WON Landing Page OCT 2022

Retro WON: 7 Essentials for First-time Ice Fishing

Anietra Hamper gets you out on the ice with these 7 essentials and tips for fishing in the cold.

There typically are 3 reasons why people do not try ice fishing: it’s too cold, they’re afraid of falling through the ice or they think it is complicated and expensive. Admittedly, there is a moment of pause and apprehension with that first step onto the ice, but ice fishing can be an enjoyable experience if you know how to get started.

As an avid angler, all of these reasons ranked as rational excuses for me not to expand my knowledge and experience in fishing. That is, until I met Curt Wagner, Fisheries Biologist for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) and Ken Fry, ODNR Outdoor Skills Specialist. Curt and Ken turned my apprehension into appreciation and my nerves into excitement as we spent a day on the ice at Portage Lakes State Park in northern Ohio. I’ve broken down how to get started into 7 essentials for first-timers.


Portage Lakes State Park - photo-Anietra

(Anietra Hamper photo)



Starting simple is key. You will need a valid fishing license and some basic equipment.

1. Winter Clothing

2. Ice rod/reel

3. Ice auger and skimmer

4. A 5-gallon bucket with a lid that can hold your catch and serve as your seat on the ice

5. Assortment of ice jigs

6. Ice picks

7. Life vest

You can get outfitted with basic ice fishing gear for under $75 (life vests and ice picks additional) and you can always add equipment as your interest and experience grows.

“You can certainly increase your success rate by adding the latest fish-finding cameras and sonar equipment, incorporating tip-ups and other technology,” said Curt.  “However, start by just using 1 or 2 regular ice fishing rods and learn how to do the basics, then expand from there.” 



(Anietra Hamper photo)


Managing the cold

There’s no doubt about it – that post-fishing hot cocoa and fireplace are necessary to thaw out the shivers from a long day. While ice fishing can be cold (after all, it is ice), it does not have to be uncomfortable.

Layering your clothes with proper fabrics is your first line of defense from the cold.

ODNR Outdoor Skills Specialist Ken Fry recommends this 3-step layering system:

Layer 1: Wicking – The first layer removes moisture from the skin and should fit snug to your body. This should be made of quick-dry fabrics like wool, synthetics or a wool/synthetic blend.

Layer 2: Insulating – This layer insulates your body heat. Ideal fabrics are wool, fleece and goose down. Ken recommends wearing multiple insulating layers that can be added or removed to regulate body temperature.

Layer 3: Shell – This layer is your barrier to the elements. Find a waterproof shell that also serves as a windbreaker.

Extremities are the first to get cold, so it is important to wear insulated waterproof boots and gloves that are easy to remove.

If this is your first time ice fishing, you likely will not have a shanty, but you might want to invest in one if you plan to make this a hobby. Shanties are essentially enclosed portable sheds that provide shelter while you are on the lake. Ice shanties run the gamut from simple tarp enclosures to elaborate, almost house-like shacks. An ice shanty enables you to spend a longer time on the ice, while protecting you from the elements. Many of them are quite warm and can sustain heating devices.

Anietra catch crappie

(Curt Wagner photo)



Concerns about safety on the ice should not be taken lightly, but there are ways to minimize risk and prepare confidently for worst-case scenarios.

“As with any pursuit, there are inherent risks. With that disclaimer, what makes ice fishing safe is understanding when not to venture out on the ice and what to do if something bad happens,” said Curt.

Curt suggests carrying Ice picks and wearing a life vest at all times. He also recommends going with a buddy, frequently checking the thickness of the ice and walking several yards apart from each other to avoid too much weight in one spot.

Look for lakes where you see others fishing on the ice and carry a contour map of the lake with you so you have a point of reference should you need it. You can obtain contour maps from most state divisions of wildlife which you can likely sync with a GPS device.

While falling through the ice is uncommon, it happens on occasion most often when ice is not completely frozen, or when it’s beginning to melt. Curt suggests that first-timers make their inaugural trip with someone who is experienced. Always tell someone who is not fishing where you are going, or leave a note.

ice-fishing catch

(Anietra Hamper photo)


Getting out there

I took Curt’s advice and hit the ice with my 2 expert guides for my first trip. Feeling prepared with proper equipment, clothing, safety gear and experienced guides went a long way in ensuring a positive experience that day for me.

As we set up base, Curt used the auger to drill several holes in the ice, while Ken measured the depth around us. We had a at least 6 inches of solid ice beneath our feet. One of my greatest challenges occurred as I struggled to manage my bait, gloves, fishing rod, dripping nose and the biting crappie at once. I had the advantage of a sonar machine, which helped me navigate the depth of the fish so I could see how far to drop my bait.

I pulled in 9 crappie, which I threw back, but there were fishermen near me landing scores of crappie, walleye and bluegill, which all make for nice eating.

After several hours on the ice, I was ready to call it a day. My guides suggest that novices don’t overdo it on their first time out on the ice. That way if you didn’t prepare quite right with your clothing or equipment, you can pack it in without too much disappointment and better prepare the next time.

Regardless of your skill level as an angler, ice fishing has a completely different set of rules and comes with a unique set of challenges. I strongly suggest going with someone who is experienced for your first time.



(Anietra Hamper photo)


Do you have any ice fishing tips for us?

This Retro WON first appeared December 9, 2014.

  • About Anietra Hamper

    Long before Anietra Hamper dedicated nearly 2 decades to a successful career in television news as top-rated anchor, she was digging up night crawlers and fishing at her grandparents’ cottage. Now, a published travel writer/photographer, member of the Society of American Travel Writers and host of “Road Trippin-USA,” a travel television show, Anietra uses her world travels to fish wherever she goes. She has a penchant for seeking out the world’s largest, most unusual fish and currently holds the female record at Bungsamran Lake in Thailand for the Giant Mekong catfish. Her authentic approach to uncovering unique and spectacular places to fish enables her to make sure readers have the information necessary to duplicate that experience. She appears regularly in her column, “Reeling the Globe.” Anietra and her sidekick, Sunny (a “hot mess” dog that she literally rescued from the street), live in Columbus, Ohio. Visit Anietra’s website at www.Threewordpress.com.