How Ice Fishing Works

Ice Fishing Equipment

Ice shelters dot Sainte-Anne-de-la-Perade River in Mauricie County, Quebec.
Ice shelters dot Sainte-Anne-de-la-Perade River in Mauricie County, Quebec.
Yves Marcoux/ First Light/Getty Images

With frigid temperatures and ice several inches thick, ice fishing requires more than a bucket, fishing rod and some bait. Before you embark on an ice fishing expedition, you'll need to bring along a few essentials like a shelter, stool or chair, sled, propane heater, flashlight and compass -- and that's just to help you get out on the ice, stay comfortable and find your way back home. You'll also need your basic fishing gear: a rod, line and reels, as well as bait, lures, buckets and your fishing license (most states won't let you fish without one). Fishing on the ice, however, requires additional gear. A spud bar is a hand tool used to check ice thickness. An auger is a screw-like device that cuts into the ice. A skimmer or scoop ladles slush out of the hole. And a gaff hook pulls fish through the small hole.

The hardiest ice fishermen will sit right out on the ice and wait for a catch. But for those who want a little -- or a lot of -- protection against the elements, several different types of shelters are available.

An ice fishing shelter looks a bit like a small tent. This portable structure has an aluminum frame covered in canvas, with zippered doors on both ends and clear vinyl windows. Some ice fishing shelters fold into a type of suitcase so that they can be easily carried to the lake. Though it isn't solid, an ice shelter can keep you -- and possibly a friend -- out of the wind.

An ice shanty is a small shelter made of wood or plastic. You can make it yourself or rent it from a sport fishing store. It measures about 6 feet by 6 feet, and is tall enough to stand in. Some shanties have a bench inside.

The most elaborate shelter is the ice fishing house, which you can either rent or tow on a trailer and lower down to the ice. Some are as big as 8 by 16 feet and can accommodate four or more people. This permanent structure has aluminum or wood siding, and comes equipped with many of the comforts of home -- propane heat, sleeping bunks, carpeting, lighting, a kitchen and bathrooms with a toilet and shower. The more souped-up models can cost as much as $30,000 U.S. These have luxurious accessories such as hardwood floors, cathedral ceilings and even satellite TV. The television can even be hooked up to an underwater camera to keep tabs on the fish's whereabouts.

During the winter months, lakes in the northern climates turn into frozen villages of ice fishing shelters, shanties and houses. But all of these shelters need to go back to land at the end of the winter; otherwise, they'll end up in the bottom of the lake during the spring thaw.

In the next section, we'll learn the basic steps of ice fishing.