The most important, but least planned, part of ice fishing may very well be the hole size. Six-inch and eight-inch are two of the most popular hole sizes.
For ice fishers, deciding what size hole to fish through is an important decision. Hole size matters because it determines what species you’re more likely to pull in, the equipment you’ll need to catch them, the auger size, and the overall success of your ice fishing outing.
How big are 6 and 8 inch holes?
I know it seems like a trick question, but the answer isn’t as simple as it seems. And the answer requires a quick trip back to geometry class.
A six-inch hole has an 18.85-inch circumference. What that means is you can pull a fish with a girth just shy of 19-inches through a six-inch hole. Sound like a trophy fish to anyone?
In comparison, an eight-inch diameter hole has a circumference of a little over 25-inches, is around 32 inches deep, and runs about 1,900 cubic inches in volume. To give it perspective, you could easily pull an NFL football lengthwise through the hole and have room to spare.
Which is better for ice fishing: 6 or 8-inch holes?
No hole size is better than another, but each has its advantages and challenges to consider when deciding which is best for you.
Easy Does It
A smaller hole requires less muscle and fuel to drill for several reasons. A six-inch hole has less than half the volume of an eight-inch of equal depth. This means using a smaller auger and less fuel to run it. A smaller hole equals less ice to remove, and less water pressure when drilling.
In short, it’s faster and easier to drill a six-inch hole than an eight-hole, and you can still pull respectable-sized fish through them.
The target species is another deciding factor when determining what hole size will work best. Consider these guidelines:
A six-inch hole works well for Panfish (crappie, rock bass, bluegill), and perch. A perk of using a six-inch hole is that they develop a slushy perimeter. The narrowed edges make it harder for a fish to fall through if they throw the hook. When panfish do drop off, they often get stuck and usually float back to the top.
Eight-inch holes are good for whitefish, bass, northern pike, and walleye. An eight-inch hole makes it easier to maneuver a larger fish into the shaft over a six-inch.
Finally, if you use a fish finder, a camera, or side imaging, an 8-inch hole is the way to go. If you use electronics and like 6-inch holes, you’ll need to drill two holes, one for your lines and one for your electronics.
For most applications, a six-inch hole is a good way to go unless you’re specifically targeting larger northern pike, lake trout, or muskie, then an eight-inch hole or bigger is the way to go.
Dealing with Freezing Holes
Fishing in freezing weather equals ice and slush forming in the hole you’re fishing through. As slush or ice forms it needs to be cleared.
Begin with an eight-inch hole and it will often freeze down to a six-inch hole, which is still a good size for many fish to be pulled through. Conversely, a six-inch hole may freeze down as small as 4-inches, possibly limiting your catch to panfish and smaller perch.
Here are some tips for keeping your hole open:
Warm water swirled around the hole slows freezing.
A bucket of hot coals will melt off surface ice and help clean ice from your gear and It’s an outstanding hand warmer too.
A Word on Ice Safety
Because we’re talking about what size hole to use, I want to share a brief word on ice safety, related to hole size.
A 10-inch hole can be dangerous. If you don’t pay attention, it’s pretty easy to turn an ankle or twist a knee in the hole. With 12-inch holes, the risk is even higher.
Also, once abandoned, these holes won’t freeze over to a safe thickness as quickly as smaller holes, posing a risk for other anglers after you’ve left the area. When fishers abandon a hole, it’s good practice to fill it with snow and mark it with a stick and a blaze orange flag. In Canada, it is the law to do this, under criminal code 263.
Is a 6-inch ice auger big enough?
The answer depends on several things. First, your fishing style. Are you the type to drill 15 or 20 holes in a day when ice fishing? Then a six-inch auger is a way to go. It’s less work, easier on the auger, and won’t chew up blades as fast.
Later in the season when temperatures are lower and ice is thicker, 6-inch holes are easier to drill for two reasons. First, the smaller surface area under the ice produces lower water pressure than an eight-inch. Second, there’s simply less ice to cut through.
However, an 8-inch auger is worth considering because the larger hole may freeze down to a smaller, but still fishable hole in more frigid temperatures.
The next consideration is the target species. Larger fish need larger holes, but 6-inch holes are primo for panfish, perch, and even smaller walleyes. So if these are your target species, then a six-inch auger will get the job done.
Ironically, when pan fishing, using a larger 8-inch hole can be detrimental. Many panfish have a knack for throwing the hook as they come topside. In an 8-inch hole, many can quickly flip and be back through the hole in a flash.
Wrapping it Up
It’s important to remember that a 6-inch hole is actually 18.85 inches in circumference, and will allow a fish a little over 18-inches around to pass through the hole. They are easier to drill and work for a lot of species. The downside is they freeze down faster.
In comparison, an 8-inch hole has a circumference of over 25-inches, making it more than big enough to pull a regulation NFL football through, length-wise. It also has the advantage of remaining larger even as it freezes down, still allowing you to land bigger fish.
The greatest variable when choosing auger size is target species. If you are fishing a lake known to produce trophy fish, it’s best to use an 8-inch or bigger hole. But with that said, most factors clearly point to 6-inch holes being better overall.