Early Ice Fishing Tips To Find The Fish & Have Success

The early ice bite is one of the best times of the year to catch lots of fish…and its often overlooked.

Fishing during the first ice bite is amazing and it’s mostly calm in terms of people because the ATV’s and snowmobiles aren’t out yet.

Once you start to get motorized traffic out on the ice, this bite will just dissolve completely. This is why it’s important to fish the ice early!

In this article, I am going to share with you 5 Early Ice Fishing Tips, that will help you locate fish and take advantage of this special (but short) time of year.

Try Tip Up Fishing

During the early season, predator fishing like pike and bass are getting bulked up for the season. Because of this tip-up fishing will be on fire.

I have had great luck early ice tip-up fishing where you are having to constantly run for flags and don’t sit down all day long! 

This is the time you also get really big and beautiful largemouth bass mixed in with your pike. I have caught MONSTER bass tip-up fishing early ice. 

Photo courtesy of ltb_fishing

For tip-up fishing, it is a good idea to mix up baits. I usually switch between using shinners and medium-sized sucker minnows between 5-7 inches in length.

I also switch between my favorite live bait and sometimes dead bait. Occasionally, a pike or bass will go for the minnow that is alive and fresh and other times they will go for the bait that’s dead and limp. 

During this time of the year, pike are usually the most aggressive and really like to swallow your bait. 

It is crucially important that you are carrying a good pair of Jaw Spreaders and a strong set of Pistol-Grip Pliers. This will allow you to get your hooks out of the fish’s mouth without too much damage (to the fish and you!).

Hole hopping

One of the best tactics when fishing early ice is moving constantly from hole to hole, aka hole hopping. During the early season fish like to move around a lot so staying mobile is key. 

It is a good idea to get out on the ice early and do all your drilling before you start to fish, drilling between 20-40 holes.

The ice is thin so whether you’re using a hand auger or a powered auger you will be able to get through the ice very quickly!

Hole hopping will most definitely increase the amount of the fish you catch and will keep the morale of fishing high.

Generally, if you don’t mark any fishing on your Vexilar and you’ve already jigged for 30 seconds to a minute and nothing swooped in for your bait, it’s time to switch holes.

Use wax worms instead of plastics!

Usually, early ice panfish are not tuned up to eating artificial bait yet and will typically just stare at it if you drop it near their face. 

Using wax worms instead of plastics is a smart idea and will more than likely increase your hook-up percentage.

Ice fishing jib tipped with wax worm

It is very important if you get a bite and don’t hook up, to check if your bait is still on your hook! 

Many times after get a bite I continue to jig and get frustrated that they are not biting, not realizing that the fish took my wax worm off minutes ago. 

Find the Weed-Edge 

Finding the weed edge is crucial for finding early Ice panfish and also pike.

During the early Ice period, most of the weeds are still alive and the panfish and pike like to hide in the weeds to ambush their prey.

For tip-up fishing, I like to run my IFish Pro 2.0 right on the edge weed line or even in the weed line for the most action. 

When I am jigging I like hole-hopping around and fishing both in the weeds and on shallower flats that the panfish usually gravitate to. 

Don’t Forget Early Ice Safety Gear

Early Ice can be both fun and also very dangerous. More people go through during the early ice season than any other part of the year. For that reason, you need to be prepared.

Always carry Ice Picks, so if you do go through you’ll be able to get yourself out! Ice picks are super cheap and can save your life so don’t leave home without them!

Another thing you need to have is a Spud Bar. Make sure you are checking the ice every couple of feet. 

If water comes up the hole or the ice gets wet when you pound the spud bar down, back off the same route you came in. 

It’s also a good idea to invest in a pair of Floating Ice Bibs. This way if you do fall through you won’t sink and using your ice picks, can claw your way out!


Overall early Ice fishing is one of the best times of the season to catch fish. It is important to keep in mind the danger that is also involved with fishing this early too.

With that being said, as long as you abide by the safety steps above and go with a buddy, you should be just fine and perfectly safe on your early ice-fishing adventure!

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