Wow, all of the ice fishing gear out there to choose from! Is it too much or not enough? Everything has its place—some in the garbage. I have always leaned towards only use what you need to get the job done but do not overdo it! That’s easy for me to say as I look at my massive rod collection both for the ice and the open water.

My excuse is that it’s for the clients—five clients at a time and the options have to be ready—so it adds up quickly. However, if it’s just me scouting for new ice fishing spots to place a fish house or take out a guided ice fishing trip –it’s all bare bones baby–especially on the ice. While scouting new ice fishing spots at a whopping -8 below zero high temperature, I keep it light and simple.

Myself, a truck (which couldn’t be used on the not so thick 10” of ice), and a four-wheeler to get around quick. I also carry 4 rods all pre-rigged with different panfish baits—both horizontal and vertical. All the baits are selected to quickly search, get a bite, catch a fish, and leave. I do not have time to finesse fish. (And frankly, most ice anglers cannot finesse anyway), so I put the fish houses on non-finesse fishing spots. I also bring a Vexilar for “sight fishing” BEFORE I drill any holes (this system saves a ton of time), a small cooler or bottle of water for looking through the ice with the Vexilar, a K-Drill for cutting holes, a small tackle bag (fanny pack style), and a “puck” of waxies for bait. All of this will fit into a backpack (besides the K drill which can be carried). From start to finish I can park the truck, unload the wheeler, and put all the gear on the wheeler in 4-5 minutes. No sled—just a few bungee cords. Yes, I timed it. 

Why no shelter or heater? Setting up shelters slows down your mobility. Even a flip over shelter slows down the system. Shelters also get the attention of other anglers looking for an easy spot to fish. Just by standing on the ice with no “real obvious gear” keeps you off the radar of other anglers that can easily ruin you’re scouting efforts. The goal is to locate as many fishing spots with fish as possible within the hours of 10 am and 2 pm. I am using the warmest time of the day as well. Today’s ice fishing clothing is the shelter in my opinion. Even in a stiff wind, I tend to leave the shelters at home. If the kids are along or I’m guiding a group, then shelters are a must. But when I am in scout mode—no shelters! 

Use your chip loaded GPS to get to the general fishing area, jump off the wheeler and start scanning through the ice with the Vexilar with a little water on the ice. The search has to be narrowed down to a 20×20 area. This is about the size of a fish house. Don’t see any fish? Don’t drill a hole. Period. Don’t be fooled by bubbles or cracks in the ice. They will give you false “fishy” readings. Make sure the ice is clear/clean–as close to flawless as you can get. Though time, you will learn how to ignore false readings. The fewer holes that are drilled the better, especially in populated areas. Remember, each hole you drill tells another angler where to fish. 

Guide Secret #234—about 100 yards from the “honey hole” I will drill a tight cluster of holes, squish some minnows or wax worms on the ice, stomp the area really good, and if I can, put blood on the ice to make it look like a really good spot to other anglers. Even inexperienced guides will fall for the trick. I will tell you guide trip #235 next time. 

Ok, so if you see some fish, drill a hole and catch a few to verify what they are. Then move on. There is no point in catching more than a couple to verify the spot, plus you don’t want the “crowds” to see you catching anything, or the “jig” is up! In fact, just the other day, I had to abandon a scouting mission due to someone “glassing” me from the access. Be observant and keep your spots and hard work! 

Scouting new ice fishing spots are a fun part of my job, but it can be a lot of work as well. But let me tell ya, It’s much easier, efficient, and effective if the gear load is at a bare minimum. It’s amazing what an angler doesn’t need to put fish topside! Lotsa Fish! Lotsa Fun! Captain Josh Hagemeister, Minnesota Fishing Guide Service, 320-291-0708, 218-732-9919

About The Author

Josh Hagemeister

Captain Josh Hagemeister has been making a living as a professional fishing guide for 31 years. With a passion of fishing that started at age 4, Josh took it to the next level by starting Minnesota Fishing Guide Service ( while still in high school. Throughout college and throughout his adult life Josh has guided over 5,000 trips in the boat alone--and countless ice fishing trips as well. Due to spending nearly 300 days year on the water, Josh has become known as one of the most versatile and efficient multi-species guides throughout the state known to catch fish anywhere at any time. Hence the famous “Guaranteed Fish” associated with Minnesota Fishing Guide Service. While his specialty is walleye (due to demand), Josh enjoys all species of fish including salt water. While most of Josh’s time is spent in a boat knocking out nearly 200 trips or more a season (yes that’s 3 a day much of the time lol), during the “frozen period” he is scouting and moving fish houses for his ice fishing rental/guiding business— Helping people learn about fishing and catching more has been in Josh’s blood since the days he worked at In-Fisherman Magazine’s Camp Fish as an instructional fishing guide. Josh’s most recent endeavor has included the re-creation of Camp Fish ( partnering with Troy Lindner and other former Camp Fish Staff to get the job done. Josh is married and has 3 boys who also love to hunt and fish.