Benefits of Ice Fishing: 9 Surprising Reasons to Fish on the Hard Water

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Ice fishing benefits? To many people, ice fishing conjures up images of some poor half-frozen sap sitting on an old bucket for hours without so much as a nibble. While that can certainly happen on a rough day, the triumphant feeling you get when you land a trophy pike or lake trout far outweigh any potential downsides.

Modern ice fishing has changed significantly since the days of drilling a single hole and sitting on it all day long waiting for some hapless fish to come by. With light and efficient battery-powered augers, feather-weight insulated pop-up shelters, and deadly fish finders, if you’re attentive and put in the legwork you’re bound to be rewarded with some incredible fishing.

Let’s dive into the major ice fishing benefits you can expect from participating in this incredible activity.

1. Physical Exercise

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Unlike fair weather rod and reel fishing, ice fishing requires you to put in some hard work if you want to score a trophy fish. You can’t just cast off wherever you like, or move your boat to a new spot when the fish aren’t biting.

To be successful at ice fishing you have to be mobile. If the fish aren’t biting, you’ll need to pack your gear up on your sled and either hoof it or drive your snowmobile/quad to a new location. Fresh holes need to be drilled, which can really work up a sweat, especially if you’re using a hand auger. Depending on the circumstances, it’s not uncommon to drill over 100 holes in a single day on the ice. That’s a lot of work – especially when compared with fair weather fishing.

Once new holes are drilled, they need to be constantly looked after to prevent them from freezing over. If you’re fishing with tip ups, you’ll need to check them periodically to make sure the bait is still there, and the hole hasn’t frozen over.

All of this amounts to a great way to stay in shape during the winter months. And for my money, there’s no better way to get some outdoor winter exercise than chasing after jumbo perch or pike on the ice.

2. Exploring Nature

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While many people hang up their outdoor gear for the winter and spend the colder months bundled up indoors, ice anglers know that these are some of the best times to get outside and see nature’s incredible beauty. Beyond just drilling holes and catching fish, many lakes, ponds, and rivers present an opportunity to see sights and animals that you’d never get a chance to see sitting on your couch.

Depending on your location, plenty of wildlife can be spotted if you keep your eyes and ears open. Deer, elk, moose, foxes, hares, and owls are all active during the winter.

If you’re fishing at nighttime, you’ll get to see the starry night sky without all the light pollution present in major cities. Also, if you’re far north enough, you may have the opportunity to see the northern lights!

Many well-known ice fishing locations also feature other activities like dogsledding, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing.  If you’re interested in some of the best ice fishing destinations around, check out my breakdown of the top 10 ice fishing spots on earth.

3. Cost

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While you can certainly splurge on the latest and greatest ice fishing gear, clothing, and accessories, you don’t need to spend much to get started with a basic setup.  All you really need to get started is an ice fishing rod and reel, a hand auger, an ice chisel, and appropriate warm clothing. Of course, you can always step your game up with pop up shelters, high tech fish finders, heaters, and other expensive gear, but they’re not needed to get started.

Additionally, because the ice turns any lake or pond into one big walkable surface, there’s no need for a boat. We all know how boats can turn into giant money pits. Ice fishing allows you to access all parts of a body of water without the added expense of a boat, kayak or canoe.

4. Good Eating

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The major fish targeted by ice anglers also happen to be some of the tastiest freshwater species out there. Walleye, lake and rainbow trout, yellow perch, and northern pike all taste fantastic in the pan – plus there’s nothing quite as satisfying as frying or grilling up your catch after a long day on the ice.

If you’re staying on the ice overnight or for a prolonged period of time, bringing a small stove or grill along with you is a smart idea. This allows you to cook up your catch for lunch and dinner, as well as prepare other food.

5. Cold Exposure

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You might not think of the cold as a potential benefit of ice fishing, but modern science has actually found that cold exposure has a number of health benefits. Much like lifting heavy weights in the gym, or long-distance running, cold exposure is a form of beneficial stress. This type of stressor is called eustress or hormetic stress.

Cold exposure has been shown to provide a number of health benefits, including increasing metabolism, reduced inflammation, improved sleep, and improved immune system function. Repeatedly exposing yourself to the cold causes the release of feel-good neurotransmitters, which act to relax your body and improve your mood.

There’s nothing quite like the rush after jumping in an ice-cold river, lake, or stream! You might have heard of the wim hof method, which is a system of cold therapy and breathing techniques many people use for the numerous health benefits.

6. Stress Relief

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Many people find the solitude of ice fishing to be one of its most attractive benefits. Being out there on the ice, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, is one of the best ways to clear your mind from stressors. Similar to hiking or hunting, getting out in nature and away from routine distractions allows you to really clear your head.

Whether you fish on your own, or with friends and family, you’ll likely find that being out there on a frozen lake with a singular mission of catching fish is a welcome reprieve from normal life.

7. Great for Kids

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Kids love ice fishing just as much as their parents. It’s one of the best ways to introduce your kids to the outdoors, and get them hooked on ice fishing early! While it can take some work to get your kids to sit still long enough to actually catch something, once they get the hang of it, they’ll likely be ice anglers for life!

If you’re intent on doing some serious fishing, you might want to leave the kids at home until there a little older though. Save the family trips for days when you want to take it easy.

8. Safety

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While it might not seem like it to beginners, ice fishing is actually one of the safest outdoor activities you can partake in. As long as you stick to some basic guidelines, don’t take unnecessary risks, and remain mindful of ice thickness at all times, you’ll be fine.

There are a few key pieces of ice fishing safety gear that will greatly enhance your safety on the ice. A pair of ice picks, an ice chisel for checking ice thickness/quality, cleats, and a flotation suit is all you need to avoid danger.

If you’re interested in learning more about ice fishing safety, check out my detailed breakdown of ice fishing dangers.

9. Character Building

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Lastly, one of the major benefits of ice fishing is building character. When something is easy – any average Joe can do it – making it ordinary. When something is difficult, only those who put forth the effort will excel at it, making is special.

Ice fishing certainly falls into the latter category. You’ll need to brave the cold and wind, drill hole after hole, and endure the disappointment of coming up empty-handed. The rewards, however, are well worth those inconveniences. When you do finally catch that trophy fish, the feeling of accomplishment you get is that much more satisfying.

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