Fatbike Ice Fishing and How to Do It-Revisited

Last season I spent some time on my fatbike in pursuit of panfish and northern pike on several frozen area lakes.  Riding the ice was an efficient way to move me and my gear to many of my favorite fishing spots.  Through trial and error I was able to find out what worked and what didn't.  I came to the conclusion that I needed to upgrade some of my gear and add a a few new things to make the '19-'20 ice fishing season more successful and comfortable in the cold weather.  I would have to add items that would be light and portable for hauling behind the bike so I spent the off-season doing my research and purchasing the necessary gear.

In this post I will discuss my new gear, the methods used and how ice conditions and weather affect which of these methods I use.  In addition, I will also touch on some tips and things I learned during the current season.  If you are interested in fatbike ice fishing, this post will guide you in the right direction to get you started.

Ice Fishing Gear

The first step to improve upon last season was to add a new level of comfort while out on the ice.  One of the first items I purchased was an Eskimo Quickfish 2 hub shelter.  I chose this portable shelter for its light weight (22 lbs), size (5'x5' footprint) and 60 second setup/tear down.  This would get me out of the wind so I can fish longer without getting cold.  Next I needed a portable heater to warm the hub shelter so I went with one popular with ice fisherman, the Mr. Heater Portable Buddy Heater.  This little heater really kicks out the warmth.  Most of the time I run it on low and a 1 lb propane cartridge will last about 5 hours and 3 hours on high.

I would need a durable sled that was big enough to haul all my gear around on the lakes but light enough to be practical for pulling with my fatbike.  I already had my Smitty sled from last season so the Shappel Jet Sled Jr., weighing in at 6 lbs with a size of 42"L x 21"W x 8"H, would be a perfect fit for this application.  I went with the Shappel Ice Fishing Sled Travel Cover to keep items from falling out while traveling the rough terrain of the ice.  All the new gear I would be hauling is heavier than what I used last season so I opted for the Clam Sled Pulling Harness that I could clip onto my Smitty sled with tow ropes (3/8" rope inside 1/2" pvc tubing, crossed and zip tied with carabiners on each end).  This setup would prove to be very good for getting to my fishing spots with not too much extra effort.

Knowing structure, depth and fish presence where I'm fishing improves the odds of a successful outing greatly.  This season I added a Garmin STRIKER™ Plus 4 with Small Portable Ice Fishing Kit to my arsenal to give me the information needed to target the fish I would be after.  I chose this model for both its flasher and graph modes as well as GPS marking of hotspots and its price point.  Usually I will drill a hole when I get to a spot that I want to fish and will graph it.  Sometimes I'll even drop a line in the water and jig to graph fish activity before committing to the spot.  This helps me avoid wasting time in an area that may not be productive.  Interlocking foam mats (like the one seen above) work good for getting my fish finder or heater up off the ice and out of the water.

I still have my Nero Mini Compact Ice Auger with Drill Adapter from last year and had never used it with a cordless drill.  I wanted to speed up the hole drilling process so I purchased a Milwaukee M18 FUEL™ 1/2" Hammer Drill w/ ONE-KEY™ Kit.  I chose this drill because of the 1,200 in-lbs of torque,  Anti-Kickback technology and long battery life.  This compact drill has tons of power and paired with the Nero auger it rips right through the ice like butter.  On one hole hopping day recently I drilled 13 holes through 17" of ice and barely used 1/4 of the battery.

My Milwaukee drill also pulls other duties out on the ice.  With an Eskimo Ice Anchor Drill Adapter in the chuck it saves me time installing and removing ice anchors to secure my hub shelter to the ice.  On a day when the fish are biting I can quickly make an ice livewell for my catch with the auger/drill combo.  A compact foldable shovel comes in handy for clearing snow and ice from around drilled holes and doesn't take up too much room in my sled.

For night fishing I use a rechargeable LED camping lantern to light up the inside of my hub shelter.  This compact light has 280/140 lumens that lasts from 5 to 11 hours and also a 3000mAh power bank in the event I need to charge up my phone.  It also comes in handy when it's time to tear down and load up the sled in the dark.

Bike Gear

Any  fatbike in good working order that has been properly maintained can be used out on the ice.  Winter riding is what these bikes were made for.  Lake conditions are constantly changing throughout the season and a good pair of studded fatbike tires are a must to keep the bike upright and in control while providing the extra traction needed when pulling a sled.  I always carry a compact tool kit on my bike just in case any mechanical problems should arise.  The last thing I want to do is push a bike while hauling a sled full of gear 2 miles back to the lake access.  If you plan on doing any night fishing, a bright front light and rear taillight will help see your way out onto the lake while getting you seen by other fishermen that are coming and going.


What clothing I wear is determined by the weather, method and duration of time to be spent out on the ice.  A breathable, windproof outer shell with the appropriate baselayers for the temperature is a must for staying warm.  Since most of the time I won't be riding for that long I don't worry about overheating with extra layers, I'll need them to stay warm once I stop to set up and begin fishing.  The amount of layers I wear ice fishing would be overkill resulting in sweating a lot if I was just riding singletrack, but ice fishing is another story.  Once I stop to fish my body will no longer be generating heat and I will become cold quickly so the extra layers are necessary.  For rides that take longer to get to my spot I will sometimes bring extra layers in my sled that I can put on for warmth once I stop to fish.  Doing this keeps me from sweating on the way out and back which prevents me from getting cold once I stop.


My fatbike allows me cover a lot of ice with my gear quickly so I can spend more time fishing and less time getting there.  Below are several ways I implement fatbike ice fishing based on weather, length of time I have to fish and gear needed.

When the temps are warm and the wind is light I'll opt for what I call "backpack-only style."  This is a minimalist approach to fatbike ice fishing.  It doesn't require much gear and is a good choice for an active panfish-bite outing.  My bag of choice for carrying my gear is the Banjo Brothers Large Commuter Backpack.  It has 32.8 liters of space that's big enough to hold my compact auger, rods/tip-ups, bait, ice scoop and camp chair.  This bag supports the weight well and makes hole hopping easy.

Another method I'll use when the weather is favorable is hole hopping.  This is the best method I know for finding actively feeding panfish.  My fatbike paired with a sled or Smitty sled/sled combo allows me to move easily around on the ice fishing many areas for a short time until I find the active bite.  This works great for finding the fish on a lake I don't know that well.

Getting out of the wind and cold makes ice fishing much more comfortable for those longer outings.  This season with my Eskimo Quickfish 2 and Mr. Heater Portable Buddy Heater has been great for keeping me warm for hours in very cold temperatures.  It's big enough for up to two people to fish but compact and light enough to carry in my sled.  This is my go-to method for my days off from work where I have plenty of time to fish.

I'll usually use the Shappel Jet Sled Jr. by itself if there is light snow cover or the lake is very icy.  During these ice conditions even fully loaded up the sled pulls rather easily.

Heavier sled loads and/or deeper snow conditions require use of my Smitty sled to make hauling gear easier.  By putting my loaded Jet Sled Jr. onto the Smitty sled the two skis cut right through deep snow and glide along the ice with a lot less resistance.  This is my method of choice whenever I am hauling all my gear or the snow is 3" deep or more.  It definitely makes it easier going out on the lake.

Ice Conditions 

Early in the season there may be minimal or no snow cover on the lakes making travel by fatbike very quick and easy.  Safety out on the ice during the early season should be taken very seriously.  I don't venture out until the ice is at least 4" thick and it is a lake that I know well.  These conditions are perfect for hole hopping and using a sled.

Warm spells or the weight of a heavy snowfall can produce slush or water on top of the ice making travel difficult by fatbike so I try to avoid these conditions.  Once freezing temperatures solidify things again the surface of the lake can be rutted and rough to ride but with studded tires providing extra traction it can be done.  Warm weather for a period followed by a refreeze can make deep snow covered ice rideable again by firming everything up for pulling a sled or Smitty sled combo.

Snow covered lakes can still be accessible by fatbike but may limit where I can ride.  I will usually stick to ice roads or atv and snowmobile tracks where the snow has been packed down to get near where I want to set up.  I may have to do a little hike-a-bike once I get off the beaten path though.  The Smitty sled/sled combo or backpack-only style is perfect for moving around on the lake in deeper snow.

Fishing Apps

Ice Report
I put my smartphone (Android) to work during the season using a couple of apps that are well known among ice fishermen.  The first is a free app called Ice Report and is available for IOS and Android.  I don't like going out on the lakes until there is at least 4 inches or more of ice and Ice Report was very useful during the early season.  I could get ice thickness reports from other fishermen that were out there in the last day or two.  On the bike I could cover a lot of distance on the lake so I fished multiple areas and uploaded my own reports for other fishermen.

Boating HD by Navionics
The second app is Boating HD Marine & Lakes by Navionics and is available for both IOS and Android. It is a free app download that comes with basic features and a two-week trial of the subscription to check out all the maps including Nautical Chart, Sonar Chart, Chart Updates and Community Edits from millions of Boating HD app users.  I played around with the app during this trial period and liked it so much that I purchased a 1-year subscription of their "USA" map for $14.99.

The app was extremely useful for finding the depth contours of lakes to get to the spots I knew would contain fish.  It would tell me the approximate depth of the water before even drilling a hole in the ice.  I could plot my tracks and add waypoints but the feature I used most was adding markers for fishing hotspots and potential areas that I could come back to later and check out.  The app was definitely a big help out on the ice and I plan on continuing to use it for some shoreline bikefishing during the rest of the year.

Ice Safety

Ice safety is a priority when I roll out onto any lake.  This is why I carry a pair of ice picks worn on my shoulders in the event I go through the ice.  With these I will be able to pull myself out of the water much easier than without.  I always let someone know where I am going and when I expect to be done, just in case.  A keen eye on the ice as I ride out helps me avoid pressure ridges and water flows where ice thickness may be questionable.

In Conclusion

The upgrades in equipment that I made before the season sure paid off.  I can now get to where I need to go with as much or little gear as I want to bring for the method I will be doing.  Fishing longer and more comfortably while having fun and success was the goal and I achieved it with the gear mentioned above.  The biggest game changers were the addition of a fish finder, hub shelter and cordless drill.  If you're already an ice fisherman you probably have most of the gear needed and adding a fatbike to the mix can bring a new level of ice fishing enjoyment.

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