Gearing Up For Hardwater Season

by Nadine Meyer, Aquatic Education Specialist

November 2008

Instructor and student caught a yellow perchLearning how to remove a yellow perch from a hook safely.

Imagine a bright, sunny school day. The sun is reflected off of white snow and the sky is an incredible blue. A perfect clear day to enjoy teaching students outside. What?! Teaching outside in the winter! Absolutely, with the right hook and appropriate clothing, your students (and yourself) will be so busy that you don’t even notice it is close to zero. Ice fishing is a unique experience to the northern regions of the US. It is a very economical method of fishing that doesn’t require much more than good winter clothes, basic tackle, a thermos of warm beverages and a sharpened auger. Ice fishing can be a fun, safe way to introduce youth to the joys of being outdoors during our longest season while socializing with friends, as well as enjoying the satisfaction and excitement of catching one’s own food.

homemade ice fishing jiggle stickHomemade ice fishing jiggle stick.

Fishing Equipment

You don’t need to invest in high-end fishing equipment to go ice fishing. The basics include small lead-free ice fishing jigs sometimes called ice-flies or a basic hook and lead-free sinker; bobber; clip-on depth finder; bait such as wax worms, eurolarvae or minnows; fishing line and a jiggle stick to wrap the line onto. Lesson 5:4 - Making an Ice Fishing Jiggle Stick has full instructions on how to make your own ice fishing equipment and includes photos of other types of fishing rods & reels you can purchase. This lesson also includes instructions on how to use the clip-on depth-finder to set the bobber depth for fishing.

Safety Equipment

throwable PDF with a long ropeThrowable PFD with a long rope.

Being thoughtful about your safety prior to heading out on the ice will make the fishing excursion much more enjoyable for all involved. It is important to have some basic equipment on-hand for emergencies – most of which provide creature comforts during the fishing trip. Important items to have are:

  • sled, for towing fishing gear or a person off the ice, if needed
  • wool blanket if someone gets wet or chilled, nice for sitting on or covering up with while fishing
  • cell phone, to call 911 in an emergency
  • certified PFD seat-cushion with a long rope attached to it, to throw out to someone if needed, also makes a great seat on the ice
  • non-alcoholic hot beverages, to warm up someone who may being have a thermal emergency, also tastes great on the ice anytime
  • first aid kit, always a must for any excursion
  • life jacket, to provide a layer of warmth and flotation if you should happen to fall through the ice

Ice Safety

ice clawsCarry ice claws with you while ice fishing just in case you break through the ice.

MinnAqua’s Lesson 6:2 - Ice Fishing and Winter Safety provides in-depth information and activities to prepare you and your students for going out on the ice for a fun, safe fishing excursion. A short video called "Danger Thin Ice!" by the MNDNR is available online at This video provides excellent information on how to prevent ice accidents and how to do a self-rescue. Overall, always check with your local bait shops, DNR fisheries office or local sheriff water patrol about ice conditions before taking your students on the ice. MinnAqua has a policy of having 12 inches of clear ice for any fishing program. Clear ice, ice that doesn’t have bubbles or water in it, is the strongest type of ice. If the ice is cloudy or contains water pockets we err on the side of safety and cancel programs.

Support for your Ice Fishing Experience

Many communities have local sports groups and fishing experts that may be willing to support you as you introduce your students to tradition of the north country. The DNR MinnAqua Program worked with a group called Ice Team to provide a standards-based educational ice fishing program in schools. MinnAqua trains teachers on the Fishing: Get In The Habitat! curriculum and points out the lessons that highlight winter ecology and ice fishing skills.

Resources to check out: 

MN DNR Ice Fishing Webpage

MN DNR State Parks Ice Fishing Webpage

Let's Go Ice Fishing! MN DNR, Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, Chris Niskanen with illustrations by Ron Finger, Jan-Feb 2005

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