How To Choose The Right Ice Fishing Hole Size: A Complete Guide

Ice Fishing Hole Size
Ice Fishing Hole Size Guide

Ice fishing is truly unique and offers an entirely different experience than what you would get with traditional fishing.

However, people that are new to the sport don’t really understand just how complex it is.

You not only need to consider the best time to fish and the right type of bait to use, but you need to decide what size hole to make as well.

When it is all said and done choosing the right sized ice fishing hole comes down to several different factors.

What kind of fish are you trying to catch, how much time do you plan to spend on the ice, and what type of equipment are you using? All of these questions plus more will factor in when you choose an ice fishing hole, but most experts would recommend starting with at a general size hole of anywhere from six to eight inches in diameter.

If you really want to get the most out of your experience it will be important to have a solid plan before even stepping foot out your front door. Having a good solid plan and sticking with it will help keep your mind sharp so you can watch for potential dangers as well as helping you maintain good energy levels.

Of course, without the right information and know how, developing that plan might not be as easy as one thinks.

Consider Your Fishing Style

Ice Fishing Style

Choose the right ice fishing hole can be quite the task and certainly should be taken seriously. Choosing the wrong sized hole could not only impact the success of your trip, but it could potentially impact your overall mood. Most people that are looking for a general sized hole usually opt for 6 to 8 inches in diameter.

Unfortunately, a generally sized hole does not suit everyone’s fishing style. And, this is why it is most important to have a solid plan before you even hit the ice. Knowing the kind of fish you want to catch, how many you want to catch, and how many hours you are going to spend on the ice can help you determine the size and number of holes that you are going to make.

Not only this, but you also need to consider the type of auger that you are going to use to make the hole. Choosing the right or wrong sized auger bit could make all the difference in the world.

How Do You Know Which Auger To Use?

Ice Fishing Auger

Augers can be a bit tricky, but as long as you know what to expect and the basic principals, you shouldn’t have a problem choosing the perfect one for your ice fishing hole. When it comes down to it there are basically three types of augers. This would be the manual auger, the gas auger, and the electrical auger.

There was once a time when anglers only have access to manual ice augers. These augers will get the job done, but as the name suggests they require a lot of manual labor and strength. There are a number of anglers out there that still prefer these models. There are even some ice fishing locations that only allow anglers to use these models. The manual auger might be more work, but they are cheaper and depending on where you plan to fish, you might have to end up purchasing one anyway.

It goes without saying that gas and electrical augers make cutting holes much easier and less physically demanding. There are a number of factors that can help you determine which type of auger might best suit you. Once again, all this comes back down to the amount of time that you plan on spending on the ice, the number of holes that you want, and the type of fish that you want to catch.

Any angler that is only going to be utilizing a few holes and doesn’t want to expend too much effort should consider going with the manual auger. These augers are not only cheaper for the type of fishing that you are doing, but you with just a single hole, you don’t have to worry about burning as much energy.

Another good reason to opt for the manual auger would be that they are incredibly light. Weight will be especially important if you have to travel long distances on foot to reach your fishing spot. You can speak with any experienced ice angler and they will tell you that weight is always a major consideration that must be made when planning a trip.

Gas and electric augers will not only make your trip much easier and enjoyable, but they will give you the ability to catch more fish. Most ice anglers can handle drilling at least one or two holes with a manual auger. However, after two or three holes most anglers find themselves too worn out to continue fishing. In fact, the whole experience will probably feel not as enjoyable as you initially hoped.

If you plan on creating a lot of holes and catching a lot of fish, you are without a doubt going to want to opt for an electric or gas auger. The only problem with these augers is that they are by no means light. This is why most anglers that opt for these augers usually end up bringing along a friend to help them handle the weight.

How Much Ice Time Are You Getting?

How Long to Ice Fish

Most beginners know that ice fishing is going to be a cold sport, but they don’t really grasp how much energy is spent on the ice. This is especially true if you have a number of holes and tip-ups that you are constantly checking on. Plus, when your body creates heat it spends energy. All of this can factor into how much time you are going to spend on the ice.

You only have so much energy to spend and once it is gone you are either going to have to get some rest or east some food to refuel yourself. Also, remember that you will need the energy to carry your gear and equipment back out, so this must be factored in as well.

Using a manual auger will erode your energy levels faster, so you need to know the number and size of holes that you are going to create before stepping onto the ice. Sure, an electric or gas auger can help save energy levels, but you have to consider the energy that you will expend carrying the machine to your fishing location.

In addition to this, if you plan on drilling a lot of holes, you will also have to bring along extra fuel reserves, which is only going to add to the weight that you are already carrying in. The size and number of holes are something that you will definitely want to consider when you are determining the amount of fuel that you need.

Not only this, but you have to consider the fact that your initial spots might not be as fertile as you hoped. What if you set up camp, drill a hole or two, and don’t get a bite? Are you going to set up camp in another area or are you going to drill more holes? Perhaps, you will just call it a day and go at it again tomorrow.

Whatever the situation is, you can see that it is more than imperative to plan ahead and think things through thoroughly. Ice fishing is without a doubt a process that can either be enjoyable or totally depleting.

The Holes Shrink

Most inexperienced ice anglers are shocked to learn that the hole or holes actually decrease as time goes on. This simply happens because the hole begins to free again as the day progresses and the temperature drops. Of course, the bigger the hole, the longer it will take before it freezes.

One the hole freezes too small beyond your requirements it means that you are going to have to do some more drilling. If you plan on spending the entire day on the ice and cutting more than one hole this is something that you will want to consider greatly. If you simply do not want to end up cutting the same hole over again then you might want to make it a bit larger than you initially planned.

What Species Of Fish Are You Going After?

Ice Fishing Hole Size for Species

An inexperienced ice angler would probably just hit the ice and plan on catching whatever comes their way. This is a concept that might be suitable for lake or ocean fishing, but it is not a solid concept that will work with ice fishing. This is because some species of fish are taller and wider when compared to others. That being said, most of the species will probably be anywhere from six to eight inches in range.

I wrote a guide here that can help with how deep you want to fish while ice fishing.

There are a number of anglers out there that will tell you they can comfortably and safely pull a panfish from a six-inch hole. Unfortunately, this is not entirely the case when you are dealing with species like crappies. Crappies are much taller than they are wide. Eight inches would be a much more suitable size for this species of fish.

This is why it is also important to consider the circumference and the diameter of the hole. You don’t want to have to stop mid-catch and alter your hole. Making an oversight like this could cause you to potentially lose out on the catch of a lifetime. There is nothing worse than working all day and having to let go of the catch of your life.

Six inches will work for species that are on the smaller scale, species that are a bit larger will require at least an eight-inch hole. If you trying for a true prize catch, you will probably want to make your hole at least ten inches in diameter.

At this point, most beginners are probably thinking that it would be best just to hit the ice and make as big a hole as possible. This would not only prevent fish from getting stuck, but it would eliminate the need to reshape the hole as the day progresses.

This theory might make sense on paper, but in reality, it will only cause you more problems. First off, bigger holes are going to take more energy. And, just because your hole is big it doesn’t mean that you can’t still lose fish through it.

Fish are slippery and they will fight you the entire time. This means that they can easily slip out of your hands and find their way back into the water. A bigger hole will make it easier and quicker for the fish to escape if it slips from your hands. There would be nothing more disappointing.

Does Ice Depth Factor In to Hole Size?

One of the things that makes drilling ice holes even more difficult is the depth of the ice. Without speaking to others that have fished the area, you simply aren’t going to know what type of ice depth you are dealing with. The ice could be

anywhere from six to eight inches in depth.

This is going to factor in big time on the amount of energy that you expend drilling the holes. More depth means that you are going to expend more energy drilling. Just imagine that you want to cut in an eight-inch hole, but the ice is almost six inches in depth. This means that you are literally going to have to go through 300 cubic inches of ices before your hole is complete.

This is an incredible amount of ice and will take extreme amounts of energy. Now, just imagine if you were going to cut in ten eight-inch holes in ice that is six inches deep. You would have to drill through 3000 cubic inches of ice before you were finished. Even if you used an electric or gas auger this would take both a lot of energy and fuel.

The only way that you could get away with using a manual auger in a situation like this is if you brought along a bunch of friends to share the labor with. Bringing along an electric or gas auger might even require you to bring along a friend just to get the machine to your fishing spot.

Try Not To Scare Away Fish

Not only are the size and number of holes going to determine the success of your fishing trip, but the holes themselves might even factor in. This is because there are certain species of fish that do not like light. This is especially true with crappie. Some experts would suggest throwing ice chunks and shards into the hole to block some of the light, but this isn’t always your very best option.

There are a number of other experts the might suggest putting some distance between the location of your holes. Five feet apart should be sufficient enough distance. That being said there is one important thing to consider. The larger the hole, the more light that can penetrate in. At night dawns light will become less and less of a problem unless you do something inadvisable like setting up a bright flood light by your hole.

It is also best to set up your camp and holes strategically. Most experts would recommend cutting your holes in a line a couple of feet apart once you have set up camp. Drilling your holes in this manner will make it easier to keep an eye on each hole without moving too much. As soon as one of your flags drops, you will be able to swing into action and make that catch that you have worked so hard for all day.

Bigger Holes Could Mean Bigger Hazards

You just learned earlier that because you have a big hole it doesn’t mean that you are impervious to losing your catch. In fact, a bigger hole might mean that you are at a greater risk of losing your catch. Not only this, but bigger holes also pose bigger risks.

Put in your research or speak with a number of experienced ice anglers and you will hear at least one or two horror stores about big holes gone wrong. Simply put, a ten-inch hole poses more risks and dangers than a six-inch hole.

Bigger holes not only mean that you could potentially lose your catch, but it means that you could easily trip or fall in the hole. What if you are setting at one hole and the flag goes down in the other? Would you be able to get up quickly and safely enough to get to the hole? Could you safely hurdle a number of ten-inches holes?

Hitting the ice or falling in a hole is something that no angler wants to experience as it could leave your stranded and helpless with a broken limb. You also have to be cautious of bigger holes that are partially frozen over. Some bigger holes might look solid when they are not and steeping on one could mean that you end up in the water.


As you can see, there are a number of things that need to be considered when you are determining the size of your fishing hole. Not only do you have to think about the type of fish that you want to catch, but you have to factor in how long you plan on spending on the ice. Not only this, but there are numerous other things that can factor in.

Your best option for determining a suitably sized hole is to come up with a solid plan before you even plan your first ice fishing trip.


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