The Winter Angler's Ultimate Ice Fishing Packing List

In celebration of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Free Fishing Weekend, we've put together this handy packing list to ensure a successful day of fishing.  

A group of people in a circle ice fishing
Ice Fishing in Michigan | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan

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Each year, in what seems like the blink of an eye, snow and ice transform Michigan into a winter angler's dream. Despite the cold, the fishing stays hot, as ice fisherman ready their tackle boxes for this timeless Michigan fishing tradition.

What to pack

Many Michiganders know how to handle the cold, but knowing how to dress for long hours on ice may not be so easy. Since you’ll be spending some quality time outdoors, consider layering up with these tips. A hat, pair of gloves and jacket might seem obvious to pack, but there’s a lot more that can keep you comfortable when ice fishing. Consider layering with long underwear as a base under fleece and a windbreaker. Add some thermal socks and a scarf to stay toasty. Don’t forget to pick up a pair of boots specifically made for the cold, too! One thing to avoid when layering up is cotton. No matter how cold the weather is, wearing layers causes sweating. There’s nothing worse than being damp on the ice as cotton clothes absorb and hold onto moisture.


What to bring on the ice

When it comes to fishing, everyone has their own strategy – and that definitely applies when you’re about to head onto the frozen lake! Whether you choose to sit in a shanty or simply on an overturned paint bucket, don’t forget these essentials to avoid being frosty. Imagine you’re bundled up, bait in hand, walking out to that perfect spot on the ice. And then it hits you – your pole is sitting at home! With all the planning it takes to get ready for a day of ice fishing, sometimes even the most obvious things can be forgotten. Remember to grab your fishing pole, bait, auger and something to sit on so you don’t freeze to the ice. If you’re heading out any other time but free fishing weekend, make sure you have your fishing license in hand, too.


The little things

Whether you’re a perennial ice-fisher or this winter will be your first time, we’re willing to guess you’ll be spending more than just a few minutes trying to catch that prized fish. If you are committing a day, or even a few hours, to drop a line, don’t forget these small necessities to keep you safe and happy. Remember to bring a few bottles of water to keep you hydrated (in a place they won’t freeze!), snacks to give you energy and your cell phone – in case anything goes wrong.  You’ll also want a camera ready when you reel in that monster under the ice. When ice fishing, a few small items can make or break a trip. Remember to dress right, be safe and have fun when drilling into another Pure Michigan winter adventure.


Where to go ice fishing in Michigan

Little Bay de Noc – Escanaba

A renowned walleye hotspot in the northwest corner of Lake Michigan—ice fishing seems like more than a simple weekend pastime. Anglers come from all over to try their luck landing the “hawgs” (fat trophy walleye) that live here. Check out Hawg Heaven Guide Service, which offers shanty rentals as well as fishing expertise through Feb. 28.

Saginaw Bay of Lake HuronGreat Lakes Bay Region

On Saginaw Bay the fish are so numerous the Michigan's DNR encourages angles to catch and keep as many as they can. Champion tournament angler, guide and educator Mark Martin holds one of his popular Ice Fishing Vacation Schools on Saginaw Bay, arranging lodging and recruiting a faculty of likewise-seasoned guides who give one-on-one instruction—in classroom seminars and on the ice—to both new and seasoned anglers. For top sources of ice fishing tackle and information check out Frank's Great Outdoors in Linwood, and Sanford Sport Shop in Sanford.