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How Does a Jigger Work for Ice Fishing?

How Does a Jigger Work for Ice Fishing?

I grew up fishing in Wyoming, where ice fishing is more of a sport than a way of life. I don’t know anybody who depends on their catch to feed their family – most people just do it for fun.

So when I saw native Alaskans on TV catching large numbers of fish during the winter with a long gill net under the ice, I was fascinated!

I didn’t know it was possible to catch pike, salmon, and lake trout without having to sit and watch your bait. But then I had a question: how the heck do you get a net under the ice?

It wasn’t long before I learned about the jigger, a simple yet ingenious invention for hanging a net underneath the ice. When you get good with a jigger, you can make this device glide smoothly between two small holes in the ice, threading a rope perfectly in just a few minutes. Jiggers use gravity and a simple rope to move forward under the ice.

Keep reading to find out what a jigger is and how it works so well. I even recommend some resources you can use to make one yourself.

How Do They Put Nets Under The Ice?

to put net under ice

Gill nets are a common way of ice fishing, especially in communities that rely on catching fish for a large part of their diet. A net can catch fish without supervision and has the potential to catch quite a number of fish. But how do they get them under the ice, anyway?

Most net fishermen use a device called a jigger to run a rope between two holes in the ice, then use that rope to pull the net under the water.

A jigger is usually made of wood so that it floats underneath the ice. It has a steel spike that digs into the underside of the ice so that, by pulling on a rope on the surface, the jigger pushes itself along a straight course away from the person pulling on the rope.

When the jigger has traveled far enough, you can cut a new hole in the ice, pull the jigger out, and you now have a rope running underneath the surface between two holes. All that’s left to do is pull the gill net through and secure it on both ends.

How Does an Ice Jigger Work?

How ice jiggers work

An ice jigger is made out of wood so that it floats underneath the ice.

The jigger has a slot in the middle with some moving parts: a metal arm that is attached with a hinge on one end so that it swings down with gravity, and a shorter, wooden arm that is hinged to the midpoint of the metal arm and floats upward.

The wooden arm has a metal spike on the end that digs into the underside of the lake ice when the arm floats upward.

A rope ties onto the free end of the sinking metal arm and runs through an eyelet at the back end of the jigger. When you pull on the rope, it raises the metal arm, which applies pressure to the wooden arm and propels the jigger forward under the ice.

When you give the rope some slack, the metal arm will drop again, allowing the wooden arm to “walk” its spike forward to a new location under the ice. Pulling the rope again will repeat the process and again propel the jigger forward a few feet.

When you have sent the jigger far enough, you must locate it underneath the ice so you can cut a hole in front of it and pull the jigger up through the hole. Once you do this, you can detach the rope from the jigger and use the rope to pull a net under the ice.

How Do You Find The Jigger Under The Ice?

It’s not easy to cut or drill holes in the ice, even if you have a powerful auger. So it’s important that you know where the jigger ends up so you only have to drill one hole to pull it out. Since the ice often has snow on top, it can be really easy to lose your jigger.

to find jigger under the ice

There are a few techniques you can use to keep track of the jigger:

First, if you pull hard on the rope as you propel the jigger, the metal arm will slap against the board and make a noise. You might need another person to listen for this noise and follow the jigger as it gets further away from the person pulling the rope.

If that doesn’t work, you can attach a small waterproof tracker like the one in the video below. It will make noises that you can hear on top of the ice.

setting a gill net under the ice

A similar method uses light: just find a powerful, waterproof flashlight and attach it firmly to the jigger so it shines straight out from the end of the jigger. If you clear away a little snow, you should be able to see the light under the water.

How Do You Make An Ice Jigger?

You can make an ice jigger yourself using a 2-by-8 board that is about 5 feet long. An old, recycled board will work just fine if you have one. The arms can also be made from scrap wood, but you may want to buy a piece of steel if you don’t have one.

The tools you need are a saw (preferably a circular saw ) and a drill with a long bit  so you can create hinges for the arms of the jigger. You might also need a hardened bit that can drill through your metal arm.

SKIL 15 Amp 7-1/4 Inch Circular Saw

Check out the following video on how to make a traditional ice jigger out of a recycled board. The nice thing is that you can adapt it to the materials you have on hand as long as you implement the mechanical principles that propel the jigger forward.


So there you have it: if you’ve ever wondered how people can fish under the ice with a gill net, now you know! The jigger is one of the coolest little devices that fishermen have invented to aid in the hunt for fish.

A jigger is simple enough to build yourself out of recycled materials, yet it is reliable enough to push itself a great distance below the ice with just a few pulls of a rope. Without jiggers, threading rope between a hole would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.

A jigger is an essential tool for cold-climate peoples who rely on fish for a large part of their diet. Not only does a gill net allow them to catch multiple fish, but they can also do it passively while they accomplish other tasks or stay warm inside. With net fishing, you only need to check the net periodically.