Ice fishing is no more fun than the gear you bring along, right? So when temperatures start creeping below zero it’s time to be setting up your ATV for the ice-fishing season.
Whether you are looking to improve comfort, safety, gear hauling capabilities or just simply want to make the whole thing a bit more entertaining there are a lot of cool gadgets and accessories you can get to build your dream machine.
In this article, I’ve assembled a list of the different gear you will need to build the ultimate rig. Some of it is expensive, some of it is cheap, and some of it you can even make yourself if you want.
If you’re anything like me, the planning and building process is half the fun of any project, so find yourself a pen and some paper and start creating!
1 Auger mount
This first one is a no-brainer. No setup would be complete without a good auger mount.
Look for a sturdy metal one as the cheaper options tend to break far too easy. This is not the place to save costs.
The weight of the auger may be quite significant, so the mount needs to be able to handle quite the beating. The Jaws of Life Ice Auger Carrier would be a good option, but there are plenty of others that will do the job well also.
The mount should feature a flexible mounting system so that you can adapt it to the other accessories you decide to mount on the bike. Space is limited, so you likely won’t have the luxury to just mount the auger in the middle of the front rack.
Especially if you plan on carrying all of your gear on the bike itself with no trailer attached to the hitch you need to plan a good layout.
Many choose to mount the auger mount at the front of the ATV because of the ease of access and good weight distribution when combined with a rear storage box or bucket holder system. More on that later.
As an alternative to the metal “claw” style auger mounts, you can also get plastic tube mounts that will conceal the whole drill-bit part of the auger, leaving just the motor outside. This will be a safer option as it leaves less sharp edges exposed during transport.
Some make these mounts themselves out of PVC tube. This may be an option if your budget is tight and you have some PVC pipe in the right dimension laying around.
But if you will have to buy the pipe to build it anyways, I recommend you opt for buying a purpose made product. You can pick them up at a relatively reasonable price.
2 A sturdy front basket
Many great setups have fitted a sturdy metal front basket or one made of impact resistant plastic to the front cargo rack of the ATV. Kolpin is a well-known manufacturer that makes good options in both materials, depending on your personal preference.
The basket should be fitted so it can be used together with the auger mount if you decide on fitting this at the front.
See if you can find a basket that will fit about three buckets, allowing you to store the minnow bucket for easy access, stuff you need often like a shovel, and some extra gas etc.
3 Misc gear rear cargo box
At the rear cargo rack, many like to install a sturdy plastic cargo-box with a hinged lid. Preferably the lid should have a rubber seal to keep the box somewhat water resistant.
A wide range of manufacturers make this kind of boxes, and many of them offer great products intended for general ATV cargo transport. However, I would steer clear of the cheapest ones as the plastic used can be quite flimsy and fragile in the cold.
But as soon as we talk about ice fishing, and getting the best available accessories for this specific purpose, there is really no way around the products from Rhino (Otter).
The Rhino box is quality storage box that can be used all year around.
What makes it unique is that is can be fitted with mandatory ice fishing accessories like bucket holder, rod case and auger protection tube, as well as an extra gas tank directly onto the box itself. It is a great modular system.
If I were to suggest an improvement it would have to be a possibility to fit more than two accessories to the box at the same time.
If you don’t like plastic, or if you due to availability reasons can’t get hold of a good one at a fair price, there is also an option to get a universal quality aluminum box.
You will, however, need to make the mounts yourself. These boxes are commonly available at most local hardware stores at a fair price.
4 Rear cargo basket
If you are not a fan of having a closed box fitted to the rear of the bike, but would rather prefer a more open and easily accessible solution, you could opt for a rear cargo basket similar to the front one.
Again there will be a wide variety of options available, but I recommend you look for a metal one. This will be a good spot for your propane tank and heater, a couple of buckets, a milk crate with misc gear and more.
Some manufacturers even have baskets that will extend the cargo rack to the rear like the Kolpin rear drop basket, giving you lots of extra storage capacity. Just make sure you don’t exceed your bikes racks rated capacity, or that you put on too much weight too far at the back with no weight at the front.
I’m generally not a fan of extending the ATV’s to the rear, because it will increase the likelihood of a backward flip. The way I see it there is no need to take this extra risk.
If you cannot fit all of the cargo without extending the bike I would generally recommend you ad a sled or a trailer to your equipage.
5 Sled/tub (for when there is snow)
If you simply carry too much gear to fit it all securely on the bike itself, you should consider getting a sled or tub to relieve some stress of the bike. If you plan on bringing a shelter, some chairs, food and beverages, it soon adds up to more than the bike can handle on its own.
I do not recommend you stack a sky-high mountain of gear onto the bike even if you can manage to keep it all in place. Any added weight will alter the bikes riding abilities, and the higher you get from the ground the more negative effect it has.
As long as there is some snow on the ground, a sled made out of impact resistant synthetic material will be a cheap and flexible solution to carry extra cargo. Often times it will be cheaper than buying a trailer, and if you use tracks on the bike it will also work well in deeper snow.
I recommend you get one with a sturdy front frame in metal, preventing the sled from slamming into the bike.
Other than that you almost cannot go wrong as long as you get a sled from a well-reputed manufacturer. Get whats available close to you as shipping on these can be a bit quite harsh on the budget.
6 Trailer (for where there is no snow)
For those winters where there is not much snow, a plastic sled will wear out quite fast if you use it on bare ground.
It may work fine on the frozen lake but as soon as you take it off the ice you are better off with a pair of tires. For ice fishing purposes you likely don’t need a huge trailer. Consider getting a tub style with removable tires, dualling as both a sled and a trailer!
7 Bucket holders
Installing bucket holders to the bike is a cheap and easy option that gives you lots of easily accessible storage space for the gear you use the most.
Holders for up to four large 5-gallon buckets are common. On some holders, you can also carry a propane tank for your heating system of choice.
This will be a good option to carry the gear you use all day and may want to move between different fishing spots. If you live nearby the lake it may be all that you need to haul most of your gear out to the lake.
However, relying solely on buckets to haul your gear when you have a bit of a driving distance out to the lake, may not be the best solution.
On bumpy trails, the buckets may bounce out so that your gear gets spread all over the place. If you are really lucky you don’t notice until driving a few extra miles. Also, the buckets tend to fill up with snow when riding the trails.
The best option is probably a combination of closed storage for transport to-and-from the lake, and bucket holders for easy access when out on the lake.
There is a wide variety of options available, and I won’t recommend a specific model as most will do the job. You will need to choose one that wits the rest of your setup and will fit your bike mounts. Just google ATV bucket holder and have a look at the image results to give you endless inspiration.
If you will rely on other ways to carry the gear out to the lake, you should look into “flip-out” style holder so you can keep them tucked away when not needed.
Installing a big windscreen on the quad is a must to make the ride out to the like as enjoyable as possible.
Riding unprotected in sub-zero temperatures is not only uncomfortably cold, but you can find yourself with a nasty frostbite on your nose or cheeks before you have time to say brrr.
Getting a windshield to keep the wind away is one of the most effective upgrades you can make to your bike for improving the comfort aspect of the ride when riding in the cold.
The screens are usually made of some kind of plexiglass and install in minutes. You can get universal types or screens specific made for your bike.
If you buy an original model-specific screen you usually have to pay a bit more, but at the same time, you are sure to get a perfect fit.
Usually, the original screens feature some sort of tool-free mounting system, making it faster and easier to remove the screen as soon as the weather gets warmer and you don’t need it anymore.
9 Heated grips and thumb throttle
This is also one that will add a lot of comfort for those freezing rides up to the lake and back.
The systems available are usually so powerful that they will not only keep your hands warm, they will also dry a wet pair of gloves in no time. You can see the moisture vaporize as you ride, what a luxury!
Just make sure you get a set with at least two different power settings so you don’t end up sweating rather than just being comfortably warm.
Some manufacturers sell this as OEM aftermarket parts, but you can also get universal kits that will fit any ATV.
You either remove the original handle grips, install a thin heat-film on the handlebars and re-install the grips, or you simply replace the original grips with new ones that have heating elements embedded in the rubber.
Just make sure you do a good job with the electric installation and make sure the installation is secured with a fuse, as shorts in heated grips is a common reason why ATV batteries are being drained.
10 Flotation device
Having some sort of flotation device fitted on the ATV or snowmobile is becoming required by law in more and more places. And regardless of the law, it is something that is very smart to have any time you go out on frozen lakes.
When I did my basic training in the army I had the “pleasure” to experience a swim in a hole cut out of the ice on a frozen lake. The air temperature was minus 15 degrees Celsius (59F).
Although this was done under controlled circumstances, I learned what an immense shock this is to the body. It is certainly not a way I would want to die.
In the case of an emergency, the freezing water will paralyze your body in a very short time. Having a device with you to keep you afloat until help can arrive will likely be the difference between life and death.
There are several ways you can go about to achieve this. On the market, there are available pontoon style devices you can mount on the sides of the bike. However, I don’t find these very practical, certainly if you need to ride a narrow trail to get to the lake.
A better option for most riders would be to get the Nebulus floatation device.
This is a lightweight self-inflating raft you install on the bike or keep with you. It installs on any ATV or snowmobile in seconds and holds enough buoyancy to keep 3 people plus a submerged ATV floating. A line will keep the bike floating just below the surface for later to be salvaged.
This is not meant as a life-raft, but it will keep you above water until help can arrive. Watch this youtube video to see it in action:
11 A mounted GPS to find your good spots
Having a GPS on the bike serves more purposes than finding the lake and keeping on the trail all the way home in bad weather.
For ice-fishing purposes, you also get the added bonus of the ability to quickly and accurately pinpoint and save your favorite, most successful fishing spots.
I won’t go into the topic of what makes a good ice fishing spot, but when you have found one or been shown one by an experienced friend, you want to make sure this knowledge doesn’t get lost for the future.
Just a small distance off point may in some cases be what separates a successful day with buckets full of fish from a long frustrating day with no results to show for.
Locating these places out on the ice without a GPS would require some serious triangulation skills with a map and a compass, or some more traditional navigating skills that not many people possess today.
If you have a smartphone with a GPS, installing a good phone mount on the bike may be all you need to do and you are good to go. However, an installation like this does come with some disadvantages.
Not all phones are waterproof, and the screen may not be bright enough for you to read it in bright sunlight.
The phone will need a constant power supply as it will only last for so long on the battery. Using the phones standard charge plug and a cable to the bikes 12V outlet is not the best option.
The plug will likely come loose on bumpy rides, and over time you may start experiencing bad connection due to a damaged connection. These connections are simply not designed for the vibration and moist conditions they will meet on the bike.
That is why many still prefer a dedicated GPS over using the phone.
This allows you to make a sturdier, permanent installation with a more reliable electrical connection. If you make sure to get a system that is waterproof and shock resistant you should be in good shape.
12 Waterproof phone mount
In any case, whether you want to use your phone as a GPS or if you just want to keep it available for incoming calls, you should get a sturdy waterproof phone mount. This will keep the phone protected from the elements and ready to be used at all times.
That’s right. After all, we are talking about the ultimate ice-fishing rig here. With a sonar, you will be able to locate where the fish is hiding in no-time.
If you get one with built-in GPS you save yourself one device, giving you the opportunity to pinpoint your favorite spots directly onto the sonar.
14 Hitch cargo rack
If you don’t like the idea of dragging something behind you like a sled or a trailer you could look into getting a rear hitch rack as this will add up to the rated capacity of your rear rack. Again, make sure you don’t add too much weight back there!
15 Snow plow
To quickly remove any snow on the ice, if you don’t prefer using the shovel!
16 Studded tracks or tires
Adding tracks to the bike will get you all the way to the lake and beyond, no matter how much snow or other challenging riding conditions you need to tackle.
If you want to optimize the tracks further for ice fishing you can fit them with tire studs you simply screw in yourself. Make sure the size of the studs with the thickness of the tracks.
This can also be done on tires to give you excellent traction on hard ice.
Chains is always an option, but can sometimes be a bit more than you really need, in which case, adding studs may be just perfect.
17 LED work lights
Installing a set of good LED work lights or a LED light bar will make setting up/taking down the fishing gear in the dark a lot easier.
18 ATV shelter
If you not only want to keep yourself protected from the elements but also the ATV, you can get ice-fishing shelters that will fit both you, the bike and all of your gear. It’s like bringing your own small portable garage.
Have a look at the products from Frabill or Otter, and I am sure you will find a model that fits your needs.
You can indeed find models that you can be installed on the bike itself, but I cannot see the great purpose of this as there are better stand-alone shelters available that easily can be strapped to the bike or your sled for transport.
The rack mounted systems available will also take up quite a lot of the much-needed storage space available on the bike you want to use for other gear.