Ice fishing is one of the greatest winter pastimes. Getting together with some good friends, getting out on the ice, and catching some fresh dinner is the best way to enjoy the brisk air. Introducing an ATV or UTV is a no-brainer. Carrying your auger and fishing gear in a vehicle is much easier than hauling it all yourself.
But is it safe or practical to bring a UTV? Is it worth the trouble to bring an ATV? How many of your buddies can you pack in with you? We’ll answer all these questions and more so you can make one of your favorite hobbies even better.
When you’re trying to decide what kind of ATV or UTV you need for your ice fishing trip, there are really only a few things you need to consider first:
First up is logistics. Who’s coming and how will they get there? If you know everybody you fish with has an ATV, there’s no need to up your vehicle capacity. If you like to take your family with you, you might be better served with a 4-seat UTV.
Beyond that, if your favorite ice fishing spot is miles away from the nearest road and you need to traverse really bad terrain, you will be better served with a UTV. A good Can-Am Defender or Polaris Ranger can cover nearly 200 miles on a single tank of gas, and they have plenty of cargo space for extra fuel and camping gear. If you’re just going from the parking lot to the center of the lake and back, you’ll be fine in an ATV.
That brings us to gear. If you’ve got a heavy-duty auger and plan on running multiple lines to catch a week’s worth of dinners, you’ll benefit from the large bed available on most UTVs. If you’re keeping it simple with a drill-mounted auger and sandwich to hold you over, an ATV will be just fine.
Safety should be your number one priority whenever you venture out onto the ice. The last thing you want is to go through the ice and end up sleeping with the fish you were trying to catch!
The first thing you need to do is familiarize yourself with the Minnesota DNR’s ice thickness guide. It breaks down the thickness required to support a range of different vehicles. Here are the basics:
These guidelines apply to new, clear ice only. If the ice is white, you have to double the thickness.
So if you want to ride on an ATV, you need ice that’s at least 5” thick. We don’t see UTVs on that list, but given that a Polaris Ranger Crew weighs about 1000 pounds less than a Toyota Camry, you will be safe with at least 8” of ice.
You just need two tools to measure the thickness of the ice:
If you’re ice fishing, you already have an ice auger with you. Just make sure you pack a tape measure too. With the right tools, checking the thickness is easy. Drill a hole in the ice and measure the depth with a tape measure. Since ice thickness varies across a frozen lake, the Minnesota DNR recommends checking it every 150 feet or so.
If you’re fishing with a few different friends who are all bringing their own vehicles out on the ice, don’t park too close together. Park your UTVs at least 50 feet apart and move them every two hours. You can poke a hole in the ice next to your vehicles to monitor the ice. If water starts flowing over the ice, you need to move your vehicles ASAP because the ice is sinking.
This is less of a worry with ATVs, but we approve of the “better-safe-than-sorry” method, especially when spreading out your ATVs on the ice is so easy.
So how many people can you bring with you on your ice fishing trip? If the conditions are right, you can bring as many people as you want.
You have to think a little harder about the size of your group if the ice is at the low end of your thickness range. When you have a six-seater Ranger filled with a 200-pound person in every seat, along with all their gear in the cargo bed, 7”–8” of ice is probably not going to cut it.
If the ice is 2 feet thick, you’ve got nothing to worry about.
To have the very best chance of success when you don’t know what kind of ice conditions you will have, everybody should ride their own ATVs. If you spread out your weight, you can spread out your love… of ice fishing.
There are some ATV ice fishing accessories that will make your adventure more comfortable and successful.
Apart from adding tracks that give you the traction you need to cross unforgiving, icy terrain, there are a few other things you should think about. Namely, accessories that keep you from sinking and keep you from freezing.
Whenever you’re out on an adventure, it’s a good idea to plan for the worst case scenario. When it comes to ATV ice fishing, that means that you need to make sure you won’t lose your quad—or yourself—if you go through the ice. While lightweight ATVs will float with no rider, it’s better to get a flotation kit to make sure you float too. Not to mention, ATVs over 750 pounds tend to sink like a stone.
You can add flotation in the form of bolt-on kits that attach to the front and the rear. Or you can get special tires and wheel kits that either attach to your wheel or replace it altogether. There are also emergency flotation devices that inflate in seconds when you pull the cord.
Most ATV flotation devices are compatible on UTVs, but they’re less effective due to the extra weight.
If you want to stay warm while you’re ATV ice fishing, get some heated gloves, heated handlebars, and a windshield.
If you’re bringing your UTV with you, keeping warm is a little bit easier. Here’s what we recommend to fend off frostbite:
If you get all these accessories, you won’t freeze your ass off before you even start fishing.
With a little safety and a little smarts, your next ice fishing adventure can be your biggest and best yet. Get your machine and your plan sorted out now, so you can enjoy good friends, good company, and good eats later.