you’ll want both your hands free.

#3 Sharp Auger Blades: The size of the ice auger you use is based entirely on what you plan on fishing for, but it seems that an 8” handheld auger is the universal size. But dull blades can make life a serious pain in the ass when you’re spending 15 minutes trying to cut one hole through the ice. It’ll wear you down quickly, so check the blades before you go out and make sure they’re sharp. If the edges look worn, swap them for a new set.

#4 New Line: This is the one thing that I screw things up with. I’ve got everything in tip top shape and ready to go once the ice is safe (more on that later). I get out there, get a few holes cut, and drop a line down, and notice that the line looks like old cobwebs in the basement. Not switching your line out every year or two can end in serious heartbreak if that big Walleye shows up, instantly chewing its way through your line. Companies like Berkley and Suffix make fantastic lines for ice fishing, and whether you’re targeting Pike or Perch, Walleye or Whitefish, you’re going to want a line that’s up to the task. The old cobwebs of winters ago is not the line you seek.

#5 A Valid Fishing License: Before you go out, make sure your fishing license is valid. That means you may need a new Outdoors Card as well. You’ll have the option of purchasing a Sport License or a Conservation License – the funds of which go directly back into programs used to stock lakes, preserve wetlands, and create better angling opportunities throughout our province. Be sure you educate yourself on your daily limit of whatever fish you plan to catch, if you intend on keeping some for dinner.

Now that you’ve got the gear you need to make this whole experience for more enjoyable, you’re going to want to figure out what lake you want to fish, and what you want to fish for. Some species of fish don’t have an open season during the winter, and some lakes are under special winter regulations, so checking the current Ontario Fishing Regulations is key.

Let’s say that you are within easy driving distance of three lakes, and every winter you see ice huts out there on all of them. You know those lakes have Bass in them, but Bass season is closed…So what the heck are they out there fishing for?! There are two ways to solve this problem, and both are easy. One option is top look up where the local bait shop is, take a trip in and inquire about those lakes. It’s always been my experience that because their business thrives on people returning, they’re more than helpful with giving their knowledge of the areas’ fishing opportunities, especially in winter when business is usually slower.

Your other option is to hop online and go to This website is a comprehensive guide to just about every lake in Ontario that has any species of gamefish swimming in them. You find the lake you’re interested in, click on it, and everything you want to know what species of fish live in it is right there for you. It even shows you if the lake has been stocked, how many, and when. You can’t beat that!

You now know what’s lurking under the ice in those lakes. You also did your research to find out what species of fish are legal to catch during the winter, and how many your license allows you to keep. You’re in great shape, so let’s figure out where on the lake we should start looking, what fish we want to catch, and how.

Step one is learning about the winter habits of these fish, which often is related to two things – topography and food. Some fish become dormant throughout the winter months, while others only slow their metabolism but continue to feed. Not all fish will be in the same place. Perch and Walleye are more likely to be out in deeper water closer to structure and transition zones, like where mud bottom meets rock. Pike on the other hand will be relating to deep weed flats or the edges of weed lines prior to them depleting their oxygen levels. The time to scout these areas is in the fall, before the water freezes. If you can’t, don’t worry! There’s an app for that!

Navionics can be downloaded onto any Iphone or SmartPhone and only costs around $9.99 CAD. All you need to do is download your base map of where you want to fish, and the app will show you the structure of the lake, including rock piles, drop offs, transition zones, etc. It takes a lot of the guess work out of learning a new lake and makes visible exactly why other ice anglers are setting up where there are. You can map out the distance from shore to your spot, and in case bad weather moves in and you can’t see shore, it also acts as a GPS. This app is invaluable, and I cannot recommend it enough.

These are the absolute bare bones of the ice fishing game. In the next installment of this, we will dive into fish species accessible to ice anglers in the Kawarthas, and how to get after them!