Ice fishing is no more fun than the gear you bring. So when the temperature begins to creep below zero, it’s time to set up your ATV for the ice-fishing season.
Whether you want to improve comfort, safety, or gear-hauling capabilities or make the whole experience more entertaining, you can get many cool gadgets and accessories to build your dream machine.
In this article, I’ve assembled a list of the gear you will need to build the ultimate rig. Some of it is expensive, some cheap, and some you can even make at home to save money.
If you’re anything like me, the planning and building process is half the fun of any project, so find a pen and some paper and start planning!
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 quickly. Motorized ice augers are heavy, so the mount must be robust. The Jaws of Ice Auger Carrier is a great option, but plenty of others will do the job.
The mount should feature a flexible mounting system for an optimal fit. Space is limited on an ATV, so you likely won’t have the luxury to mount the auger in the middle of the front rack.
A flexible mounting system is essential if you plan on hauling all your gear on the bike without using a trailer.
Many choose to mount the auger mount at the ATV’s front because of the ease of access and better weight distribution 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 to conceal the whole drill part of the auger, leaving just the motor outside. This option will be safer, leaving no sharp edges exposed during transport.
Some riders make tube mounts themselves out of a standard PVC tube. This may be an option if your budget is tight and you already have some PVC pipe in the right dimension.
But if you have to buy the tube, you might as well buy the finished product. You can pick one up at a relatively reasonable price.
2. Robust Front Basket
Install a sturdy front basket to the front cargo rack of your ATV to carry loads of gear. Choose one made from metal or impact-resistant plastic.
If you do a good job of planning, you should be able to fit both a front basket and an ice auger mount. Look for a basket that is big enough to hold three buckets:
- One for keeping the minnow easily accessible.
- One for the gear you use often.
- One for extra gas.
3. Misc-Gear Rear Cargo Box
Many prefer installing a sturdy plastic cargo box with a hinged lid to the rear cargo rack. The lid should have rubber seals to keep the box somewhat water-resistant.
Many manufacturer variants of these boxes, many of which are excellent products built for general use. However, I recommend you avoid the cheapest models, as the plastic used can be flimsy and fragile in the cold.
But specifically for ice fishing purposes, there is no way around Rhino’s products (Otter). The Rhino Box is a quality storage box that can be used all year round.
What makes the Rhino Box unique is the modular system it offers. You can attach mandatory ice fishing accessories like a bucket holder, rod case, auger protection tube, and an extra gas tank directly onto the box.
If I were to suggest an improvement, it must be the possibility of attaching more than two accessories to the box simultaneously.
If you don’t like plastic or, due to availability reasons, can’t get hold of a decent box at a fair price, there is also an alternative to get a universal quality aluminum box.
You will, however, need to fabricate the mounts yourself. These boxes are commonly available at most local hardware stores at a fair price.
4. Rear Cargo Basket
If you do not like having a closed box fitted to the rear of the bike but would 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 looking 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. Ensure you don’t exceed the rack’s rated capacity or put too much weight too far at the back with no weight at the front.
I’m generally not a fan of extending the ATVs to the rear because it will increase the likelihood of a backward flip.
If you cannot fit all the cargo without extending the bike, I recommend adding a sled or a trailer to your equipment.
5. A Sled or Tub (for when there is snow)
If you carry too much gear to fit it on the bike securely, you should consider getting a sled or tub to relieve some stress from the ATV. If you plan on bringing shelter, chairs, food, and beverages, it soon adds up to more than the bike can handle.
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 bike’s riding abilities, and the higher you get from the ground, the more negative effect it has.
As long as snow is on the ground, a sled made of impact-resistant synthetic material will be a cheap and flexible solution to carry extra cargo. It will often be more affordable than buying a trailer, and if you use tracks on the bike, it will also work well in deeper snow.
I recommend getting one with a sturdy front frame in metal, preventing the sled from slamming into the bike.
Apart from that, you can almost not go wrong if you get a sled from a well-reputed manufacturer. Get what’s available close to you, as shipping on these can be expensive.
6. A Trailer (for where there is no snow)
For those winters when 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 most used gear.
Holders for up to four large 5-gallon buckets are standard. On some holders, you can also carry a propane tank for your heating system of choice.
This will be an excellent way of carrying the gear you use all day and may want to move between different fishing spots. If you live near 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 of the holders, spreading your gear all over the place. If you are fortunate, 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.
Many options are available, and I won’t recommend a specific model as most will do the job. You must choose one that fits the rest of your setup and bike mounts. Just google ATV bucket holder and look at the image results to give you endless inspiration.
If you rely on other ways to carry the gear to the lake, you should look into a “flip-out” style holder to keep them tucked away when unused.
8. ATV Windshield
Installing a big windscreen on the quad is necessary 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 cause nasty frostbites 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 to improve the ride’s comfort when riding in the cold.
The screens are usually made of plexiglass and install in minutes. You can get universal types or screens specifically 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 a 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
Another upgrade to increase comfort during those freezing rides up to the lake and back.
Many of the available systems offer such high output that they will not only keep your hands warm but also dry a wet pair of gloves in no time. You can see the moisture vaporize as you ride; what a luxury!
Just ensure you get a set with at least two different power settings so you don’t sweat rather than just being comfortably warm.
Some manufacturers sell this as OEM aftermarket parts, but you can also get universal kits that fit any ATV.
You either remove the original handle grips, install a thin heat film on the handlebars, re-install the grips, or replace the original grips with new ones with heating elements embedded in the rubber.
Ensure you install the electrics properly and ensure the circuit is fuse-protected, as shorts in heated grips are a common reason ATV batteries are drained.
10. A Flotation Device
Having some flotation device fitted on the ATV or snowmobile is required by law in more places. Regardless of the law, having such a device is excellent safety insurance whenever 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 few minutes. Having a device 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 achieving 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, particularly if you need to ride a narrow trail 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 support three people plus a submerged ATV. 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
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 bonus of the ability to quickly and accurately pinpoint and save your favorite, most successful fishing spots.
I won’t go into what makes a good ice fishing spot, but when you have found one or been shown one by an experienced friend, you want to ensure this knowledge doesn’t get lost.
Even a short distance off point may sometimes be what separates a successful day with buckets full of fish from a long, frustrating, resultless day.
Locating these places out on the ice without a GPS would require exceptional triangulation skills with a map and a compass or 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 to read in bright sunlight.
The phone will need a constant power supply as it will only last so long on the battery. Using the phone’s standard charge plug and a cable to the bike’s 12V outlet is not the best option.
The plug will likely come loose on bumpy rides, and over time you may start experiencing a bad connection due to a damaged connection. These connections are 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. You should be in good shape if you get a waterproof and shock-resistant system.
12. Waterproof Phone Mount
In any case, whether you want to use your phone as a GPS or if you want to keep it available for incoming calls, you should get a sturdy waterproof phone mount. This will protect the phone from the elements and ensure it is always ready for use.
13. A Sonar
That’s right. After all, we are talking about the ultimate ice-fishing rig here. With a sonar, you can locate where the fish is hiding in no time.
If you get one with built-in GPS, you save yourself one device, allowing you to pinpoint your favorite spots directly onto the sonar.
14. A Hitch Cargo Rack
If you don’t like the idea of dragging something behind you, like a sled or a trailer, you could get 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. A Snowplow
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 to the lake and beyond, no matter how much snow or other challenging riding conditions you must tackle.
If you want to optimize the tracks further for ice fishing, you can fit them with tire studs you 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 are always an option but can sometimes be a bit more than you need, so adding studs may be just perfect.
17. LED Work Lights
Installing good LED work lights or a light bar will make setting up/taking down the fishing gear in the dark much more manageable.
18. An 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 you, the bike, and all of your gear. It’s like bringing a small portable garage.
Browse Frabill or Otter’s products, and I am sure you will find a model that fits your needs.
There are shelters out there that you can install on the ATV itself. Still, I don’t see any significant benefit with a setup like that as better stand-alone shelters are available that easily can be strapped to the bike or your sled for transport.
The rack-mounted systems will also take up much more of your bike’s storage space for other gear.