Many new ice anglers do not realize it, but ice fishing holes are the most important aspect of ice fishing. There are many things to think about regarding ice fishing holes, including the depth of the water beneath, the distance between holes, hole diameter, and setting ice holes over areas where fish hang out.
The following is some advice on finding the best places to drill ice fishing holes and what to do next as you start your ice fishing quest.
Good ice fishers have their game plan before the ice starts to freeze. They have scouted the area where they want to ice fish, identified areas likely to hold fish in cold water, and mapped out how to strategically place their holes for maximum coverage in zones where fish will probably be hanging out.
An ice fisher will also map out a contingency in case they get to their preferred fishing spot and someone else has started drilling holes. Not having a contingency means you wasted your time scouting and mapping out where to drill holes, and now you are hoping you will get lucky and find some productive fishing locations.
Some of the things ice anglers will cover include, but are not limited to:
- Type of fish and the depths they will winter (walleye rove, lake trout, and bass move slowly, perch seem impervious, crappies, etc.)
- Whether to lay ice fishing holes in clusters, a straight line
- The relative depth in feet and the different depths under the ice holes
- Where drop-offs and structure exist
- Locations on the lake where the fish tend to be active
Choose Your Ice Auger
An ice fishing hole cutter, or an auger, is the difference between drilling a usable hole or a few holes and catching fish in a reasonable amount of time. Ice fishing without an auger means you’ll be chipping away at the ice with an ax.
Ice augers are indispensable, meaning you must choose the best augur for your physical abilities and condition. There are two types of augers, hand augers, and powered augers.
Manual vs Powered
Depending on your budget and how sophisticated you want, you have options ranging from a hand auger to motorized augers, and even some that run by a standard drill. A general rule is that powered augers are better but have some limitations.
The upside to a hand augur is its weight. It is easy to carry in and out. The hard part is its downside: You have to crank the thing for it to drill a hole in the ice. You could be cranking a long time if the ice is thicker than a few feet.
The upsides to a power auger are that it is quick, and the augur does the drilling while you guide it. The downside to a power augur is hauling gas to make it run, dealing with slush the augur creates when drilling, and keeping the blades clean, so you get a clean cut.
Learn How To Use It
An augur can seem unwieldy for the first few times you use it. Make sure that you familiarize yourself with how it works and, if it is powered, how to stop it if you lose control. The blades on an augur can injure a hand, foot, or leg if the operator cannot keep it in control.
Also, while powered augers are quicker, they still can be tiring, so make sure that the auger you use fits your body type. When buying augers, try out different models. Hold it in position, walk around with it, etc. You want to know what to expect rather than find out your auger is not a good fit as you try and get your ice hole drilled.
Let the Blades Work For You
An old saying about knives is to let the knife do the work of cutting, meaning do not put a lot of pressure on the knife; let the blades cut. The same applies to auger blades. Let them eat into the ice at their own pace. Do not put a lot of downward pressure as that could damage your auger and will not likely get you where you want to be any quicker.
The area around an auger can get messy, especially if you use a powered auger. The heat from cutting and the motor melt snow and create slush, which is slippery. You will not slip through the cavity you drilled, but you may slip on the slush and injure yourself. Also, handle the auger per its instructions; it has blades and can cut you.
Decide How You Want to Drill
When ice fishing, many anglers like to drill ice holes in a pattern based on their understanding of the characteristics of the body of water they are fishing. They position holes across the body of water, usually in a zigzag, which gives wide coverage across multiple fishing environments. Unless they know where the fish will be, the goal is fishing to cover as wide an area as possible.
How Big are Ice Fishing Holes
The best-size ice fishing hole is wide enough for you to fish in without bumping into the sides but not so wide as to pose a safety risk if someone slips and falls into it. Most anglers have an external hole perimeter of 12 inches, and anything less than 12 inches that lets the angler lower bait, lure, and line, followed by playing it to try and attract fish, is a good choice.
Most ice fishermen make ice holes in the 6 to 12-inch range. If you have kids fishing with you, the smart move is to restrict holes to 8 or 9 inches. That lets every size ice angler fishing enjoy the thrill of ice fishing but does not create a risk if a child falls around or into the ice hole.
The depth of the ice factors in as well. Here is a guide for how wide ice fishing holes should be, based on ice thickness.
- 4 to 6-inch ice: 6 to 8-inches wide
- 7 to 18-inch ice: 6 to 10-inch wide hole
- 19 inches of ice and above: 8 to 12-inch or foot wide hole
Those diameters ensure that you will not stress the ice by drilling too large of a hole.
Final Thoughts: Drilling Ice Fishing Holes
An ice fishing hole is one of the most important parts of the experience. This article outlines hole placement, proper diameter, the importance of planning, and the various tools you need to get started. If you follow this guide, you will at least have ice fishing holes to be proud of, while the “catch fish” part of the equation is still up to you.