Your ice fishing hole is vital to your success and safety on the water. When it comes to ice fishing, anglers are most worried about a few things: a heat source, shelter, fishing gear, and where the fish are located. What gets left out of consideration is the ice hole itself.
Ice fishing holes are as deep as the ice is thick. The ice can be anywhere from one centimeter to several feet deep, depending on the time of year. As the winter progresses and temperatures get colder, the ice will become thicker and thicker. Air temperature heavily determines the overall depth.
The depth of the ice will give you a good idea of how cold it has been and, in return, show the activity of the fish. It will also determine how safe it is to be on the water at the moment.
Depending on where you’re fishing, you’ll notice that ice starts forming on lakes as soon as late October and early November.
In other areas, you may get a cold snap for a few months around January, and ice will begin forming on the bodies of water.
It entirely depends on where you’re located geographically, as well as the temperature! The thickest ice on earth is around 70 feet deep!
However, many lakes can freeze over with just a few inches of ice throughout the winter. The depth of the ice doesn’t necessarily determine how productive the fishing will be.
That’s more dependent on the air temperature.
How Lakes and Rivers Freeze?
As the air temperatures drop throughout the fall, so do the water temperatures. The air temperatures most impact the upper parts of the water.
The upper few inches of water become heavier and denser and eventually sinks towards the bottom. This continual mixing brings some more warm water to the surface.
This process repeats itself until the water reaches around 39 degrees Fahrenheit. At 39 degrees, water is the densest it can be!
As it dips below 39 degrees, the water molecules spread, and this cold water becomes less dense and mixes in more with the warmer water below.
As the surface water reaches 32 degrees, the ice begins to form. Lakes and rivers that are more shallow will freeze faster than deep bodies of water because it doesn’t need as much time to freeze.
As temperatures get even colder, the ice will grow thicker and thicker due to the water below the ice getting colder.
The most important thing to know about ice fishing holes is that certain depths of ice are safer than others. You’ll be in good shape if you use common sense and pay attention to the statistics listed below.
If you’re curious about the depth, start by walking on it and bring a stick with you. Pound on the ice, and if you start breaking through, you know it’s far too thin.
If you aren’t breaking through but still aren’t sure, bring your auger and drill a quick hole. You can stick your hand through the hole and measure the depth with your hand.
If the ice is at least three inches, you’re safe to walk on it. Anything less than three inches can be highly unsafe.
The ice is still shifting, and there are plenty of weak points on the ice that can lead to you falling into the water.
If the ice is four inches, you can walk along it with several other people. It has become more solid and won’t move as much.
Ice that’s over five inches is suitable for snowmobiles and ATVs. Ice that’s over 7 inches thick is fine for small cars and light trucks.
Once the ice surpasses 10 inches, you’ll be okay driving most of your heavy trucks and ice houses onto the surface. At 10 inches, it’s not going to give way!
How to Drill Through the Ice?
To safely drill through the ice, you need a tool called an auger. There are a few different types of augers available for anglers to use.
It’s also important to remember that you can purchase augers with different widths. Generally, you’ll find augers between 4 inches and 10 inches wide, depending on how wide you want the hole.
A hand auger is more old-fashioned. These augers have a hand jacking system that allows you to stick the sharp point into the ice and spin the auger to drill into the ice.
Hand augers can be exhausting to use and limit how many holes you can drill during the day. Only use a hand auger if you’re in a few inches of ice and don’t need to drill more than two or three holes.
If you need more than this, it’s best to get a powered auger.
Drill augers are more compact and easy to transport. They allow you to attach your cordless drill to them and create some holes. Drill augers can be pretty effective but aren’t overly powerful!
Generally, ice less than 12 inches thick is perfect for a drill auger. The battery power of your drill limits you, so keep that in mind. Bring an extra battery or two if possible.
Gas augers are the most powerful auger option. These have a small engine mounted on them and run off regular unleaded gasoline.
Generally, they’re a 3 to 5-horsepower engine, which is plenty of power to get through however deep of ice you’re fishing. Most anglers in cold weather areas like to use gas augers.
I am a big fan of gas augers. They’re very reliable, and as long as you have gas, they’ll work. Some routine maintenance at the end of the year is the only thing you have to do to keep that engine running.
Bleeding fuel lines and cleaning the carburetor can keep it running for years. Again, you can choose a different size blade depending on how wide you want your holes to be.
Electric augers are the newest development in the world of augers. These are powered by lithium 24-volt batteries.
They’re powerful and extremely quiet, so they’re a great choice if you aren’t a fan of relying on an engine. The biggest thing to remember is to keep your batteries charged before you hit the water.
Since charging takes quite a bit longer than filling with gas, you could be sitting around while you wait for your auger to get enough juice to drill a hole.
They’re generally more expensive than gas augers and require less maintenance. Also, like all other augers, you can choose different size blades to fit your needs.
Ice depth and thickness are extremely important to pay close attention to when you’re getting ready to fish.
Too many anglers face life-threatening situations each year due to poor planning and a lack of willingness to check the conditions before fishing.
Holes are always going to be as deep as the ice is thick. One drill through the ice will tell you precisely what you need to know.
Stick your hand into the water and feel on the hole’s edge. Some anglers even bring tape measures so that they can keep a perfectly accurate measurement!
Whatever you choose to do, make sure safety is the priority.