By Montana Grant

Posted: January 25, 2022

How can you keep your ice hole open? 

Trying to fish in a slushy, ice chipped hole is hard. It’s important to clear the hole. There are times that you can actually see fish passing by or suspended below you. Here’s some Hole Truths!

Back in the day, Icemen used charcoal lighter fluid to keep the hole from freezing. This kept the hole from freezing but also polluted the water. For this reason, it is no longer allowed. We also ladled a lot.

Tip up Icemen make black painted boxes, with lids to keep their holes open. Black paint absorbs heat, and the covered hole will not fill in from windborne snow. If it is really cold, they place a candle, in a small can, inside the box. Placing pine branches over an ice hole will also slow freezing.

I have also seen Icemen take a metal coffee can and add hook or arm to one side. They put some paper into the can and add a few charcoal briquets. They set the can next to the hole or inside a hole next to the fishing holes. They then carve a small trench between the holes. One heater can keep several holes open. This also provides heat to warm your hands. The can needs to be the same diameter as your auger hole. 

Another trick is to use black Styrofoam/ packing foam. It can be ½ inch thick or heavier. Cut it to fit around the hole like a toilet seat. The opening in the front is where the fish slides out. Shovel snow in the back of the hole and flex another piece as a wind break. You can use stakes to secure the insulators or use packed snow. The black material absorbs heat and keeps the hole open.

For the techy Icemen, you can now use an aerator. Bubbler systems that operate using batteries can add air bubbles into the hole. With a few T joints, you can run multiple hoses to several holes. The Lithium batteries hold up better in colder temperatures. For areas where you can use live minnows, simply run branched hoses from the minnow bucket to the holes and attach an aquarium air stone. 

Some Icemen prefer BIG HOLES! Ironic, since many Icemen use short rods, but that’s another story. There may be a few times when a 10–12-inch hole may be advisable but 90% of the fish Icemen catch will easily fit through a 6–8-inch hole. A smaller hole is easier and quicker to cut and maintain.

Another trick is to use scented oil for fish. A minnow or salmon flavor added to the hole will add an attractant awhile the oily film keeps the hole ice free. Gel scents also work well. You rig is scented every time you drop it into the hole.

A trusted ice ladle is a great tool to remove ice chips and chunks. Get a ladle that matches the size of your auger. Tie a cord with a float to it, so you don’t throw it or kick it down the hole. I prefer a longer handle made of metal. Plastic becomes brittle when cold. Short handles mean kneeling or getting closer to the hole.

On some days, holes inevitably freeze. Too much wind, too little heat, and the hole just will not stay open. Go home, warm up, and fish another day.

Montana Grant