Icefishing gear is highly specialized. First, an ice spade, saw or auger is required to cut a circular hole or larger rectangular hole in the ice. Power augers are sometimes used. A strainer is sometimes required to remove new ice as it forms.
Three main types of fishing occurs. Small, light fishing rods with small, brightly colored lures, or bait such as waxworms or mousies , may be used in jigging for fish. Tip-ups, which carry a line attached to a flag that "tips up" when a strike occurs, allow unattended or less-intensive fishing. The line is dragged in by hand with no reel. In spear fishing a large hole is cut in the ice and fish decoys may be deployed. The fisherman stands over the hole while holding a large spear attached to a line. This method is often used for lake sturgeon fishing.
Becoming increasingly popular is the use of a flasher, or fish finder. This is a sonar system that provides depth information, as well as indicates the presence of fish or other objects. Underwater cameras are also now available which allow the user to view the fish and watch how they react to your lure presentation.
Ice needs to freeze to at least four inches in depth to support walking humans, and a foot to support vehicles. However, care must be taken, because sometimes ice will break and move with currents, leaving open areas which refreeze with much thinner ice. On the Great Lakes, off-shore winds can break off miles-wide pans of ice stranding large numbers of fishermen. Late-winter warm spells can destroy the texture of the ice, which, while still of the required thickness, will not adequately support weight. It is called "rotten ice" and is exceedingly dangerous. Some ice-fishermen will continue to fish, but will carry a pole horizontally to hold them, if they fall through. Fisherman may carry a self-rescue device made of two spiked handles connected by a string to help pull themselves back onto the ice out of the water.
Many cars, trucks, SUVs, snowmobiles, and fish houses fall through the ice each year. Current environmental regulations require the speedy recovery of the vehicle or structure in this situation. Divers must be hired, and when the trouble occurs far from shore, helicopters may be employed for hoisting.
Other risks associated with ice fishing include carbon monoxide poisoning from fish house heaters and frostbite due to prolonged exposure to wind and the temperatures associated.
Ice fishing contests offer prizes for the largest fish caught within a limited time period. Some people take their ice fishing very seriously. In Michigan, USA, "Tip-Up Town, USA" can bring 40,000 people out onto Houghton Lake for festivities which include ice fishing, snowmobiling, snow sculpting and fireworks.
In Finland, ice fishing contests have been marred by repeated scandals, where both contestants and organizers have been caught cheating. Contestants have smuggled previously caught and frozen fish with them. And organizers have awarded the prizes to stooges, not really even participating in the competition, to avoid paying prize monies, which often rise to very high sums.
Ice fishing has long been considered a "quasi-sport", in that some people claim that very little skill is really involved and that success is dependent upon just good fortune. This has led many other sportspersons to consider ice fishing to be merely a pastime for people who have few constructive or edifying activities in their lives. However, research by the AIFA (American Ice Fishing Association) has shown that ice fishing can have very calming and relaxing effects for the fishermen/fisherwomen. The AIFA also concluded that icefishing not only helps manage the fish species population, but also contributes to both community economic growth and to the emotional well-being of the participants.