Ice Fishing For Muskies: Best Beginner Tips And Techniques

by Julie | Last Updated:   April 11th, 2022
Ice Fishing For Muskies: Best Beginner Tips And Techniques


It is well known among sport fishermen that muskies are a highly sought-after fish. They are notoriously huge and fierce. Much like a northern pike, but think even bigger, stronger, and with the teeth to match.

They are legendary due to their rarity, but if you know they are in the body of water you are fishing then it is only a matter of time before you catch one.

Now, just imagine being able to pull a monster fish like that through the ice! That’s right you don’t have to wait until the warmer weather strikes again to get out there and catch your prize muskie, you can ice fish for them just like any other! Knowing some tips to catch this elusive fish through the ice can go a long way to helping you land the musky of your dreams. Any season can be muskie season!

That is exactly what we are here for. We will cover water temperatures, depths, the kind of structure that best supports muskies during the winter months, and much more topics related to ice fishing for muskies. Whether you’ll be using tip-ups or jigging rods we will go over it all and how to land a musky through the ice!

What Do Muskies Eat?

Muskies are ambush predators that use their speed and razor-sharp teeth to incapacitate their prey. Since they are such a large predator, they’ll feed on not only smaller fish but larger species too that most other freshwater fish can’t or won’t feed on. They’ll prey on baitfish like perch, suckers, panfish, bullhead, ciscoes, bass, and even other pike and muskies.

They are also known to feed on small mammals like mice, muskrats, voles, and even ducks. You would be surprised to know that they’ll even go after insects every now and then too! These are very aggressive fish which is part of what makes anglers so keen to catch muskies; because the fight will be like nothing else you’ve ever caught before.

Now, that we know what their diet consists of the next step is where to find muskies, especially through the ice. What kind of habitat do they occupy in order to hunt their desired prey species?

Where Can I Find Muskies?

Ice fishing for muskies

When muskie fishing you’ll want to be fishing in clear, cold water as they are considered to be a cool-water species. Large lakes, rivers, and reservoirs are usually the bodies of water that musky will be found in. However, they are relatively rare and elusive fish so you’ll have to check your state and area’s fish and wildlife or the department of environmental conservation site to know if there are muskies found in any water near you.

Their range typically consists of more northern regions like northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, Great Lakes region, Michigan, western New York, Canada, and as far south as Tennessee.

Much like with fishing for pike, you’ll want to be fishing the edges for musky. They like to be hanging around structures like rock piles, drop-offs, weed lines, shoreline bars, and the like. They are ambush predators so they use the structure to lay in wait for their prey before they strike.

The use of topographic maps, ice fishing fish finders, or sonar will help you to locate these kinds of areas of structure in any body of water you plan to fish.

Early spring and summer you can find them in the shallows more often because that is where the baitfish will be too. When early winter sets in and the temperature drops and ice forms, then you’ll find musky in deeper water.

Rarely will they be found deeper than 40 feet, but truly the best depth to start ice fishing for them at is between 10 and 15 feet deep. They’ll stay in the shallower water until the water temperature starts hitting 40 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit, then they’ll start migrating deeper.

You can take advantage of this using tip-ups and setting a few up at different depths like one at 10 feet, then 12, and then 15 feet to see which will provide you with more luck. This time of the year makes it more likely for you to catch big fish too, so if you get a muskie it could be one of trophy size!

The Type Of Tackle Required

You’re going to want some heavy tackle for muskie fishing, more so if you plan to be jigging them through the ice. Knowing the best kind of bait and tackle to use will help you to not only catch one but to prevent you from needlessly losing some of your tackle to their razor-like teeth.

Below we will cover what you’ll need for lures, bait, setups, and more:

Jigging Rod and Reel

Many ice fishing anglers have a preference for jigging through the ice, especially for fish like pike and muskie. It’s great for reactive and aggressive fish like these because you’re creating a lot of motion while jigging which will spur a muskie into striking.

If this is the kind of ice fishing you want to do then it is best to be prepared with a strong jigging rod and reel. A 32 inch to 36-inch medium-heavy to heavy action rod is ideal for dealing with big fish like muskies.

For an ice fishing reel, any decent open-face reel will work well for this kind of setup. Just make sure it is something sturdy so that it can handle reeling in a big musky. A good reel can make a big difference when fighting a fish like that.

To get some more fishing tips and see how it is done when jigging muskie through the ice, take a look at this video:

Tip-ups

It doesn’t really matter what kind of tip-up you use, whether they’re plastic, wood, or metal any one of them should work just fine. Tip-ups are designed in such a way that they can handle any size fish.

They are great for covering a large area of water like a lake or river so that you can find the perfect depth and location of where the fish are. You’ll also be using live baits on these which is always great because what fish will refuse live bait?

Tip-ups are great to use while also jigging so that it just adds to the probability of your success. You can have several lines in the water at once this way, so one way or another you’ll catch fish. Whether or not they’re muskies though is up in the air. Don’t forget that luck is a major factor in all kinds of fishing!

Check out this video below to see how to best set up your tip-up sets for musky fishing:

Fishing Line

Whether you are using jigging rods or tip-ups, or both you’re going to want to ensure you’ve got them equipped with a line strong enough to catch muskies. These are the kind of fish that you really want to use a heavy braided line for.

They aren’t as picky as trout and they are just too big and powerful for you to want to use mono or fluorocarbon. The braided line is strong and won’t provide too much give that would allow them to either snap the line or give them enough slack to get off the hook or cut the line with their teeth.

You’ll be wanting to have at the very least a 25-pound test, but above that is even better. Anglers will use anywhere from 50, 65, and 80-pound tests for muskie fishing. So, rig your tip up sets and jigging rod accordingly so they’ll be really to hook into a monster.

Leaders

Unlike with other species like perch, largemouth bass, and crappie, muskie really requires you to have some sort of leader on the end of your line.

Leaders help protect you from the dagger-like teeth cutting right through your line and causing you to lose the fish. There are different kinds of leaders like steel leader, wire leader, or fluorocarbon leader to name a few.

Equipping the end of your line with this piece of equipment can save you the headache of losing a fish and losing what could be expensive lures, hooks, or baits.

Check out this video here where they explain the importance of line and leaders when muskie fishing. These kinds of valuable fishing tips can save you from losing a lot of fish!

Top-Producing Lures

When it comes to using lures for ice fishing muskies, there are certain ones that just work better when you’re limited to jigging through a deep hole in the ice. Nevertheless, you’ll find that there are some open water lures you can use during the spring and summertime musky season that work well through the ice too. You’ll likely find more luck using baits with natural colors than any others because you want to try and mimic their actual prey as well.

We’ll provide a list below of some of the more popular choices you’ll find when jigging for muskie.

All of these lures are easily attainable online on sites like Amazon or Bass Pro Shops, but can also be found in various bait and tackle shops anywhere near you and even occasionally you can find some of these items at places like Walmart.

Do be aware that muskie lures tend to be rather large and expensive. Which makes it all the more important for you to have a leader on to secure your lures so you don’t lose them!

Baitfish and Hooks

Tip-up ice anglers know that choosing the right live baits for their target fish can make all the difference. Fish like muskie target larger bait because they are usually the largest freshwater predator in their ecosystem. Remember the bigger the bait the bigger the fish!

Of course, when using live bait you’ll have to abide by your local regulations, which is why it is good to go to your local bait shop and talk with the people there to know more or check online for your area’s regulations as well. Other than that some of the best bait to use for muskie fishing are shiners and sunfish.

That doesn’t mean you won’t have any luck on using things like wax worms too though, which are another popular bait to use for ice fishing in general.

Then there is the matter of the hook. You’re going to need a larger and sturdier hook for muskie, so hooking your bait on a size 4 or 5 hooks should do the trick.

Other

Some more miscellaneous options for the gear you should bring with you onto the ice include things like large needle nose pliers, a hook remover, and jaw spreaders. These are not only convenient, but can save your skin, literally, when handling pike, muskie, and walleye. Trust me you do not want to go sticking your hand into the mouth of a huge muskie because all it could take is one thrash of the fish and you could be missing some pieces of skin or have deep lacerations.

There is not a muskie or pike angler out there that goes out fishing for them without these kinds of items with them.

On that note too it’s a good idea to bring a small first aid kit with you as well just in case anything happens. Being on the ice can be unpredictable so it is best to go out there prepared no matter how long you’re out there.

All three of the items mentioned will help you to keep your hands out of danger so you don’t have to actually reach in there to unhook the fish. You want to take care when doing this not only to protect you but to make it easier on the fish too.

Most anglers practice catch and release with these fish because it is great for future fishing to keep the big ones alive so they can reproduce more big ones for future anglers to catch as well.

Ice Fishing Muskie: Ethics

Just as we mentioned above, catch and release muskie fishing is what most anglers do. This just helps to preserve our natural resources and ensure that a healthy population of muskie continues to exist in any lake, river, or reservoir where they are present. This will provide everyone a year-round catch of muskies, or at least maintain the probability that you can continue to catch them year to year.

It is a privilege to have caught or to be able to catch a muskie which is a highly elusive fish in the first place. No matter if it is during the summer season or winter. Our final thoughts you should take with you into your next fishing season is that yes while you are out there to try and get your dream fish or target species, it is also about spending time out there doing so.

Every angler is grateful for the time they get to be out fishing so it’s important to do your part in conservation so we can preserve the fishing of these kinds of species for years to come for everyone.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you catch a muskie ice fishing?

Yes, you can! That is the whole topic of the article above! We give you tips on how to catch muskie even during the winter months when the water is frozen and the temperatures are frigid. Don’t let that prevent you from getting out and trying a totally new experience of fishing!

You can catch them on tip-ups and jigging rods either using lures or live bait. The trick is figuring out where they are and the kind of structure they like to hang out in and around.

How deep do you fish for muskie?

When you are ice fishing, the depth that you may find these fish can vary. In the early season when the ice just forms you may still be able to find them in shallow water where the warmer water temperatures are still hanging on.

Once it proceeds later into the season you can expect to start fishing at depths between 10 and 15 feet. This seems to be the best depth to start targeting muskie at. The use of tip-ups will allow you to cover this range of depths easily by setting each tip-up between that 10 to 15 feet range and seeing which you start getting the most action on.

Also, keep in mind that muskie usually will not be found deeper than 40 feet so that is a good rule of thumb to go by if you aren’t finding them at those shallower depths. Then you can start trying out 15 to 20 feet and so on.

What lures are good for muskie?

These are highly aggressive ambush predators so using lures like flash spoons, swimbaits, spinners, and jigging raps are great. They create a lot of motion and can mimic the flashes and actions of injured prey that will attract them and entice them into taking the bait. We’ve provided a list above of some of the best muskie lures you can use.

How hard is it to catch a tiger muskie?

First of all, it is important to explain what a tiger muskie is. It is actually a hybrid of a northern pike and muskellunge. As such it is sterile and therefore cannot reproduce.

If you want to catch one of these fish you’ll have to check with your area’s wildlife or conservation department to find out if there are any waterways that they stock with tiger muskie. They are rare fish to catch so it can be quite difficult to find them. That is why it is important to do your research to find if there are any locations near you that have and is stocked with these fish.

How do you lift a muskie?

Carefully! The best and most secure way to do so is to position one hand on the underside of the fish where the gills are so you can actually get your fingers beneath the gill coverlets. This way you can secure the head so it can’t slash you with its teeth and you’ll be keeping your hand away from its mouth.

Your other hand will grip toward the base of the tail. This is the best way to hold and lift a muskie without hurting yourself or the fish. Have a firm grip in case the fish starts to thrash. This way you can safely take pictures and then quickly and easily release the fish back into the water.

I was fishing before I could walk and it's been a family tradition for centuries. Fishing is my life, or at least as long as I can remember. In the Lake Champlain International Fathers Day Fishing Derby, not only have I won first place twice but also third place! Also, in addition to majoring in Wilderness Recreation Leadership, I also happen to be a licensed camping, hiking, and hunting guide for NY.