When you’re out on the ice all day, one of the most frustrating things is trying to bounce your line or pull up a fish and finding that your ice fishing hole has frozen solid. If you’re fishing in the far North where temperatures drop well below zero, crunching through a constantly-freezing hole can be an aggravating game.
Worse than that, it can actually cause you to miss fish because your tip-ups malfunction or you don’t feel a bite because the ice is keeping tension on your fishing line. There’s nothing worse than losing a big fish because of a gear malfunction like this!
Luckily, there are a lot of options for fishermen looking to win the battle against the frosty temperatures and keep their holes free of ice and full of fish.
Here are the top 8 ideas for you to try next time you’re out on the ice:
1/ Ice Skimmer
This is the tried and true classic, as well as the simplest solution. You should always have a skimmer with you to scoop ice chips out of freshly drilled holes, but they also work great for scooping out new ice as your holes freeze over.
When it’s really cold and you have to bust through a whole layer of ice, you will be happy to have a metal scoop because it’s stronger than a plastic one. On the other hand, plastic skimmers are lightweight and brightly colored so you can’t lose them as easily.
Make sure you tie a wrist strap to your skimmer so you don’t drop it in the hole!
A skimmer is usually the only tool you need if you are actively fishing 1 or 2 holes. If you have tip-ups or you’re hopping from hole to hole, you might need to use one of the next methods below.
2/ Insulating Hole Covers
Did you know that the water in a frozen lake is usually warmer than the air outside? That means that it’s not the cold water that causes an ice fishing hole to freeze up, but the cold air. If you can insulate the hole from the air, it won’t freeze.
You can buy what’s called a “thermal cover” for your ice fishing holes. It’s simply a piece of thick foam that keeps the cold outside air away from the lake water in your fishing hole. They have a hole in the middle and a slit so you can seat them around your tip-up line while it’s in the water.
This insulation will keep holes from icing over for hours, even on extremely cold days. You can buy as many as you need, depending on how many tip ups you want to run. You can even try bouncing your bait on a rod through the hole in a thermal cover.
When you hook a fish, it’s easy to pull the cover off your line using the slit in the material.
You can pick up thermal hole covers for just a few dollars, but you can also make your own out of a foam camping pad. Just cut out some pieces that are a few inches larger than your auger’s blade diameter.
3/ Ice Fishing Shelters
Another way to insulate your ice fishing holes from the outside air is by using a shelter. There are a variety of pop-up tents available for ice fishermen. They range in size, with different models allowing anywhere from one to three or more people inside.
These shelters are great because they will trap your body heat inside and the ambient temperature will become warm enough to protect your fishing hole from freezing so fast. They also absorb sunlight and, most importantly, block the frigid wind chill.
The more people you have in your shelter, the more body heat will be available to warm up the air and keep the fishing holes thawed out.
You can even use a small heater inside your shelter if you have one. Just be careful not to melt your tent!
4/ Boiling Water
This is a simple trick that makes a lot of sense. This is good if you’re already running a heater but still need some extra help keeping your fishing holes open. Maybe you have a heater in the shelter but you still need to keep some tip-ups outside the shelter from freezing over.
This is where the boiling water comes in: on your heater, just heat up a small pot of water until it’s boiling hot. You can simply use some lake water from the hole so you don’t need to waste clean drinking water.
Splash a cup or two of the boiling water directly into your fishing hole every 20 minutes or so. The warmer water will stay close to the surface of the hole and keep it warm enough to prevent ice from forming.
5/ Oil or Cooking Spray
One method you can try is adding a little oil to the water’s surface. The oil should sit on top of the water and prevent it from freezing up.
Be careful with this method to not harm the lake’s biology. It’s recommended that you use fish oil, but you can also use an all-natural vegetable oil or cooking spray .
Even with natural oils, go easy as you can make a mess of your lines and gear this way (the oil will absolutely stick to your line and could get into your reel).
If you’re out on the ice all day and do some kind of frying on your stove, you could repurpose your used cooking oil. Just don’t overdo it.
Never dump motor oil or other chemical oils into a body of water. Use only natural fish or food oils.
6/ Can of Coals
This is an ingenious method for keeping your ice fishing hole unfrozen, but it requires a little more work than other methods.
Bring with you some charcoal briquettes and a large metal coffee can with the labels removed. First drill your fishing hole, then about 8-12 inches away drill a second hole. Don’t go all the way through the ice on the second hole. Make it deep enough to hold the coffee can, but not deeper than the rim of the can.
Connect the two holes by carving out a 3-inch channel in the ice with an ax or a chipper bar. This will allow water to flow between the holes.
Drop the can in the shallower hole. Put some rocks in the bottom of the can to weigh it down, and then put a layer of charcoal briquettes on top and light them up. If you already had a fire going, it will speed up the process.
The hot coals will heat up the water and melt slush around them, and the hot water will flow into your fishing hole to keep it from freezing all day.
As an added bonus, this method makes a great hand warmer!
7/ Ripple Puck
This is one of the best products for solving the frozen fishing hole dilemma. Moving water is generally slower to freeze than stagnant water, so this small device keeps the water moving.
A Ripple Puck has two main advantages: it works in very cold temperatures, and it’s lightweight. If you are already carrying too much gear, this is a one-piece solution that doesn’t require a stove or other bulky tools.
However, you will need to buy one for each hole, which could get costly if you fish a lot of holes at once. It is also not effective on holes larger than about 8 inches.
Since it has electronic parts, be careful to dry it off and store it safely when you’re done fishing.
8/ Ice Defense Pro
If you’re dead serious about stopping ice-up while you’re fishing, and you already have some ice fishing tech with you, this is the product for you.
Cold Nation designed the Ice Defense Pro system to draw power from an ice fishing sonar or camera unit.
Simply hang the plastic node in the water at surface depth and it will create a constant flow of water to keep the surface water from standing still and freezing over.
It draws only a minimal amount of power from your sonar’s battery, so it won’t cut your fishing times down. You can control the rate of flow, meaning it won’t have to work as hard on warmer days, saving even more battery power.
This list showed you 8 of the best ways to keep your ice fishing holes thawed out and ready for catching. There is a method on here for every budget and level of dedication.
It’s up to you how much work you want to do to keep your fishing hole from freezing. You can also decide whether you want advanced ice fishing technology or more conventional methods.
So pick one or two of these tips you haven’t tried before, gather the materials you need, and get out on the lake and make some memories!