Ice Fishing

Don’t let the plunging winter temperatures stop you from fishing some of the most pristine lakes around.  Ice fishing in South Dakota can be a great way to enjoy fishing year round.

With the lakes frozen hard by January, ice fishing begins in earnest.  Walleyes, northern pike, and yellow perch are the main target for ice fishing, with yellow perch being the most popular.  Northern pike are the most aggressive, and can be found in abundance in the Missouri River system.  Walleyes are plentiful, with almost every lake in South Dakota having plenty of walleyes for each fisherman.

Ice Fishing Equipment

To have a successful ice fishing trip, you’ll have to gear up. Although some would like to debate the necessity, many ice fishermen use an ice shack.  Also called an ice shanty, fish house, or other names, an ice shack is a heated structure large enough for 2 or 3 ice fishers to occupy at the same time. Ice shacks are pulled onto the ice behind a truck, or on a trailer.  In South Dakota, ice shacks are regulated the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks department.  Check out their website to find specific information and regulations.

In addition to a shack, a good ice auger or ice saw is a necessity, and a power auger will make it easier to cut a round or rectangular hole in the ice.  A skimmer can also be useful for ice fishing, as it can remove new ice as it is formed and clear the slush left from creating the hole.  Many anglers carry a portable heater as well, as temperatures below -20 F can make it difficult to keep an ice fishing hole open.

A flasher can also be a useful piece of equipment.  It’s similar to a fish finder, and uses sonar to locate fish and other objects.  Flashers differ from fish finders in that they can locate fish almost instantaneously.

Ice Fishing Safety

Many fisherman will walk out onto a lake that is covered by 2.5 inches of ice, although 4 inches is recommended.  If you are going to be taking a snowmobile out onto the lake, 5-6 inches are recommended.  7-12 inches of ice are recommended for light cars, and 14-16 inches for full-sized trucks.  Different parts of a lake can have different thicknesses of ice, depending on how quickly or slowly the water is moving, so fishermen should use caution at all times.  It is also wise to watch out for “rotten ice” or soft ice, which is caused by late winter warm spells.  The texture of the ice is chnaged, and is exceedingly dangerous.

Fishermen should also be wary of carbon monoxide poisoning, which sometimes happens because of fish house heaters, although most newer ice shacks have air exchange systems to prevent this.  Frosbite can also be dangerous to ice fishermen, especially in windy or conditions or extremely low temperatures.


Ice-fishing contests can be a lot of fun, and if you’re the lucky winner, lucrative. The City of Mobridge, in the north central part of South Dakota, hosts an annual ice fishing tournament, usually held in January.  The contest takes place on Lake Oahe, and during the contest cash and prizes total over $15,000.

Write a Comment

Leave a Reply