Planning the Perfect Ice Fishing Trip in Pennsylvania

Ice Fishing in Pennsylvania | Locations

Fishing doesn’t have to stop when the water freezes over.  In fact, Pennsylvania has some incredible ice fishing opportunities.  Once found, targeting a pod or school of fish doesn’t get any easier. Of course, walking on water can be intimidating to many people. From safety essentials to fishing equipment we help walk you through planning a successful, and affordable, Pennsylvania ice fishing trip!

The Basics

New ice fishing anglers shouldn’t need to go spend a fortune on gear, especially when some ice seasons can be cut short in the moderate climate of Pennsylvania.  That’s why we emphasize purchasing affordable necessities before spending an arm and a leg on premium products. The idea is to start simple and grow as you learn to love the ice.

Ice fishing planning is similar to open water,

  • Find Locations 
  • Purchasing Ice Friendly Right Gear 
  • Remembering Safety First 
  • Learn Ice Techniques

Places to Ice Fish in Pennsylvania

Whether you are chasing pike, trout, or panfish, finding a productive spot requires a little bit of research.  To do this, we recommend that you check the Department of Natural Resources website, fishing forums, and reach out to local bait shops.  Using these resources will help you start off on the right foot and give you an idea of ice conditions before hitting the lake. Another awesome resource is Google earth.  Pick a few prospective lakes and check out their accessibility and landscape using this free tool.  However, for simplicity, we have listed a few popular ice fishing locations in Pennsylvania to begin your scouting below:

  • Middle Creek Lake 
  • Muddy Run Recreational Lake 
  • Blue Marsh Lake 
  • Lake Ontelaunce 
  • Kaercher Creek Lake 
  • Scott’s Run Lake

Once you have chosen a lake you will then want to analyze that lake. Look for accesses, depth changes, and structure.  To do this we recommend you use some sort of charting software.  You can use your graph from your boat or download a mapping app such as Navionics to your phone, which is a cheap and reliable source of information for a new ice angler.  Pull up your prospective lake charts and study it.  If possible, bring it out to the lake with you. Then you can use it as a reference as you continually search for fish.

Ice Fishing Gear You’ll Need

Ice fishing gear doesn’t have to break the bank. In fact, the bare essentials can go a long ways.

These include: 

  • Safety Items 
  • Auger 
  • Ice Fishing Rod and Reel 
  • Storage 
  • Tackle 
  • Flasher/Bobber (anything that can help you indicate a bite) 
  • Filet Knife

Safety Gear for Ice Fishing

The first priority when ice fishing is to make sure the ice is safe. Before setting upon any ice adventure it’s always wise to have a game a plan and some necessary tools for that plan. This isn’t just important during first freeze up, but also all year long as weather and ice conditions are changing continuously. Conditions will vary by lake as small and shallow lakes will freeze much quicker than deeper lakes in most situations.

All ice fishing expeditions should have 4 safety priorities.  They include:  

  • A partner 
  • Ice Picks 
  • Spud Bar 
  • Floating Device/Suit

When you are walking on ice, always use the spud bar to check ice thickness and condition.  Take note of how many times it takes you to chisel through the ice. Any major changes to this number helps you determine changing ice conditions.

As you are walking, have ice picks around your neck and a float suit on if possible. If you don’t have one, bring a life vest.  These items can make sure you can recover yourself as quickly as possible if you do happen to fall in.

Ice Fishing Auger

Once you know the ice is safe, you need the right tools to get through the ice.  Thankfully, there are a variety of augers for every type of ice condition and budget.  With ice depth staying relatively shallow in Pennsylvania, it’s hard to go wrong with any of the options below.  

  • Spud Bar 
  • Hand Auger 
  • Electric Auger 
  • Propane Auger 
  • Gas Auger

In most instances a spud bar, hand auger, or electric auger is sufficient on Pennsylvania frozen waters.  For those who also like to travel for ice fishing adventures; then upgrading to propane or gas might be beneficial.  However, finding the right one depends on the price, availability, frequency, and depth you plan on drilling.

For beginners, we recommend investing in a hand auger if the ice is too thick for the spud bar.  This is a cheap investment and can allow you to upgrade once you are committed to the sport.  In Pennsylvania, holes cannot exceed 10” and in most instances ones much smaller than that will be acceptable.

Ice Rod and Reel Setup

As for the necessary accessories we have you covered. Compact and lightweight are the differences between ice and open water fishing.  In the summer, the goal is to cover ground, get away from the boat, and cast long distances.  In the winter it’s all about vertical jigging.  This means being compact, lightweight and mobile.

There are a lot of different factors to consider when looking for the right rod. However, for beginner ice anglers, we recommend you emphasize length and action.


Most ice fishing rods vary from 23” to 42”. Shorter lengths are recommended for using smaller baits on species such as gills and crappie.  The longer lengths help you gain leverage for bigger baits and bigger fish.


Action is also important. It determines where your rod bends and how soft of a bite you might feel.  Often times, shorter rods are more commonly light action.  For any type of panfishing we recommend a light or ultra light action rod. For larger fish, medium to heavy will do the trick.

In Pennsylvania, you can have up to 5 lines in the water.  However, if you are new to fishing or on a budget, one will do the trick.

RecommendedShakespeare Rod and Reel Combo

Ice Fishing Line & Tackle

Picking the right tackle also depends on the species of fish you are targeting.  For small fish, it’s wise to use lightweight tackle.  This means small jigs and spoons when chasing crappie, sunfish, perch, saugers, and even small walleye.  For bigger predators such as pike; heavier duty line and tackle will be needed. Look for 8 pound or greater line in these situation.

As for line there are three main types: 

  • Monofilament 
  • Braided 
  • Fluorocarbon

Each line has its own benefit. Braid is ultra tough and sensitive.  Fluorocarbon is the closest to invisible that line can come, and monofilament is the most affordable of the line. It has a stretch, thicker diameter, isn’t overly visible and is considered a great place for starters.

We recommend monofilament for beginning budget anglers.  It’s cheap, easy to spool and has reduced visibility compared to braid.  Its ability to stretch also makes it great for heavy action baits.

Recommended: Berkley Trilene XL Monofilament Fishing Line

Ice Fishing Lures

Picking the right lure depends on the species of fish you are trying to target.  Usually this means smaller lures for smaller fish.  However, it’s always good to have a variety of lures in your tackle box. We recommend the Acme Kastmaster in 1/12 oz size. It’s small enough to hook into a panfish while also big enough for walleye.

Recommended: Acme Kastmaster 1/12 oz.   


Many ice anglers will choose to use a flasher for identifying and targeting fish. These can either be standalone units such as a Vexilar or they can be the same hardware you use on your boat but with a flasher attached.  However, for new anglers, especially those who live in limited ice conditions, bobbers can work great! Before investing in an ice fishing unit or flasher kit; it’s important to make sure you actually enjoy being on the ice first. Therefore, borrowing a unit or setting up tip-ups and bobbers can work just as well for beginners.

Recommended: Carlisle Spring Float Dia Oval Bobber

Fishing Pliers

Removing hooks as quickly and efficiently as possible is a must for conservation. That’s why it’s essential you keep pliers on you at all time.  In addition, they also work well as line cutters and all-purpose tool as well.

Recommended: Rapala Fisherman’s Pliers


Ice Fishing Chair

A shelter is definitely optional for the state of Pennsylvania.  However, going without a seat is not an option for most people.  A padded bucket is a perfect way to include storage and a place to sit.  This helps keep you compact and comfortable.  Fill the bucket with your gear and use the seat when you are all setup. It also makes a great place to carry your harvest of the day.

Recommended: Muddy Spin Top Camouflage Bucket

Ice Fishing Shelter/Heat

Having a shelter is optional, but can be very beneficial if you manage to get cold easily. There are two main types: fishtrap and hub.  Hubs tend to be more affordable where fishtraps/sleds come with seats and comfort built in.  However, combine either one with a heater and no on in your fishing party will be cold.

RecommendedLittle Mr. Buddy Heater


Filet Knife

If you decide to keep a few fish for dinner it’s important to have a filet knife on hand.  Rapala makes a variety of quality filet knives ranging from traditional to electric.  However, the Rapala Hawk Filet knife is a reliable, affordable, and easy to pack option. It’s perfect for anybody who simply wants to clean a few fish out on the ice (or cook themselves some dinner). No power needed!

RecommendedRapala 6” Hawk Filet Knife

Storage and Transportation

We have already discussed bringing a bucket for storage.  However, if you don’t have a compact tackle bag it might be worth the investment.  Having your tackle, pliers, line, and accessories in one place helps your gear stay organized and travel easier.

Recommended: Berkley Powerbait Tackle Bag

Finally having some way to transport gear is essential.  We recommend using a sled, this way you can walk, four wheel or snowmobile with ease.

Ice Fishing Strategy

Next is hitting the ice with a strategy.  The best way to do this is to do a little prefishing research, use a mapping device (for example, download Navionics to your phone) and start fishing.  If you haven’t marked (if using a flasher) or caught a fish in a period of time, then move.  Once you get on them it should be rapid fire fishing.

Stay Mobile

As previously mentioned, one of the most important parts is being ready to move.  Sunfish can be found along weedbeds, crappies in basins, walleye on structure and pike anywhere and everywhere. However, one thing is common with targeting any of them: you need to be able to move to them.

Pick a few places on your map and setup. Set a timer, if you haven’t marked or caught a fish after 30 minutes then be sure to move.  Just like you would move with a boat, it’s essential that you move by foot.


If you plan on targeting panfish, bait such as small minnows, waxworms, and preserved bait works great. For bigger predators, setting up with a sucker minnow and bobber can be the ticket.

As for lures, think small fish small lure and big fish big lures. As you start finding the fish monitor their reaction.  If you are struggling to catch, don’t be afraid to downsize.  If catching becomes difficult, always check for line twists.  The key to winter success is staying mobile and perfecting your vertical presentation.

Keep Multiple Tools in Your Tackle Box

It’s always good to a have a variety of lures in your tackle box.  Keep multiple colors, reactions, and sizes of many different brands on you at all times. By using small snap swivels, swapping lures can become easy.  If you have an extra rod and reel, having it hooked up and ready to go with a different style lure can save a lot of time and catch you more fish.

As you learn to ice fish, you will also learn how to identify which lure works best at which times.  Make sure to check out our variety of lures to add to your box!

Putting it all Together

Ice fishing is an incredibly rewarding adventure once you have the right gear and get comfortable on the ice. It helps you get outside on those short and gloomy winter days.  It builds confidence, improves technique, and is a great way to spend your winter days with anyone.

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