The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Ice Fishing on a Budget

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I love ice fishing. For me, it’s a great way to extend the fishing season.  Spending more time over the winter in the great outdoors is a good thing.  If you are new to ice fishing it can be daunting thinking of everything you need to buy, but there’s no need to break the bank.                                

Is Ice Fishing Expensive?  For those who are truly dedicated to the sport of ice fishing, the equipment can add up and be expensive. Some ice fishing enthusiasts will spend up to $50,000 to have the most comfortable experience and the latest gear.   

Can we get into ice fishing on a budget?  Absolutely! 

Read on for our best tips to get started without spending a lot of money and some budget-friendly ice fishing hacks. 

What Do I Need For Beginner Ice Fishing? 

The most expensive piece of gear you will need is an auger to make a hole in the ice. A gas auger starts at $280, but if you are keen- a manual auger is going to be a fraction of the price. Fishing shelters can also be costly.

Do you have friends who enjoy ice fishing?  If one has an auger, another buddy a shelter, another one a sled….you get the point. Sharing equipment means you don´t have to buy everything all at once. You will also need a rod and reel, an ice scoop, some lures or bait, and something to sit on. Next, we will discuss the price to get you started.  

How Much Does It Cost To Start Ice Fishing? 

It is a luxury to ice fish with a shelter but it is not necessary to buy a shelter when you are just starting out with ice fishing. We will investigate shelters later in the article. The following items are the basic necessary equipment needed to begin. The associated prices were researched on a major outdoor retailer´s website. The total cost for this basic and necessary equipment is $175.

These costs can be cut even further, so read on to find out how to save.  

  • Manual Auger (for making a hole in the ice) $65 
  • Sled (to pull your gear out on the lake) $50 
  • Rod & Reel Combo $30 
  • Assorted Jigs $20 
  • Ice Skimmer $10 

Before you rush out to the local outdoor shop to buy your ice fishing equipment, firstly consider buying used. I have found some amazing deals for second-hand equipment over the years, on sites such as Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace.  In the Spring when the season is over, there will be a surprising number of bargains.  If you are keen to get out now, there will still be some good deals to find.   

Being Safe On A Budget 

There is some essential equipment that you should not skimp out on.  I never go out on the ice without a set of ice awls or spikes.  These are self-rescue items that should be worn around the neck.  If you are unfortunate enough to fall through the ice these will assist you to crawl onto the ice as they will give you the traction you need to haul your wet body out.  You can pick a setup in the range of $10-15 new.   

I also always wear non-slip ice cleats on my boots which start at around $10.  If you slip and break a hip your ice fishing season is over before it began! 

Ice Hut (Shack) vs DIY Ice Fishing 

An ice hut can be expensive, even if you buy it used.  If you are handy you might want to build your own. There are plenty of ´How To´ videos on this topic on YouTube. You also need to be able to transport it to the lake and pull it out on the ice. (Trucks, Snowmobiles, ATVs) In some States and Provinces, it is a requirement to purchase a permit to be able to leave your ice hut on the lake for the season.   

What about ice fishing pop-up shelters? These can start at around $300 and skyrocket from there.  There have been days I have fished on the lakes without shelter, but it needs to be a bright day with no wind. The benefit of a hut or shelter is you can go ice fishing whenever you want and you are not so weather dependent. The disadvantages of the Pop-Up Shelters, are they need to be set up and taken down every time you go out on the ice, and they can struggle in strong winds. The Ice Huts, to me, are the Cadillac of Ice Fishing. Always available, warm, and comfortable.  

Advantages of Ice Hut (Shack) Rentals  

If you are new to ice fishing renting a hut from a reputable outfitter is a good option. Many ice hut rentals include all the fishing equipment you need for the day or weekend as well as bait. A good outfitter will have their ice huts on holes that are producing. This is the best way to see if you really enjoy ice fishing before investing in your own equipment. 

Budget Ice Fishing Hacks 

Okay, so you already know that you love ice fishing and you want to begin buying gear. Everyone loves a bargain that actually works!  Here are our top three budget ice fishing hacks. 

Make Your Own Rod And Tip-Up 

You don’t need a fancy, expensive rod to go ice fishing!  I once fished with an Indigenous fisherman who made a handline from a painter’s stir stick.  These are free at most hardware stores.  Simply whittle out two groves, smooth them off with sandpaper, and wrap your line.  He had also made his own tip-ups and both proved extremely effective.  Note the photograph below. 

Warmest Budget Fishing Seat 

You will need a 5-gallon bucket that will carry most of your equipment.  It will double as a seat. You also need the inner foil bag from a wine box. (Get Drinking) The empty wine bag will easily fit in your pocket once it’s deflated. 

On the ice, simply open the valve and inflate the bag by blowing into it.  Set it on the bucket and have a seat.  Deflate a little and find your comfort zone.  It is very durable and I find them better than many high-end cushions for sale in outdoor shops.  It will also cut down on mass as it is extremely packable. 

Budget Equipment 

We have discussed some of the more expensive gear needed for ice fishing but what about the smaller items we will need? The hole in the ice we have made is going to need to be kept open.  Rather than buy a specialty item raid your mom´s kitchen drawers for a large perforated spoon or ladle.  Both will work well. 

If you fish in the summer then you already have split shot, fishing lines, and hooks.  Use these. You don’t need to buy ice fishing specialty items to get started.  Check the lures that you have- some will be suitable for ice fishing. 

Budget Ice Fishing Pays Off 

Being frugal doesn’t mean you won’t catch fish. On the contrary, I have seen some of the best setups with all the latest gear get skunked. Meanwhile, an old-timer with a handmade jigging stick is sitting over an open hole filling his bag limit! 

Final Thoughts 

Buy used gear, make what you can, and use equipment that you already have.  The important thing is to get out there and start fishing.  I have not mentioned clothing, but this is another area I would not skimp out on. Quality clothing will keep you dry and warm and comfortable for your day on the ice.  Happy Fishing. 

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