Ice Season Preparation: An Ice Angler’s Checklist

Taking the time to prep and organize your ice fishing gear well in advance of the season will help you to be a more effective angler on the ice.

Fall is here. While your attention may be fixed on football, hunting, or late season open water fishing, now is the time to start preparing for your ice fishing season. Get your ice fishing gear out, dust off the cobwebs, and make sure everything is in working order. Being prepared and organized well in advance of the season will only make your time more enjoyable and ultimately, make you a more effective angler.

Organization and preparation are critical elements to success on the ice. Without them you may be stuck repairing or replacing rather than actually fishing. Most of us are limited to specific windows for fishing, so make sure you can capitalize on those periods by having your gear ready and in working order. Winter conditions are hard on gear, so doing your due diligence is important.

This year, being prepared is arguably more important than ever. With continued issues related to supply disruption, as well as an increase in anglers, it’s vital to make sure you get your equipment promptly. If you want something specific, and see it on a shelf, you better buy it – there’s no telling if it’ll be there the next time you stop by. On a somewhat positive note, you may have a chance to get some products sooner than expected. With open water product supplies dwindling, many retailers are making the switch to ice.

Hopefully you took the time to properly store and summer-ize your gear after last winter because it’ll make the transition to this season much easier. If not, you still have time to go through the motions and verify everything is operational.

The extensive list below can help you start your season out on a positive note, by knowing you are ready to fish whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Ice Rods, Reels, &  Fishing Line

  • Inspect your rods for any defects – check the guides, reel seats, and blank itself.
  • Make sure reels are in working order and greased/oiled properly.
  • If you have any rods or reels in dire need of repair or replacement, reach out to the manufacturer well in advance of ice season.
  • Remove last year’s line (if you haven’t already done so) and review what line you may have in stock at home. Spool up reels with fresh line.
  • Make a list of rods, reels, and line you plan to add before the season starts.
Inspecting rods and reels and spooling with fresh line every season can ensure you are ready for fishing.


  • Examine your tackle for any defects – chipped paint, bent hooks, etc.
  • Take inventory of what you have – as ice fishermen, we often like to have more than one or two of those specific fish catchers.
  • Replace any hooks that don’t meet the mark. It’s a good idea to keep extra hooks on hand throughout the season as well.
  • Organize your tackle by type. Due to the nature of ice fishing, you are often limited on what you can bring. Sort your tackle based on type and species, so you can be sure you’ll have what you need and when you need it. Label the boxes for quick access.
  • Make a list of any jigs, spoons, plastics, etc. that you need to add to your arsenal for the upcoming season.
Organizing your tackle by type and species will help you make sure you have what you need when you need it. Labeling the boxes will allow for quick access.

Fish Houses, Ice Shelters, & Shanties

  • Inspect your ice house well in advance of the ice season, including the skin, poles, and sled. Check for any rips or tears, cracks, or loose bolts. Ensure the poles are in working order.
  • Hopefully, you stored it properly at the end of last season, but if you’re not so lucky and you find some issues, get in touch with the manufacturer as soon as possible. Limited inventories or delayed shipments will likely be the theme again this season so make sure you’re prepared.
  • Test your lighting sources to make sure they are still functional.
  • Make a list of any new accessories and plan to purchase them when you can find them.
Properly storing your gear and inspecting it prior to the season will ensure you have your fish house when you need it.

Ice Augers & Chisels

  • Confirm that your auger, or augers, are in working order. Start them, then start them again.
  • Inspect the blades and auger bit to make sure they’re sharp. It’s not a bad idea to make sure you have an extra set. Think back to last season and how your blades cut then – if they weren’t optimal, invest in a new set to cut the hole in the ice faster.
  • Regardless of your powered auger type, hopefully you took the proper maintenance precautions during the offseason (i.e. charging batteries, draining fluids, etc.).
  • If you run a gas auger, make sure you have fresh fuel (ideally, high octane premium fuel). If you run an electric auger, make sure your batteries are properly charged.
  • At first ice, you should rely on an ice chisel or spud bar to test the ice. Ensure it’s functional and sharp before heading out. Remember to bring your ice picks.
Preventative maintenance and inspection of your equipment will ensure its operational.

Ice Fishing Electronics

  • Confirm that your batteries are charged up before hitting the ice for the first time. Here is a video on how to test the voltage of your battery. Replace any batteries that may have failed.
  • If you’re still using lead acid batteries, now may be the time to invest in a lithium option. While they’re a little more expensive, they’re more reliable, significantly lighter and will last for many seasons. If you want to know more about the advantages of Lithium power in general, check out this article.     
  • Review your overall unit (flasher or camera). Validate that the screen, knobs, transducer, and cables are in working order before hitting the ice. Bring your MarCum to the lake before it freezes to make sure everything is operational. You can also test your sonar at home, watch the video to learn how.
Charging your batteries in the offseason and examining your equipment in the Fall will make sure its usable at first ice.


  • Start your heater at home. Then start it again. You don’t want to be stuck without heat when you need it.
  • Make sure you are stocked up on fuel, whether it’s one pound cylinders or twenty pound cylinders. One pound cylinders were a hot commodity last season.
  • You may want to invest in a reusable option that can be filled at home.


  • Inspect your winter apparel to ensure there are no rips or tears, including jacket, bibs, boots, hats and gloves.
  • Wash and clean gear as needed.
  • If you’re planning to buy any replacement gear, buy it early.
  • Check out the latest apparel from MarCum.


  • Perform the proper maintenance prior to ice season, whether you do it yourself or bring it in for service. If you rely on the latter, get it done early to ensure your machine is ready in time.
  • Examine your ATV or snowmobile for any issues.
  • Think back to last year – what accessories or add-ons do you wish you had then? Take them into consideration and purchase early.
Testing your ATVs and snowmobile, along with scheduled maintenance, will ensure they are ready for use early in the season.

The Extras

  • Other items to examine before the season include: fishing license, ice scoops, ice cleats, tip ups and minnow buckets.

By taking the time to ensure your equipment is in tip top shape, you can prevent a lot of unexpected issues and make sure you are fully able to enjoy your time on the ice and catch fish.  A little preventative maintenance goes a long way. Set aside some time to inspect your gear – and do so well in advance of ice season.

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