While it may not be the flashiest tool in your ice fishing arsenal, the humble ice chisel is highly useful – and shouldn’t be overlooked. Also known as a spud bar, this versatile tool enables you to check ice thickness, reopen old holes, and even open fresh holes in thinner ice.
Back in the day, spud bars were commonly used by many anglers, but with the popularity of portable electric and gas-augers, they fell out of favor to some degree.
This was a bit of an overreaction in my book, as they remain a highly valuable tool – which could someday even save your life!
I’ll break down some of the best ice chisel available today, how to pick the right one for your needs and explain how to use them effectively.
Quick Answer: 5 Best Ice Chisels (Spud Bars)
Why do you need an ice chisel or spud bar?
A good ice chisel has multiple functions – it’s sort of the swiss army knife of ice fishing gear.
Many anglers use them to check ice thickness as they’re walking, poking and prodding the ice every so often to ensure its thick enough to walk on.
If you’re fishing on early or late-season ice, then having an ice chisel with you will give you peace of mind knowing you can check the ice thickness on the spot. It’s a good idea to learn how many strikes it takes to get through the ice when it’s safe/unsafe.
Once you get familiar using an ice chisel, you’ll be able to test more than just the ice thickness. A few good whacks will give you an idea of the tone and quality of the ice as well.
Other than testing ice thickness, a spud bar can be used to quickly reopen old holes without an auger, as well as punch fresh holes through relatively thin ice. If you’re using tip-ups, you can also clean up holes to ensure they don’t ice over.
Top 5 Ice Fishing Chisels
How to pick the best ice fishing chisel?
Picking the right ice fishing chisel for your needs is fairly straightforward, but there are a few key design features to be aware of.
Spud bars generally come in two styles – heavier models in the 10 to 13-pound range, and lighter models in the 5-pound range.
Heavier chisels typically feature a stepped down grooved chisel end, and are intended for punching holes through the ice with minimal effort. A chisel over 10 pounds will punch right through 2 inches of ice when dropped from a 1-foot height. This makes them perfect for run and gun fishing, or quickly reopening old holes.
Due to their effectiveness in punching through the ice, these chisels typically feature a built-in lanyard or hole for attaching a length of rope – to prevent the chisel from breaking through the ice and falling to the bottom of the lake or pond.
Lighter chisels are typically used for checking ice thickness on the fly and are less useful for punching holes through the ice. Their lighter weight makes them easy to hold in one hand for prolonged periods without tiring yourself out.
These chisels will either feature a stepped down chisel end, or a flat chisel end – depending on the particular design.
The choice between a light chisel and a heavier chisel really comes down to how you intend to use it. If you’re primarily looking to check ice thickness, then a lighter chisel makes more sense. If you’re forgoing a hand auger or electric auger and looking for a chisel capable of making full-sized holes through the ice, then a heavier chisel is the way to go.
One-piece vs. Two-piece
This one really comes down to personal preference and fishing style.
Obviously, a two-piece spud bar is going to be more portable and easier to pack than a larger one-piece bar. While they may not be quite as structurally robust as a one-piece steel bar, most two-piece bars are well-engineered, and won’t come apart no matter how tough you are on them.
If you tend to pack lighter or use a smaller pack or ice sled, then a two-piece chisel will be easier to stash with the rest of your gear.
Ice Chisel Extra Features
There are several extra features to be aware of that can come in handy in a pinch.
Tether. A tether is a pretty important feature – and can save your chisel from ending up at the bottom of the lake. Most chisels come with a built-in tether (or a circle for attaching your own tether.)
Anti-Vibration. Anti-vibration padded grip will help protect your hands from shock and fatigue. Along with a good pair of ice fishing gloves, a good grip will allow you to chisel away for hours without pain.
High-viz. High-viz colors are always a good idea when it comes to ice fishing gear. Chisels are easy to misplace – especially in heavy snow – so going with an easy to see color like bright orange or red makes sense.
I’ve loved being in the outdoors for as long as I can remember. I grew up fishing, canoeing, and camping throughout the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. It’s what lead me to start this site and share my passions for fishing, diving, kayaking and more. Nowadays you can find me writing about my passions or (preferably!) preparing for my next outdoor adventure.