Home Fishing Tips & Advice How Big to Make an Ice Fishing Hole

How Big to Make an Ice Fishing Hole

Any outdoor adventure should start with meticulous preparation. Ice fishing is far from being an exception, especially in terms of the size of your fishing hole. Whether you’re a beginner or simply need a crash course to reinvigorate your memory, there is plenty to examine when it comes to determining how big your fishing hole should be. After all, you can’t exactly go fishing on ice without a hole. Still, there is much more to ice fishing than carelessly drilling a hole into the ice. It all starts with a few key factors.

Choosing the appropriate size for your fishing hole is conditional to many key factors. You will need to bear these in mind long before you hit the ice. In fact, most big arrangements will need to be made prior to heading out for the day. Ordinarily, a fishing hole should be between 6 to 12 inches in diameter. The general rule of thumb is that a hole should be big enough to carefully retrieve a fish without incident. Additionally, hole size should be ascertained by your exact gear, the time you will spend on the ice, ice density, and the fish you are seeking.

The idea is to establish as much information as you can before going fishing. Below, we’ll outline the most basic considerations you need to make when safely determining how big to make an ice fishing hole. 

Determine the Thickness of the Ice

Before you can plan the overall diameter of the hole, you’ll need to determine the thickness of the ice beneath you. The thickness of a piece of ice can differ dramatically from one lake to another, especially if winter weather conditions are a bit unpredictable. Even on the lake itself ice thickness can vary from one spot to another. Why does this impact the size of your hole? Ice thickness matters for a few key reasons. 

Deep thick ice is much harder to drill into, even with an auger to assist. Since you are likely going to drill more than one hole to find fish, you don’t want to waste time and energy drilling into thick ice. When ice fishing, it is always paramount to avoid sweating or overexerting yourself. Sweating can cause hypothermia in very low temperatures. Additionally, ice that is too thick may mean you can only accomplish a hole that is too narrow.

When a hole is overly narrow, it is difficult to control the fish when reeling it in. This often results in your line being cut on the sharp edges of the hole and the fish being lost completely.

The thickness of ice should always weigh on you when determining the overall hole size.

What Type Of Fish Are You Trying to Catch?

Recognizing the type of fish you want to catch is not something you can figure out on the fly. Out on the ice, conditions can be unforgiving, especially when drilling holes. Know exactly what you plan on reeling in beforehand. This will help you to decide how big you really need your fishing hole to be. In your mind, you might be pursuing that prized trophy fish, but in reality, that’s probably not going to be the norm. Don’t exhaust yourself making a giant-sized hole when you’re going to be bringing home an average-sized fish.

Sure, every now and then an angler will snag a monster 30-pound trout or a 10-pound walleye, but that’s hardly standard for those types of fish. Unless you’ve regularly fished a given lake and consistently reel in fish of this size, you won’t need a larger hole. Most anglers ice fishing for walleye, through, or bass can do just fine with a standard 6 to the 8-inch hole. Don’t overexert yourself drilling an 18-inch hole for a fish that statistically will not be 10-30 pounds.

How Long Will You Be Fishing For?

Ice thickness matters, that’s a given. However, it is not the only component worth considering when determining how big to make your fishing hole. Ice thickness notwithstanding, you must also keep in mind the duration of your fishing trip. Longer trips will require more planning than short day outings.

Additionally, you must organize out in advance just how many holes you would like to frequent throughout the day. The act of drilling and visiting these holes can rapidly zap energy, leaving you feeling exhausted and run-down. In brisk temperatures, the body has to generate more heat in order to regulate body temperature. This leads to higher overall energy usage.For these reasons it is paramount to plan and consider each of these factors before setting out.

With all that said, the size of the hole does matter. A big 12-inch hole is going to require far more work and muscle than a 6-inch hole, especially if you’re utilizing a hand drill. It is also important to keep in mind that hole size can shift throughout the day.

What Kind of Auger Will You Be Using?

Regardless of density, drilling through ice is no small task. When resolving just how big to make your ice fishing hole, always consider the type of auger you have on hand. Simply having an auger on your person isn’t enough, it has to be the right size and type for the job at hand. Before you start drilling, know your auger-type and size. That way you can have the right bit for the required work. This will help you to conserve energy while still generating the hole you require for your needs.

There are many auger options on the market today. You can choose from gas, propane, electric, or manual. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Still, regardless of which choice you make hole size is still paramount. Generally, it is best to go with at least an 8-inch auger especially if you’re drilling holes between 6 and 12 inches. Anything under 18 inches thickness can be tackled with this type of auger. Know that if you are using a manual auger, you may not want to go with a hole size that is too big, this can be rather taxing.

Know Your Ice Fishing Style

Every angler is going to eventually develop their own ice fishing style or methods of catching fish. Some like to jig, others like to use live bait. Others like to utilize big ice shelters. How you like to fish can greatly impact the size hole you will need to drill into the ice. If you enjoy going ice fishing under the comfort of a shelter you’ll want to keep your hole of average size, as floor space is limited. If you want to set up more than one pole, you may opt for several small holes rather than one medium-sized hole.

Another thing to bear in mind is how many people will be accompanying you on your ice fishing venture. The more people at one hole, the larger that hole will need to be. After all, a small 6-inch hole isn’t going to cut the mustard once your lines start getting tangled. Make sure if you’re fishing with multiple people that there is enough space in a given hole that your lines do not intertwine. 

Let’s say you’re fishing style is quite ordinary. Maybe all you need for an outing is a good bucket to sit on and the right gear. What size hole will you need? Well, in these circumstances the size of the hole may not matter. It may depend more on your auger, how fast you can drill, and how long you plan on staying. If you plan on fishing in one area for a long time, you might want a larger hole so you don’t have to worry about holes freezing up. 

Take some time and think about how your fishing style may impact your overall hole size.

The Perils Of Larger Holes

One important thing to keep in mind, especially if you are new to ice fishing, is that bigger holes do bring-about a higher potential for hazard. The larger the hole is in the ice, the greater the odds of losing a fish or having something bad happen. With that said, a 10-inch hole is most definitely going to be riskier than a 6-inch hole. Anglers have often cited tripping and hitting the ice on a large hole or even twisting an ankle.

Also, check out our other article: What is the Best Depth for Ice Fishing?

Others lose precious gear to the depths of the water and some have even fallen into the hole altogether. This is particularly risky if you plan on fishing with children, especially since hypothermia can set in fast in these kinds of conditions. If you are fishing with young kids, never cut your hole bigger than 6-inches. If you plan on fishing alone, strive on going no larger than 8-10 inches for the sake of safety. You’ll thank yourself for going the extra mile and preparing for the worst even if nothing happens.

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Growing up on the south shore of Long Island, Chum Charlie has always had a passion for fishing. His favorite fish to catch is a striped bass and his favorite bait to use is bunker. Off the water, he enjoys blogging and sharing his favorite fishing tips & tricks that he has learned over the years.