Auger: Well, to start off you need a way to get through the ice! For those starting out, you can find hand augers for as low as $40, running up to about $100. I really like Eskimo brand hand augers. For most lakes, a 6" auger will do, and you will find Eskimo hand augers in the $40-$60 range, depending on size and model. I will say that I could drill a hole with a 6" hand auger almost 3 times as fast as I could with an 8". Find a blade sharpener to save you some life on buying replacement blades. This is going to be your most expensive item to get started.
Fishing Pole: If you are really strapped for cash, just take your spin rod to the lake. The downside is you have to sit back further from the hole, and if it's not a really light action rod you may miss feeling or seeing some bites. Under the ice, fish will often bite very lightly. You can fix this by buying a few (very cheap) Styrofoam bobbers to see that bite. If you can do it, buy you an ice rod! You would be very surprised that you can find a very good rod/reel combo for $10-$15! My first ice rod was a $15 setup, and I have added a few to the collection. My favorite is one I spent a little more money on, a Shakespear "Ugly Stick" ice rod with a nicer reel, running me about $40 total. Was it necessary or more beneficial? Not really, I just really liked the look and feel. I prefer ice rods with a little more length (around 30") and a little more rigid construction. This is to handle larger fish in some of the lakes I fish. In most waters, catching anything under 6 pounds will be doable on a lighter action ice rod. There's a whole line of makes, models, and types out there for your consideration.
Ladle (Skimmer): This one might seem silly, but I can't believe I ever tried to ice fish without one. When we first started out, I remember sneaking a large, slotted cooking spoon out of grandma's kitchen to use as a scoop for the ice. Fail! I spent more time scooping with my hands than the spoon! Save yourself the trouble and but a ladle! You can find plastic ladles for under $5, and the more durable metal skimmers for just under $10. During the day, blowing snow or a refreezing hole will create ice buildup in the ice hole that your line will snag on. Keeping it clear is a must. You will also have a lot of slush to scoop out after drilling the hole.
deer hair jigs, or other jigs that look like small fish. A lot of time color will be your most important item for successful fishing, so but a variety. At most outdoor stores you can buy a variety pack of crappie jigs for under $10. It will give you a lot of options. Some people talk about powerbait success while ice fishing. I will tell you, I have never had a productive day ice fishing with powerbait. Price will vary on what you buy, but most 5-10 packs of jigs will be under $5. I tie them directly onto my line, but some people do prefer using a leader. See the "line" topic below for my opinion on lines. Other than that, a pair of pliers and a knife are about all I need for the day.
To be safe, be sure to take good footwear, or even buy you some "cleats" or in other words spikes that slip right over your boot to give you traction. These can be found for under $20. Also, buy yourself a pair of spikes. Wear these around your neck and if by the unfortunate chance that you do fall in, use the spikes to stab the ice to pull yourself up. Taking a small buoy or life jacket attached to a rope to throw to your buddy for a floatation device is also a good idea.
Bait: For trout, meal worms and wax worms are typically best. I also like to use shrimp. Yes, that's right, shrimp. Buy a few cocktail shrimp, tear small chunks off and tip the jig with shrimp. Tipping with cut bait is also very good. Perch, chub, and sucker meat can produce great fishing. Be sure to check the regulations of your lake to see what you can use. For example, it is illegal to take chub meat to a lake that has never had chubs, even if all you are doing is using cut bait. Check your regulations before tipping those jigs with cut bait. Nightcrawlers can also be productive.
Looking to become a more "serious" fisherman?
Gear: Here's the big things that bothered me as ice fishing became more of a serious thing; I hated packing all of that stuff out there, and I hated drilling holes by hand, especially when the ice was almost 2 feet thick! Here are some things to help out!
Cabela's sled ran me about $40, and can fit my power auger, 2 buckets full of tackle snacks, and poles, a cooler, fish finder, 2 chairs and if I stack it right, even my ice shelter. It's a bit more money that others it's size, but it is also a more durable construction. It's on sale now for $39.99.
Power Auger: Again, here you will find that Eskimo is my favorite brand. Eskimo has quite a selection of augers, I went with the Stingray series, running me about $300. The 22cc Viper engine has been plenty for ice up to 24" thick, and has run great for me. They also have augers up to 10" diameter, the Shark 71cc, which is hailed as "the most powerful ice auger in the world". It will run you about $540. My power auger has saved me a lot of time and energy. In fact, I went in on this investment with my grandpa and a friend, one of the best deals I have made with buddies on something like this.
Fish Finder: A fish finder was one of the best ice investments I made! In larger lakes, it can be so hard to find the fish, what depth, where they are suspended, and what size. I went with a Humminbird "Little Buddy" fish finder, running me about $130. I also bought it to use with my float tube in the summer. If you have the money, I would get the Humminbird portable fish finder. The Ice 345 will run you about $350, but the features are worth it. With an actual ice fishing finder you can see your jig in relation to the fish. I cannot with the Little Buddy.
Technique: This is for both those advanced, and for the beginner. For most lakes, when it comes to trout fishing you will find the fish in shallow water in the winter. I have caught trout in as little as 4 feet of water up to 20 feet of water, most in the 4-12 foot range. This is my trick that typically works; let it sink to the bottom and come up 2 reels, then start jigging lightly. If that's not working, I stop the jigging and just let it sit. If nothing, I reel up in 1 reel increments, jigging and stopping until I find that magic depth. Most often they are near the bottom. For the large, deep lakes where the fish are will depend on species. One of my favorite lakes for example has several species. Rainbows are found from anywhere in the lake, at any depth inside of 30' of water, and suspended in deeper water. Splake hang near the bottom from about 20-40 feet of water, and will also suspend in deeper water. Lake trout are usually found near the bottom in 90-105 feet of water, but can surprise you being suspended now and then. This is where the fish finder comes in! It can be hard to find the right depth to fish on a large lake, let alone actually finding the fish!
On a recent trip to Fish Lake, Utah things were not so easy. Our magic depth has always been 30' of water, near the weed line before the lake dives off to depths over 100 feet. We started the day by catching perch in 15 feet of water to use as bait. Moving out to deeper water, I drilled a line of holes from 25' deep to 45', as usual. We found the fish at 30', and began fishing. We were getting a few lite bites, but could not pick up anything on the usual 2.5" tube jigs we usually use.
The actual jigging technique had a lot to do with our success as well. In the past at this lake, for us, active jigging is what has paid off. The splake have always seemed to nail the jig when we were constantly jigging. Last year was a little more frustrating; it seemed better to just let the jig sit and not to move it very often. This time it took a combination. We would jig it slowly a few times, then the light bites would start to come when we would let it sit still for a minute. When they would start biting lightly, slowly giving the line a little tension to just barely move the jig would result in a stronger bite that you could time to hook. As often is the case, for my success I have to try a variety of jigging patterns to find what works for that day; from letting it sit, long slow jigging strokes, short fast movement, or a combination.
So the short story, when it comes to ice fishing, if you haven't found a fellow ice fisherman that has divulged the best jig to you, it may take some trial and error. Try different shaped jigs, different colors, and move around a bit to find what works. I have had very few poor ice fishing days, and usually the ones that start off poor, like this Fish Lake trip can be salvaged by finding what and where works.
Now get out there and enjoy, and send us a few pics of your success!
All of the gear mentioned today can be found at almost all of your local sporting goods stores in areas where there is ice to fish on. On the web, check out the deals at Cabela's and Sportsman's Warehouse. Additionally, local to Southern Utah check out Hurst Ace Hardware in Cedar City, and Jorgensen's in Richfield. You local Wal-Mart will also carry a lot of your tackle items. Be sure to take advantage of the great clearance sales this time of year!
If you are in the Fish Lake area and plan to stay, be sure to check out the Snuggle Inn in nearby loa for good rooms and cheap rates! Also be sure to top off your night with some awesome Tosconos Pizza, the pizzeria is located inside of the Snuggle Inn. Give them a cal for details, 435-836-2898. Tosconos and the Snuggle Inn are located at 55 South Main Street in Loa.
Fish Lake is a great place to recreate year-round! Check out this past post on what the Fish Lake area has to offer. This is a great weekend destination, or vacation getaway! http://www.suhuntandfish.com/2012/02/outdoor-places-fish-lake-utah.html