Ice-Fishing Tips

Brian Haydin is the President of the Great Lakes Sport Fishermen, a local organization dedicated to the enjoyment, preservation and improvement of salmon and trout fishing in the Great Lakes. He’s also the Milwaukee Chair for the Wisconsin Conservation Congress. Brian lives in Bay View with his wife and two kids (8 and 15) and enjoys spending time in the outdoors with the family where they hunt, fish, forage and play. He recently shared some tips about getting started ice-fishing at Lakeshore State Park:

The fishery: Lake Michigan doesn’t freeze over, but its harbors and lagoons can provide plenty of ice for a safe trip out from January through March (although recently the warm weather has made ice-fishing unsafe) His favorite place to ice fish is the Lakeshore State Park lagoon where one can find panfish like sunfish and perch, as well as larger, world-class game fish like brown trout and salmon! Unlike trolling for salmon on the lake, where you need a lot of specialized equipment, ice fishing in the lagoon can be productive without taking a huge bite out of the wallet.

Dressing for the weather: The wind along Lakeshore can be biting as you are more exposed to the elements. Dress warmer than you think you need to, then add another layer. While on the ice, wear waterproof boots to keep your feet dry, and wear waterproof pants as you may find yourself kneeling to grab a fish.

Safety Gear: The minimum thickness of ice to be considered safe is 4 inches, which may not sound like much, but 8 inches is enough for a light car. Even so, ice is rarely uniform as things like currents can change the thickness in spots. A spud-bar can be used to test the ice as you are walking. A pair of hand-help ice picks to hang over your jacket will greatly aid you in getting out if you have the misfortune of breaking through and slip-on cleats can help you walk on the ice confidently.

Drilling Holes:  An ice auger will make quick work of breaking through the frozen water. A power-driven auger isn’t necessary as a hand-cranked one works fine, saving money. You will need to keep the hole clear of ice once you drill it, and for that, pick up an ice scoop. 

Fishing Rods:  There are two general types of rods to get your baits and lures in the water; a jigging rod or a tip-up rod.  A jigging rod for ice fishing is really just a very short fishing rod.  You will attach a bait or a lure to the line, and pump it up and down to create some action.  A tip-up is a standalone device that you place over the hole, and after setting it, will trigger a flag to indicate that a fish has struck.

Baits and Lures: At Lakeshore, you don’t need much.  A couple of small spoons or jigging-specific baits will work well for a jigging rod.  For tip-ups, you’ll need something that does the work for you: either a minnow or a spawn sack (a small sack of trout eggs) on a hook, which then drops to roughly 1-2 feet off the bottom. For tackle, Brian recommends heading to R & R Sports Fishin’ Hole on Layton Ave in St. Francis where Roger and his wonderful crew there can help you pick out the right lures and baits.

License: A Wisconsin fishing license is required for those 16 years of age and older. A license can be purchased at  or a local authorized retailer. In addition to your standard fishing license, you will also need a Lake Michigan trout stamp if you are targeting brown trout and salmon.  In Wisconsin, each licensed angler may have up to 3 lines in the water at any given time. Be sure to review the fishing regulations at for more information such as catch limits.

Advanced Gear: While there is a world for specialized equipment, Brian recommends starting with the basics, having a great time, and enjoying the day with your fishing friends and family! For those wishing for a more in depth fishing experience, consider underwater cameras and flashers to tell you when a fish is near. There is a vast variety of supplementary equipment, some which can significantly increase your chances of a good catch . 

Photos from the Park, Jan 20th. Brian and son drilling holes, checking ice depth (then 9"), Brian's warming hut. Jeff Casey with brown trout caught further north in the lagoon.
Photos from the Park, Jan 20th. Brian and son drilling holes, checking ice depth (then 9″), Brian’s warming hut. Jeff Casey with brown trout caught further north in the lagoon.

If you are looking for a more in-depth introduction to ice fishing, the DNR is hosting free ice fishing clinic on February 11th at several local parks.  While targeted at kids, all are welcome! Brian’s club, the Great Lakes Sport Fishermen, will be hosting the clinic at Greenfield Park.  You can also visit them at the Journal Sentinel Sports Show from March 7th-10th where they’ll have both ice-fishing and trolling gear on display with experienced fishermen to answer questions.