Ice fishing is for kids – the do’s and don’ts

Many years ago I wrote a column about kids ice fishing. I’ve been going through my old columns the last few months and I really like this one so I want to share it with you. Here it is.

The thundering herd moved across the snow packed ice as one. Their cries bounced off the hill sides, a high-pitched echo full of excitement and anticipation.

“Flag! We’ve got one! Look! A fish!” The voices blended together in a symphonic confusion of sound, surprisingly harmonious, the Vienna Boys Choir gone ice fishing, breaking the cold, clear, quiet which had, until that moment, enveloped the pond.

We were ice fishing with Mount Vernon’s group of smallest scouts, the five and six year olds. That day on the ice convinced me ice fishing is definitely for kids.

Harry and Joyce Olson met us with their snowmobile and sled that morning about 8 AM at the trailhead of a snowmobile trail into a small area pond. The smallest fry got a ride into the pond while most of us hiked a half mile along the well packed snowmobile trail.

Kids help us see everything anew. No small detail of nature’s wonders escapes their eyes. You must be equipped to answer a thousand questions – and then be ready for 1000 follow-ups!

Safety and warmth are important ingredients for a successful ice fishing expedition with the youngsters. Assuming that you won’t take them out on a bitterly cold day, their normal winter attire, including mittens and a snug hat, plus snow pants and coat, are sufficient. Layer them so that when they start running around and getting hot, you can peel off a layer or two, then bundle them back up for the cold ride home.

Keeping track of a bunch of wild ones is a challenge, so we laid out the ground rules, including specific boundaries beyond which they were not to stray. Safety around the ice holes is of paramount concern.

Our little girl actually slid into an ice hole one day when fishing with her nursery school classmates and teacher. Luckily, she only went in to her waist, and was promptly hauled out and dried off. Be certain to explain the dangers around the ice hole for your littlest charges, and establish ground rules on how to safely approach the holes. Any child small enough to slip down a hole should not be allowed near the whole without adult supervision!

Each kid was assigned a hole and trap of his or her own. When one hole seemed to produce most of the fish, we began giving each kid a turn with that trap, to even up the chances.

Our knowledge banks were put to the test answering questions as we drilled the holes and prepared the traps. A child’s interest is basically at peak at the beginning of any exercise and wanes as the day progresses.  So get them involved right away in preparing the holes and traps.  Just fishing a minnow out of the bait bucket is good for 15 minutes of fun per kid! Let them do as much as possible – it is dreadfully boring for any kid who must stand around and watch an adult have all the fun.

Food and games are the finally ingredients for a successful day on the ice with little guys and gals. Bring twice as much food and drink as you think you’ll need. They’ll consume it all, and ask for more. Outdoor appetites can overwhelm even the best prepared provider.

A cookout over an open fire with hot dogs and s’mores will keep them busy for an hour. I suggest bringing some wood with you, to supplant what the kids dredge up from the shore. It’s best not to turn them loose on other people’s property looking for wood – unless you are prepared to burn camp chairs and the other items they’ll return with!

We brought a pack laden with frisbees, footballs, wiffle balls and bats, and lots of other stuff. The kids played with sticks they found in the woods and spent most of their free time sliding down an ice caked hill they discovered along the shore. They divided up into teams and played some sort of aggressive game in which I dared not get involved. They never touched the frisbees, footballs, wiffle balls and bats, and other toys we lugged all the way in to the pond.

I would suggest skates if you have clear ice in which to skate. Most kids would enjoy that.

Finally, I strongly recommend taking your youngsters to a warm water pond where the action may be swift. They don’t appreciate the difference between a pickerel and a salmon. A yellow perch or sunfish is delightful to them, more colorful and interesting than a togue. They’ll want fast action, not trophy fish.

And don’t plan to make a day of it. 3 to 4 hours will be your limit as exhaustion sets in early. Sure, the kids could go all day, but don’t overestimate your own staying power!


George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.