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How to Hook a Live Minnow for Ice Fishing?

How to Hook a Live Minnow for Ice Fishing?

You’re heading out to the ice for a day of ice fishing, and you’re planning to use live minnows this time. Live bait is preferred by many anglers because it is often the most successful at bringing in the fish.

But how do you hook a live minnow for ice fishing? And how do you keep your minnows alive for the longest amount of time?

Keep reading as we dive into the answers!

What is the Best Way to Hook a Live Minnow for Ice Fishing?

the best way to hook a live minnow

Before getting started with your ice fishing adventure, it’s important to choose the right size minnows for your fish and the right size hook for your minnows.

You don’t want to put a giant minnow on a tiny hook, as the minnow might tear free. But you also don’t want a tiny minnow on a large hook, or the fish you’re trying to catch may see the hook and ignore the minnow.

Once you’ve selected the right size hooks and minnows, you’re ready to get started with hooking your minnows.

As you might imagine, there are different ways to hook a minnow, and the option you choose will depend on your personal preference and the types of fish you’re trying to catch. Not every hooking method is for every type of fish, as Fishing Duo explains.

to experience different techniques

You may have to experiment with different techniques to see which works best for you and which is best in different situations.

Let’s look at the different hooking methods and discuss which ones usually work best for ice fishing.

  • Dorsal hook: The dorsal hook is the most common method used to hook minnows for ice fishing. It is an easy method that involves slipping the hook just beneath the skin on the minnow’s back, beneath the dorsal fin.
    This hooking method keeps the minnow alive and allows it to swim naturally while attached to the hook. You’ll want to be careful not to insert the hook too deeply. Angle the tip of the hook toward the front, as most fish will go for the minnow’s head first.
  • Tail hook: This hooking method is less commonly used, but it is a good option for ice fishing, particularly for stationary presentations. To tail hook a minnow, slip the hook through the flesh at the base of the minnow’s tail.
    Minnows hooked through the tail may swim in a more downward pattern, but any time a larger fish approaches, it will attempt to swim up and away to escape the fish. This movement will provoke a predatory response in the fish, prompting it to bite.
  • Lip hook: This hooking method is best for when the fish are biting aggressively, so it may not be the best choice for ice fishing. Still, it’s worth giving it a try if you want to experiment with all the different hooking methods.
    You’ll slip the hook through the top and bottom lip of the minnow, or alternatively, slip it through only the top lip. Again, be careful not to insert the hook too deep, or you may puncture the minnow’s internal organs and kill it.
    The minnow may not move around as much with this hooking method, so be prepared to do some light jigging.

To get a great visual of each hooking technique discussed above, check out this helpful video:

Ice-Fishing Minnow Hooking Tips

How to Hook a Minnow Without Killing It?

to hook a minnow without killing it

Obviously, there’s no point in using live minnows if you kill them as soon as you hook them. To keep your minnows alive and use them as live bait, you have to be very careful where your hook goes. It’s best to slip it just under the top layer of skin, and this may take some practice.

For example, when using the tail hook method, you may accidentally put the hook too close to the tail, allowing the minnow to break free and swim away. But if instead you place the hook too far up in the flesh, you may puncture internal organs and kill the minnow.

The same is true with dorsal hooking your minnows. Place the hook too close to the fin, and the minnow may tear free; but place it too low beneath the fin, you may puncture the spine or even the heart, and possibly other internal organs.

If you’re new to hooking live minnows, be careful and practice often. You may not get the hang of it at first, but you will eventually start to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

Also, you’ll want to be aware of how long it takes you to hook your minnows. Take the minnow straight from a water source, such as a bait bucket, hook it, and cast your line as soon as possible so the minnow can return to the water.

If you keep your minnow out of the water for more than a few minutes, it will die.

If you can’t get it properly hooked within a few minutes, return the minnow to the bait bucket and try hooking a new one.

Also, you’ll want to limit how much you’re poking the minnow with the hook. If you have to keep inserting and removing the hook because you can’t get it in the right place, you may injure or even kill the minnow.

Again, mastering the hooking techniques may take practice, and you may kill several minnows before you start to get the hang of it. Don’t get discouraged, and keep trying.

How Do You Keep Minnows Alive When Ice Fishing?

live minnows in a yellow bucket

  • Keep them in a bait bucket: As mentioned above, your minnows will die if they are out of the water for more than a few minutes. They will die more quickly the lower the air temperature is.
    Keep your spare minnows in a pail of water or a bait bucket  when you’re not using them. This will help to keep them alive throughout an entire day of ice fishing–just make sure the water in the bucket stays cool but doesn’t freeze.
  • Don’t overfeed them: If you buy your minnows in advance or raise them yourself, you will have to feed them to keep them alive. But feeding them too much will make them sluggish so they won’t be able to move around in the water as much.
    Sluggish minnows in cold water will die sooner than more active minnows. You should never feed them right before going fishing, and make sure you don’t overfeed them at all.
  • Use freshwater minnows: If you’re ice fishing, chances are, you’re on a pond or a lake–in other words, a body of freshwater. If you use saltwater minnows as bait for freshwater fishing, your minnows will die much more quickly.
    Always use freshwater minnows for freshwater fishing and saltwater minnows for saltwater fishing.
  • Remove any dead minnows: If you notice that any minnows in your bucket have died, remove them immediately. The longer dead minnows are allowed to sit in the water, the more they will pollute the water, possibly passing disease or rot to the live minnows.
    Removing any dead minnows will help keep the water fresh and allow the live minnows to stay alive for longer.
  • Keep them cold: You want to keep your bucket of minnows cold, but you don’t want the water to freeze. Colder water will keep the minnows fresh and fully oxygenated.
    To keep the bucket cold, pack balls of snow or slush around the outside of the bucket, and don’t place it too close to any stoves or other sources of heat in your ice fishing shelter.


There are different ways you can hook a minnow for ice fishing. The dorsal hook is one of the most popular methods, but you can also hook your minnows through the lip or through the tail. It may take some practice to perfect each technique.