Ice fishing is a simple sport. About all you need is some ice thick enough to support you (with fish swimming under it), some kind of tool to cut a hole in the ice, your fishing rod and some bait.
To that basic compliment, you can add all kinds of gizmos and gadgets. You can buy sleds and ice tents, gas powered ice augers, specialized fishing rods and reels, portable fish finders, buckets to carry your gear, seats and stools, skimmers and ladles, rod holders and a myriad of ice flies, spoons and jigs.
The most popular auger is the screw-type with two cutting blades. They can be purchased at most sporting goods stores ($30 to $60) and cut from 6 inch to 12 inch holes, depending on the size you buy. The auger that cuts an 8 inch hole is most popular. In Utah it is against the law to cut a hole larger than 12 inches in diameter except at Bear Lake and Flaming Gorge.
Ice auger blades are razor-sharp and should be kept that way. When working around the blade-end of the auger, be careful. Be especially careful when removing the blade cover. I watched an angler at East Canyon slash his palm wide open when his auger slipped while he was removing the cover – not a fun way to end an ice fishing trip.
Always carry a spare set of blades. Nothing is worse than getting out onto the ice and discovering that you auger won't cut, especially if the ice is a foot or more thick. Sharp blades will cut through several feet of ice with relative ease. Dull blades make hard work out of cutting through only a few inches of ice. Keep those blades sharp!
If you really get hooked on ice fishing you can buy a gas powered ice auger. Gas powered augers run from about $200 to $300. They make short work of drilling a hole in the ice and are especially nice if the ice is two or more fet thick.
The rod and reel you use in the summer will work for ice fishing. Prop the rod up so the tip hangs out over the center of the ice hole. If your rod is five or six feet long, the reel end will be a significant distance from the hole so you will need to sit along side the rod, not behind it. Sit so you can quickly grab the rod when a fish hits.
A relatively inexpensive alternative is to buy or build an ice fishing rod. A typical ice fishing rod is between 18 and 36 inches long. You can buy one at your favorite sporting goods store for three or four dollars.
If you are fishing mostly for panfish (perch, bluegill, crappie) or small rainbows, the rod should have a very sensitive tip so you can detect even the slightest movement of your bait or lure. If you are after large fish such as lake troup,walleye, splake,or large rainbows or cutthroats, buy a rod with a stiffer action and enough spine to handle the larger fish.
Almost any reel that will hold sufficient quantities of line, not tangle easily and work efficiently in the cold will do. Your spinning reel, bait casting or trolling reel will do just fine. No need to buy a special reel for ice fishing.
For panfish and small rainbows you will need a light, flexible line – no more than 4 pound test. Obviously, if you go after bigger fish, you will need to use a heavier line. The edges of your ice hole can be very sharp so make sure your line is in excellent condition.
Berkley makes a cold weather line (Trilene Cold Weather) that ranges from 2 pound to 17 pound test. Berkley claims that it, "won't get brittle, retains strength in coldest water, is non-freezing, and fast sinking." It actually is pretty good stuff and worth the two or three dollars for a spool (110 yards).
Almost any standard bait will work when ice fishing. Rainbows and panfish love small pieces of nightcrawler, meal worms, wax worms, spikes and maggots. Rainbows will also readily hit salmon eggs, Power Bait, and the various kinds of cheese and cheese-like products.
Perch are cannibalistic and will eat perch meat (or other fish flesh), and greedily take perch eyes (kind of gross but very effective bait). Crappie love fresh-water shrimp (grass shrimp).
Lake trout, cutthroat trout, splake and walleye are most readily caught using jigging spoons or flies, such as the Crippled Herring, Rapala jigging lures, airplane jigs and soft plastic tubes and grubs. Any or all of these can be tipped with fish meat. Cutthroat are especially fond of white or pearl colored feather or hair jigs tipped with meal or wax worms or fish meat.
There are a myriad of small jigging lures (ice flies). Some look like small spoons, others are round or teardrop shaped. Some have rubber or plastic tentacles, flanges, tails or fingers. Some are adorned with feathers or hair. Almost all are brightly painted or metallic. Some are made of soft plastic. To these jigs you can add beads and/or spinner blades.
The small jigging lures are usually effective for panfish and rainbow trout although on occasion other fish will find them tempting. For example, while fishing for perch at Fish Lake with an ice fly tipped with a meal worm, you may also catch rainbows, splake or even lake trout.
However, if you are fishing with a three-inch airplane jig, you aren't very likely to catch a perch. It is important to match the size and kind of lure and bait to the kind of fish you are after.
With a few exceptions most fish prefer to be by something. You will find them just off of weed beds, next to drop-offs, old creek beds, underwater ridges, rock piles, submerged bushes or trees, sunken boats, docks, piers and on the edges of deep holes.
Crappie like bushes, sunken trees, reeds, etc. They are very structure oriented. If there are no bushes or trees, look for them in rock piles, and off of steep banks. Fish just off the edge or near the top of the structure. They like shallow water so start in 5 or 10 feet of water and then work deeper. They may be as deep as 30 or 40 feet.
Perch like to hang out under docks and piers. They also like underwater ridges, rock piles and steep banks. Look for them within a foot or two of the bottom and in water from 20 to 60 feet deep. Perch school by age class and almost all the perch in a given school will be the same size. If you are only catching small perch, move toward deeper water. Generally the larger perch will be deeper than the smaller ones.
Bluegill like to hang out in and around underwater plants so they are generally found near shore and in or next to plant beds. If there are no plant beds (which is the case in many of Utah's waters), look for them in and around rocks and rocky outcroppings in 10 to 30 feet of water. Bluegill tend to be near the bottom but when vegetation is present, may suspend near or just in the vegetation tops.
Rainbows don't school as tightly as crappie, bluegill or perch and can be a little more difficult to fish for. They aren't as structure-oriented as the other fish. Look for rainbows near the mouths of shallow bays, on the shallow side of drop-offs, suspended over old creek channels and near the mouths of incoming streams (watch for unsafe ice here). Rainbows move up and down in the water column depending on oxygen content and temperature. You might find them within a foot of the ice or right on the bottom. When you get a strike note the depth of your lure.
Cutthroats are more structure oriented than rainbows. Look for them off of weed beds, over rock piles and along submerged ridges. They also like to hang out in and around old creek channels.
Lake trout and splake are very structure oriented. They will almost always be in relatively deep water (as deep as a hundred feet or more at Fish Lake and Flaming Gorge) and will hang near the bottom and along the base of ridges, channels and ledges.
Walleye are constantly on the move and can be very difficult to locate. Look for them along their feeding lanes and be patient. When you finally get into a school of walleye, the action will be fast and furious. Unfortunately, you may fish for hours (or days!) before you locate any fish. Patience is the key here.
Of course, fish are like rattlesnakes and sometimes they may surprise you and you will have fast action in an area where there shouldn't be any fish. Sometimes simply finding the fish can be the most difficult part about ice fishing.
A portable fish finder can help find fish quickly when fishing a new water or when you are fishing a new or unfamiliar area of a lake.
Bottomline makes a portable fish finder (Fishin' Buddy) that is getting rave reviews from ice fishermen. It is easy to set up and use, completely portable and it works well. The Fishin' Buddy costs between $180 and $200 depending on where you buy it.
When using a portable fish finder, make sure the transducer is as nearly vertical as possible (pointed straight down) or you won't get accurate readings of what is going on directly under your ice hole.
By drilling several holes and by reading the depth of the water in each of the holes you should be able to pinpoint ridgelines, dropoffs, creek channels, etc.
First and foremost, make sure the ice is safe. Secondly, watch for hypothermia. Hypothermia can be deadly. Never go out on the ice by yourself and keep an eye on your buddy. If he/she shows any signs of hypothermia, get him/her off the ice and warmed up immediately. Take hot drinks and other hot foods with you. Eat high calorie foods to keep your energy level up. If you start to freeze up – get off the ice and get warmed up.
Watch the weather and don't get stuck on the ice if a storm blows in. Use good common sense and ice fishing will be safe and fun.
A few items to always carry with you: a good length of rope (25 feet is good), ice picks tied together by a length of cord, chemical hand warmers, extra clothing, blankets and a wind break. Be over-prepared. Be safe. Have fun!
Just a note on dressing properly for ice fishing. Generally it is as cold as blazes on the ice and appropriate dress is mandatory if you are to enjoy your ice fishing experience. Warm, waterproof boots are a must. Gloves and a good hat are also necessary. If it warms up you can remove a layer or two. It is better to go over-dressed than underdressed.
Bear Lake: Lake trout, cutthroat trout, cisco, whitefish
Causey Reservoir: Rainbow trout
Currant Creek Reservoir: Rainbow and cutthroat trout*
Deer Creek Reservoir: Rainbow trout, walleye (no perch fishing allowed)
East Canyon Reservoir: Rainbow trout
Fish Lake: Lake trout, rainbow trout, perch, splake
Hyrum Reservoir: Rainbow trout, perch, bluegill
Joe's Valley Reservoir: Rainbow trout, splake
Lost Creek Reservoir: Rainbow and cutthroat trout*
Newton Reservoir: Perch, bluegill, crappie, rainbow trout
Otter Creek Reservoir: Rainbow trout
Panguitch Lake: Rainbow trout
Pineview Reservoir: Crappie, perch, bluegill
Porcupine Reservoir: Rainbow trout, splake, kokanee*
Scofield Reservoir: Rainbow trout
Strawberry Reservoir: Rainbow and cutthroat trout (Please release all cutthroat), kokanee
Starvation Reservoir: Walleye
Utah Lake: White Bass, walleye
Willard Bay: Crappie, walleye
*These waters may be accessible only in a four wheel drive vehicle, by snowmobile or by hiking or skiing.