7 Tips For Your First Ice Fishing Adventure

Even if you're not big on fishing, there's nothing better than hanging out outside with your friends all day.

By: Kathleen Morton

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When I think of winter activities, ice fishing doesn’t come to the front of my mind. You will usually find me snowboarding or snowshoeing before you’ll find me with a fishing rod in my hand. But when a new adventure presents itself, I have a hard time saying “no.” On a beautiful 45-degree Colorado day, a few friends and I headed up to Granby Lake. Having never ice fished before, I had no idea what to expect. Turns out I wasn’t the only one in our group that was clueless. Here’s a few tips to help you come a little more prepared to your first ice fishing trip.

1. Do your research.

There are numerous locations to go ice fishing, especially in Colorado - so many that it can become overwhelming. Before you head out with your gear, check the fishing report and ice conditions. The main season for ice fishing in Colorado is between December and late February, but your area may be different. Talk to fishing locals and find out where they are getting bites or if they have any recommendations.

2. Stock up on bait and licenses.

You know all that research you just did? By knowing what fish species live in the lake, you will be able to determine what kind of bait to buy. You’ll also know what kind of fishing rods to bring. In Colorado, annual licenses are valid April 1 through March 31, but if you’re over 19 and under 64, you can buy a day pass for $9. You can purchase a license online through the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website. Check your local regulations by state.

Ice Fishing on Jackson Lake | Photo: Savannah Cummins

3. Dress appropriately.

It’s cold in the wintertime, but it feels even colder when you’re hanging out on an exposed lake. You don’t need to wear a full parka, but it’s best to dress in layers. Bring a pair of snow pants, a winter jacket, beanie, gloves and sunglasses (and don’t forget sunscreen). Wear boots that will keep your feet warm for several hours. Since the temperature can flux during the day depending on the amount of sun and wind that day, make sure you are comfortable and can shed layers if need be.

4. Know the tools of the trade.

You may not need a warming hut or an ice scooper (you could use your hands), but you will need some sort of drill and fishing poles. There’s different kinds of drills (augers) you can use to make your hole. A motorized auger will make you a hole fast, but will be heavy to carry around. A manual one is lighter and quieter, but will require more manpower. You can use a regular rod for ice fishing, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Consider buying an ice fishing rod, which is shorter than your average rod and requires no casting.

Ice Fishing Antero Reservoir | Photo: Ryan Mckinney

5. Bring food and distractions.

Ice fishing requires patience and can easily turn into an all-day activity. If you only bring your fishing gear, you may be bored out of your mind. The day is much more enjoyable when you bring chairs, games, snacks, water, hot drinks and other provisions (beer, anyone?). Watching a dog chase a ball around the lake may be more entertaining than watching your pole all day. In some ways, it feels a little similar to tailgating - except you’re sitting on a lake instead of a parking lot.

6. Stay safe.

In A Christmas Story, Ralphie loves hearing, “you’ll shoot your eye out,” just as much as you will love hearing me say, “you’ll step in a hole if you’re not careful.” When you’re sitting on a lake all day, it can be easy to forget to watch your step. One wrong move and you or your pooch may step inside a hole that was used by a previous person. There’s no good advice I can give you, but always be mindful when you’re walking around. And before you drill your hole, check the ice thickness. Does the lake look clear and blue or is it cloudy and slushy? You want the ice to be at least four inches thick to support your weight.

Ice Fish on Lake Granby | Photo: Kathleen Morton

7. You might leave empty handed.

You went ice fishing. You were supposed to catch fish, right? Unless you are a fishing expert, brought a fish reader or received some insider fishing wisdom, you may strike out on your first ice fishing experience. In fact, you may strike out several times after. Don’t blame yourself though. Fish are more active in open water and won’t necessarily be aggressive in the winter. Instead of considering it a major fail, take the lessons learned and apply them toward the next trip. After all, you just spent the day on a lake with some friends. Cheers to that!

Cover photo: Kathleen Morton

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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.