7 Unwritten Rules of Ice Fishing Etiquette

Don't be that guy


My shack is all ready to rock for some evening walleye on a northern Wisconsin lake.


Ice fishing is one of the greatest outdoor endeavors that gets us outside and allows us to spend time with friends and family. However, this social sport brings out all kinds of individuals. The family that just wants to get outside for a few hours of fun to the diehards who are fishing for their ice tourney. You also have the fishermen who wants their fillets to fill their freezer and the party animals who enjoy tipping back barley pops while watching their tip ups. You truly get a wide range of individuals that includes their personalities and attitudes attached.


As a tournament ice fisherman myself who also doubles as a bribed guide for family members and friends I have seen it all. (At least I think I have). The frozen lake, especially on a weekend can be a tricky place along with a fickle bunch. There seems to be a degree of ownership with something that is public. Years ago a particular fishing location was usually referred to as “Charlie’s Point” or “Bob’s Rock Bar”. Now it’s “MY go to spot” or “The Money Hole”. Or the worse, “My lake, my spot”.


I have been ice fishing for 40 years. Things have changed in the ice fishing world, some for the better and some for the worse. As people have become more and more divided, we as fishermen have lost our moral compass at times. Let’s take a look at some of those ethics, moral values and etiquette that has been lost over the years.


Distance from others.

This is personally a pet peeve of mine so much that I won’t even try to be within 100 yards of another ice fisherman. Some states do have set rules as far as how many feet you need to be from someone who has already been set up prior to your arrival.


This unwritten rule varies. Personally, I feel 100 feet is a good safe distance away from someone or their “set”. If tip ups or tip downs are not being used and it's a fishing style of a person just jigging this can allow for closer set ups (50 ft). The key is to assess the situation and a “do you mind if I fish here?” can go a long way to whether you look like a jerk or you have respect for your fellow man.



Some of the best fishing is usually away from the noise.


Borrow your auger. It happens every year. You see the guy who is pulling and pulling to drill a few holes and his auger won’t start. Or the family that comes out for an afternoon outing with the old hand auger and it’s dull and you see them taking 20 minutes to drill a hole. They come over to ask if they can borrow your auger.


You do them one better, you drill their holes and you ask them where they would like them. You never take money for these services. However, a beverage or a venison hot stick is a different story.

Don’t go to peoples' shacks asking what they caught. Ice fishing is more secretive than the secret service. Us ice fishermen are an odd bunch. We will help you get your truck unstuck on the ice, borrow you an auger, wave and nod. However, what's in the bucket and on the floor of the shack is our secret. Also, we may be on fish and we don’t want the sound of your clodhoppers walking over our way, especially if we are fishing shallow water. If we want your company we will stand outside our shacks and wave to you or at least acknowledge you. That’s our way of saying come on over.


Keep your secret lake secret. You drove 5 hours to fish a lake that you never have been on and you don’t plan on going back to. You did well, so you thought you would share your catch and where you caught them on social media. Don’t do it. You may think you're helping people out, but some of those lakes just can’t handle the fishing pressure. Also, there are locals and people who have worked hard to find these lakes and secret locations. You are just going to infuriate them. People shouldn’t get handouts from the government for not doing the work. The same can be said for finding our own fishing spots.

My dad and myself, ice fishing a "secret" backwoods lake in Vilas County Wisconsin.


Pick up your trash and theirs too. This should be a given that you never leave any garbage on the ice. We all benefit from the water and it’s our responsibility to keep it clean. For all the other pigs out there, pickup their garbage as well. It shows others that there are people who still care. Passing by other people's garbage on the ice is just allowing the idea to seep into other peoples heads that they can be pigs too. Matter of fact, a few years back a buddy of mine and myself were cleaning up after a bunch of ice pigs. We found an ice combo and a Beaver Dam tip up from their mess. (Pigs aren't too bright).


An open hole that you didn’t drill is not yours (technically). Yes, it’s public water. Yes there are no laws that say you can’t fish an open hole. Just like finding the secret lake, you didn’t put in the work. Now if it’s day 2 and you're the first person on the ice early in the morning, hey have at it. I've see it every year, someone or myself goes out and drills 50 plus holes to hop around for a quick panfish bite. That outside hole is in your best spot and no more than you turn your back, here comes a guy and drops his line in your hole your were going to fish next. It is what it is, just don't be that guy who does it to others, no matter how many times it has been done to you.


Park away from others. It amazes me how most have the mindset of a cow. A frozen lake does not have yellow lines painted on it like a parking lot. However, you will see people park right next to the next guy and then another person follows and before you know it you have 10 vehicles in succession. Twice I have seen vehicle groups take on water because of this foolishness. I even went out of my way once to park away as the ice further out was not conducive to vehicle traffic. I came back mid day to see 7 vehicles parked right next to mine in parking lot stall fashion. People are sometimes like cows and stalls.




So how do we deal with these unwritten rules that can perturb us? Especially for those of us that have a little more respect for our fellow man and our natural resources? It can be tough and frustrating. However, if you're going to go to a circus to see the animals I hate to tell you this but you're also going to see some clowns. Want to get away from the riff raff? Then a headlamp is in order as well as a backwoods lake. It's just the nature of the beast.


If you fish on a weekend, expect the zoo and expect the not-so considerate people. Have a back up plan if your not happy with the on-ice antics that might frustrate you. It's about having the right attitude and changing your perspective. The key is to keep your emotions in check and that no matter what happens, you were brought up to do the right thing.


These 7 points are my opinion and not anything set in stone or in any ice fishing rule book. However, I am pretty confident that if we all followed these points to a certain degree, that Ice fishing would be a tad better for all of us if not mankind. Please feel free to share your thoughts on this article and your experiences on the hardwater....good or bad.


Thanks for reading - Clint Ward, Oak & Iron Outdoors


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