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man ice fishing at punderson state park in ohio during winter

Experience Ice Fishing in Ohio

There's something fishy happening this winter.

Punderson Lake at Punderson State Park in Newbury

Experience Ice Fishing in Ohio

By Anietra Hamper

Posted On: Dec 23, 2022

I have always wanted to try ice fishing, but the fear of walking onto unknown depths of ice and my dislike of cold weather kept me from taking the plunge.

So, I teamed up with and Outdoor Skills Specialist from the Ohio Division of Wildlife and an ODNR Fisheries Biologist to give it a shot. I discovered that with proper attire, safety preparations, and experienced mentors, ice fishing is a truly an enjoyable winter activity.

As we trekked out onto the ice at Portage Lakes State Park in Akron, there were a number of fishermen who had already been there for hours. And even though I was outfitted with an inflatable life jacket, and ice picks to wear around my neck (used in case of falling through the ice), those first steps onto the frozen lake were unnerving.

As we set up base, one of my guides used an auger to drill several holes in the ice while the other guide measured our depth. With six inches of ice beneath us, we were comfortable to begin baiting hooks with maggots, wax worms, and minnows.

Trying to juggle my tiny bait with giant gloves, the long line on the tiny pole, wiggly fish, my drippy nose, while making sure I was stable on the ice was ... a lot! However, over time, managing these things became easier.

We used sonar to help navigate the depth of the fish. It was indeed a great day to be on the ice. I landed nine crappies, which I threw back, but there were fishermen nearby pulling in piles of crappies, bluegill, and walleye that they'll take home to eat. The state has specific regulations on the size of fish you can keep so it's important to know that ahead of time.

woman kneeling on frozen lake erie in ohio during winter inside ice fishing shanty
Ice fishing shanty on Lake Erie 

Here's a beginner's checklist, if you want to try ice fishing yourself on one of Ohio's great waterways:

  • Clothing – it's important to be warm and comfortable. Layering on both top and bottom is essential.
  • Safety – there's no such thing as "safe" ice. Knowing how thick the ice is, using the buddy system and having safety devices on-hand (life jacket, throw bag, ice picks) will decrease your chances of something bad happening.
  • Equipment – you MUST have a valid Ohio fishing license to go onto state waterways. And get outfitted with basic ice fishing gear (auger, rod, hooks, bait, ice scooper, and bucket). As you get more experienced, you may opt for a shanty or sonar device to add to your tools.  

woman holding perch fish caught while ice fishing on frozen lake in ohio during winter
Perch caught ice fishing on Lake Erie

Ice fishing is a fun and enjoyable experience if you're comfortable and prepared. If you are a first-timer (like I was), I recommend finding someone experienced who can take you out to show you the ropes. The Ohio Division of Wildlife is a great reference for information.

There are several places to experience ice fishing in Ohio like:

A good first experience is important. After several hours on the ice, I also highly recommend some hot coffee and a big bowl of chili! Find further information on ice fishing and safety with ODNR's helpful guides and regulation information. 

For more outdoor things to do this #WinterinOhio, check out #OhioFindItHere at Ohio.org.


*Originally published in 2014, updated December 2022

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