early ice

Must Have Ice Fishing Accessories

I wrote “must have ice fishing accessories” with tongue firmly in cheek. While this list contains items that everyone going ice fishing should probably have, they are not all technically required. After all, the first time I went ice fishing I was had nothing but a 6 foot long fishing pole and an ice chipper to make holes. The fact that I was dressed in blue jeans in the middle of winter shows how prepared I was, but I still caught fish. It wasn’t safe or the best way to do things, it was just the way we did them back then.

Today there is more information out there, more and better equipment and easier ways to source the stuff. Some people can’t afford to carry all or even some of the stuff on this list. I can’t fault them for that. But those who are able should try to get as much of it as possible in my humble opinion.

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Spud bar

A spud bar or “ice chipper” is a bar with a chisel end that you can stick into the ice to check its strength. You want to be able to test ice before you actually stand on it. By then it would be too late to find out if the ice is thin or dangerous.

Technically you can even use a spud bar to dig a hole through the ice for fishing, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s a real mess. Still I always keep a spud bar with me to test the ice as I make my way out.

I carry the Eskimo Ice Chisel. It is inexpensive but it works like a charm. It also doubles as a hole opener on those cold days when your tip-ups freeze solid into the ice. Thankfully it also comes with a loop around the handle so you won’t lose the thing if you chip all the way through the ice by accident. I’ve seen it happen!

Ice awls

Most people on the internet call these “ice picks,” which I guess is okay. No matter what you call them, ice awls should be carried but anyone going out on the ice. They allow you to dig into the ice and pull yourself out of the water if you fall through.

People used to make their own ice awls out of wood and nails, but they’re so inexpensive today that you don’t have to bother. You have to be careful though, because some of the cheap ice awls sold online are very poorly made. The worst examples don’t lock into each other or break when you actually need them.

I have found the Frabill Deluxe Retractable Ice Picks to be one of the best pairs of ice awls available for the price. They lock into each other nicely and are made to be worn on your wrists where they hide out of the way until you need them.

The HT Safety Ice Picks are a little cheaper. They don’t retract so they can’t be worn comfortably or safely on the wrists, but they lock together and come with a built in lanyard, so you can wear them around your neck.

Of course you always hope you won’t need to use ice awls, but if you do fall through you’ll be glad to have a pair where you can grab them!

Personal flotation device (PFD)

Not many people would consider boating on a large body of water without some kind of life jacket or preserver, but oddly a lot of people go ice fishing without any kind of flotation device at all. I would include myself in that “lot of people” until recently when I started wearing the Striker Ice Predator Jacket and matching Ice Predator Bib. Not only does this suit keep me warm and dry, it also floats if I would happen to fall through the ice.

Of course ice suits can be expensive and not everyone can afford them, but there are lots of other inexpensive flotation devices you can carry onto the ice with you. The Flowt Type IV Throwable Flotation is a nice inexpensive flotation device that doubles as a cushion for sitting or kneeling on, and it doesn’t take up a lot of space.

Safety rope

One of the best pieces of safety equipment you can take out onto the ice is also one of the easiest to forget. That’s the safety rope.

A safety rope is basically just a rope carried in case of emergency. It can be thrown to someone who falls through the ice, thrown from someone who has fallen through to someone on sturdier ground, or used in a number of other situations.

Any strong rope of a good length can work but the best safety ropes float and are brightly colored. I carry the Scotty #793 Throw Bag. It packs up neatly with fifty feet of floating orange line inside and can quickly be thrown to anyone in an emergency.

Safety whistle

You’re not supposed to go ice fishing by yourself, but I have to admit that I have done exactly that plenty of times. I was usually expecting other people to be on the ice, but at times I have wandered into farm ponds and back coves of bigger lakes with no one around. If I ran into trouble, I would be in a real bad situation.

It’s always a good idea to carry a safety whistle when on the ice. Even if there are other people visible they may be out of range to hear you call for help. Safety whistles are loud and piercing and hopefully will draw attention.

I like the inexpensive 8 pack of safety whistles sold by JQuad. Although they are bright orange they are still easy to lose. Having eight allows you to misplace a few and even give some others to friends you meet on the ice who don’t have a whistle of their own without putting yourself in danger.


I always wear sunglasses when I am fishing. In the soft water it helps me spot fish and protects my eyes from tree limbs and flying hooks.

You definitely don’t need to wear polarized glasses when ice fishing, but they wouldn’t hurt. In reality any kind of sunglasses would work, including the very inexpensive but more than sufficient Verdster Camo Polarized Men’s Sunglasses .

Granted being on the ice in the dead of winter is not like being on the beach in the middle of summer to be sure, but you might be surprised how bright it can get on a frozen lake in January.

Bucket seat

Five gallon buckets are among the most useful things you can lug out on the ice. They weigh next to nothing and they are easy to find. You can fill them with your lose gear and live bait, and with the help of a seat cover, turn them into a chair. Plus, at the end of the day when you’re cold from head to toe, you don’t have to worry about neatly packing things back into an organized box. You can just throw them into the large bucket and scurry off the ice for the relief of the heated vehicle.

I have been using the same Muddy 360-Degree Swivel Seat for over a decade and it barely shows any signs of wear or tear. The product is basically a nice padded seat custom fitted to snap onto the top of any five gallon bucket.

Just in case you can’t find a five gallon bucket for free, you can always get the cheap but suitable Berkley Rope Handle 5 Gallon shipped right to your house. The rope handle bucket matches nicely with the bucket seat to form a mobile chair that makes bouncing from one hole to the next with a jigging rod a breeze.

Ice fishing sled

Having an ice fishing sled really changes everything. Since they don’t cost all that much, ice sleds are an obvious buy. No more carrying your things in five gallon buckets or, even worse, by hand! Ice sleds add a little safety too, since they distribute the weight of your gear a little more evenly and keep it away from you actual body. That’s a selling point not to be missed when trying to convince your spouse that you really need one!

You can use a regular cheap plastic sled, but I much prefer to use the Shappell 54″ Jet Sled. It is actually designed for ice fishing, which means it has high sides to keep the gear from falling out when you’re pulling through the snow or over frozen ground. I can fit my shelter, flasher, five ice fishing rods, portable heater and a five gallon bucket seat inside of it with no problem.


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