In a large chunk of the ice belt, the leaves are falling off the trees, frost is on the vehicles in the morning, and we are getting our first snow dusting of the season. These changes not only signal fall is coming to an end, and winter is around the corner, but for the ice fisherman, it signals that early ice is just around the corner! Are you ready for early ice? Here is a checklist of my preparation for that first adventure onto early ice. 

Reorganize Fishing Gear for Ice Fishing

With the changing of the seasons, it is time to take those short rods out of storage and put the long rods away. For me, many of my favorite ice rods will still have a reel on them from when I packed them away in the spring. I do not use my ICX 5 or ICX Frost reels on my open water rods as those reels are designed specifically for ice fishing, so they stay on ice rods year-round. My Carbon X, Carbon X II, and Viper X reels, however, make a seasonal migration from open-water rods to ice rods. Those reels offer premier performance on my rods all year long!

ice fishing reel and rod combo

With the change of the season, it is a great time to check the line on all of your reels and replace any line that is old and worn out. I have a great tip to extend the life of your braid as well! The majority of the braid on your spool never sees the light of day and is as fresh as the first day you opened the package. What I like to do is take a reel that has no line on it, add my mono backing, and tie that backing directly to the braid that needs replacing on your full reel. You will end up reeling all the braid that has had use into the very bottom of your new spool. All of the braid that hasn't seen water yet will be reeled up to the top of the new spool. You now have a brand-new braid and have doubled the lifespan of your line! 

Prepare Other Ice-Fishing Gear

While you are taking out all of your ice fishing rods, I always like to pull out my other equipment and make sure everything is in great working order. I like to take a look at my auger and make sure that the blades are still sharp and do not need to be replaced. I check the batteries on my auger and ice electronics and make sure they are fully charged so I am ready to go as soon as there is fishable ice. I look at my heater, clean out its ports, and make sure that it still fires right up. I set my house up and air it out after its summer slumber. I make sure everything is still in great shape, and all the zippers still operate smoothly. I check the bottom of my sled and make sure it does not have any cracks. I personally run a Smitty Sled, so I like to give the skis a fresh coat of wax to start the season. I will also take an inventory of my ice tackle and note what items I need to stock up on to be ready for the season. 

Preseason Shopping for Some New Ice Fishing Gear

Now that we know what our gear situation looks like, it is time to have some fun and do the preseason shopping! All the companies are dropping brand-new gear for the season. I like to window shop on all the websites and make my wish list of items I want to add to my arsenal for the season! There are a few items I am particularly excited about this year! The one I am most excited about is the brand-new ice fishing house from Piscifun! This house has so many great features that will make your day on the ice more comfortable. Some of the features that stand out are the full-sized door, high quality and large storage bag, ample storage, insulated fabric, and large footprint. This will be truly a comfortable house to fish out of! 

the man goes ice fishing with all gear brought online

Safety Tips for Ice Fishing

The last section I am going to talk about for my preseason gear checklist is absolutely the most important section. This is the safety equipment involved with a trip onto early ice. Early ice is an exciting time and offers some of the best fishing of the year, but we need to make sure we take the proper precautions when venturing out. 

The first safety item to consider is your fishing buddy. When venturing out on early ice, it is wise not to go alone. Go in daylight and go with a buddy so you have someone to assist you if you get into a pinch. If you do not already own one, a float suit is an amazing and lifesaving investment. Every ice fishing suit company, including Piscifun, offers a floating suit, and it should be something that every ice fisherman owns. To go along with the floating suit, everyone should carry a pair of ice picks. There are many different styles, some of which you can wear like a necklace so they stay out of the way until you need them. The picks will help you crawl out and grip the ice in case you fall in. 

Many times, on early ice, there is little to no snow cover, so that it can be very slick. If you do not have a pair of boots that have built-in ice cleats, such as the Norfin Klondike, then you should make sure you have a pair of cleats you can attach to your boots to make sure you have proper traction and do not have a fall on the slick ice. As you venture on the ice, you need to make sure you are checking each and every step. Having a spud bar is a crucial item to have. You are able to hit the ice and know exactly how much ice there is. If it takes multiple hard strikes to break through, then you can proceed with your step. If you break through on the first swing, retrace your steps back and safely retreat. It is also a great idea to have your buddy have a throwable with a rope attached. That way, if you happen to go through, they can toss you the throwable to help you get back to safety. 

Finally, this may be the most overlooked item of all: in your truck, have a change of clothes and towels. Nobody wants to go through the ice, but let's face it, it happens. If you do happen to go through, we want to act swiftly to avoid hypothermia. If you do not have a change of clothes with you, that will be a cold and dangerous drive back home. 

In Conclusion

Early ice is one of the most exciting times of the year. Ice fishermen are getting that itch and cannot wait to venture out on the ice for the first trip of the season. Before you go, make sure you are ready to go and your gear is in order and great working condition. Putting in the prep work before the season gives you peace of mind and allows you to be ready for when that first day finally arrives. I hope everyone has an amazing and safe ice fishing season. Tight lines! 

an ice fisherman enjoys ice fishing in the tent


Cole Karsky

Cole Karsky

Cole Karsky is an avid outdoorsman who chronicles his adventures on the water and in the field on his YouTube channel, Beef Outdoors.


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November 20, 2023 — Cole Karsky

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