Watching a pop-up shelter blow across the ice at warp speed is quite a sight to behold. And it’s almost laughable until you realize that somebody is now having a really bad day. We’ve witnessed this exact scenario more than once but it’s something that never needs to happen to you.
Anchoring your ice shelter to the ice seems like a no brainer but we are all guilty of deciding against it on a seemingly calm day. After all, who wants to waste time and energy setting up when there is fishing to be done?
However, it doesn’t need to be an arduous chore. With the right tools and a few tips from us, you’ll spend less than five minutes anchoring your shelter in place instead of spending half a day tracking down a wayward pop-up. Follow along and we’ll cover everything you need to know about anchoring any kind of ice shelter. These are battle tested tips, so listen up!
Do you need to anchor an ice fishing shelter
There are lots of different kinds of ice shelters out there but they all have one weakness out on the ice. WIND. Even the heaviest flip-over or hub style shelters act as big wind sails. Any shelter not anchored to the ice can blow across the surface in seconds.
Keep in mind, large open expanses of ice are subjected to powerful winds. With no obstructions and daily temperature changes, high winds are ubiquitous. Large lakes are the most dangerous, often having wind gusts in excess of 20-30 mph. In times like these, we suggest waiting for more favorable wind conditions before using your pop-up.
So, the short answer is YES. You absolutely should use ice stakes or some other anchor system every time you setup your shelter. Even if the weather is calm when you start on the ice, it doesn’t take much of a breeze to send your shelter flying. A few ice stakes and 5 minutes are all it takes to have a worry-free day of ice fishing.
What kind of ice anchors are the best
Before we even delve into how to anchor your shelter, let’s talk ice stakes. They are not all created equal. The right ice stake will screw buttery smooth into the ice by hand. The wrong one is more likely to induce excessive cussing.
When you buy any brand of pop-up shelter, they usually come with metal ice stakes. If you have a Clam shelter… sorry. Not because there is anything wrong with the shelter. Clam makes great products. It’s just that Clam ice stakes are notoriously difficult to use. For some reason, it’s extremely hard to get Clam ice anchors to bite into the ice and we’re not the only ones who says this. Maybe someday they’ll improve the design. So until then, there is a better option.
Eskimo ice stakes are, hands down, the best ice stakes you can buy and they’re what we use for our Eskimo QuickFish. With heavy gauge steel and a generously wide T-handle, they are the Cadillac of the ice stake world. They also bite into the ice easier that any other anchors we’ve ever used. Which means doing it by hand has never been an issue for us.
How to anchor a pop-up shelter
Pop-up hub style shelters are incredibly popular among anglers. They also happen to be the ones you’ll see tumbling across the ice most often. Their lightweight construction and large surface area are to blame. Therefore, regardless of the weather, always anchor your pop-up to the ice.
There are several different techniques for anchoring a pop-up ice shelter but in our experience, one method is absolutely fool proof when the wind is blowing. Plus, it works on any hub style shelter.
Unpack your shelter and anchor one corner with an ice stake. Even the lightest breeze can cause you a lot of grief when setting up a pop-up. Especially, if you are by yourself. So, we recommend unpacking your shelter and while it’s laying flat on the ice, anchor one corner to the ice with an ice stake.
Position your shelter with the wind in mind and set it up. With one corner staked, you can now take a moment to orient your pop-up with the strongest portion taking on the brunt of the wind. We find that facing one of the pop-out sides directly into the wind is best. The angles deflect some wind plus you can anchor the center of the wall to the ice so it doesn’t collapse under a strong gust. Door openings catch wind so avoid facing them up wind. Once positioned, finish pulling out all the pop-out sides.
Install the rest of your ice anchors. Now that you have the pop-up positioned, you can start screwing in more ice stakes. Unless the wind is howling, you don’t need to stake every single anchor point on your shelter. On an average day, we stake at least 2 corners on the base and the strap on the side that faces the wind. This provides 3 strong anchor points. For stiffer winds or larger shelters, stake all four corners and any additional side straps as needed. Adding ice and snow on top of the snow skirt helps seal out wind too.
That’s all there is to it. Use good stakes, like Eskimo’s ice stakes, and within 5 minutes you’ll be fishing in comfort with a secure shelter.
How do you anchor a flip-over ice shelter
For those that don’t know, flip-overs are collapsable ice shelters that fold up into a self contained sled. They normally have metal rods that provide support to the fabric and also have one or more seats for fishing. Flip-overs are quite heavy. Generally speaking, they weigh 80 pounds or more. As a result, most anglers overlook the need for staking them in place.
However, ice is slick and provides minimal resistance so even a heavy object can slide easily across the surface when the wind blows. I’ve heard horror stories of anglers careening out of control across the ice in their flip-over. Don’t be one of them.
Obviously, if you towed your flip-over out on the ice with an ATV or snow machine, then leave it attached with the tow bar. That will keep your shelter in place. If you need to detach the shelter from your tow vehicle or you pulled it out by hand, here is how to anchor it.
Install an anchor system on the backside of the flip-over. There are several different ways to do this. Our favorite is the S2B Shack Anchor system. It is probably the fastest to deploy and the most secure. You can check it out at shackanchor.com.
You can also opt for a bolt-on system like Clam’s Ice Anchor Kit. It is a viable solution but lacks durability because of the plastic buckles.
The easiest and cheapest anchor system for a flip-over is to simply drill two holes on the back of the shelter (the side of the sled opposite the front bar) about 16 inches apart. Route a rope through both holes, then tie a small loop on each end. There should be about one foot of rope coming out each hole including the loop. Now, just install two ice stakes and loop the rope onto the stakes. It doesn’t get any easier than that and it is super strong.
All theses options will work. Just make sure the one you choose will hold up your shelter in tough conditions.
Face the back of your flip-over towards the wind. This eliminates the risk that a strong gust of wind will sneak in under the fabric front and collapse the shelter. Most flip-overs have locks on the metal supports that prevent this but I have heard of them breaking.
Anchor the front bar or use slush and snow on the skirt. The weakest part of any flip-over is the expandable tent portion. Most have ridged support bars but it is still a big wind sail. The front bar that extends down to the ice needs to be secured just like the main sled body. If your flip-over has grommets in the skirt for ice stakes then use them. If not, you’ll want to use a front bar anchor. Again, shackanchor.com has a simple solution worth checking out. At the very least, shovel snow or ice onto the skirt to keep out the wind.
Best way to anchor your shelter in high winds
High winds are a concern for all ice anglers. Not just because it makes for excruciatingly cold fishing but because it can absolutely destroy your expensive shelter.
In most cases, we advocate against ice fishing in extreme winds. If you have the option, wait for better weather.
When a windy day is the only day you have for fishing, then make sure you go prepared to avoid damaging your gear. Practice setting up your shelter by yourself as we described above and use every anchor point that exists on your shelter.
On pop-up shelters, we also recommend upgrading the included rope or straps to high strength cam buckle straps. These are incredibly sturdy and equally quick to deploy and take down. A cam buckle strap attached to each side of your pop-up and down to a secure ice stake is rock solid.
Collapsing a shelter in high winds takes a little strategizing too. Undo one side support at a time while you pop in each side and the top. Leave the skirt stakes in and only remove the last skirt stake once the shelter is entirely collapsed. Take your time with this and you’ll avoid a costly mistake.
Can you screw in ice stakes by hand
Screwing a solid steel stake into rock hard ice seems impossible, which is why we understand any doubts about doing it by hand.
Surprisingly, you can screw ice stakes into ice without much effort. Assuming you have the right ice stakes. Again, Eskimo ice stakes are the best and reliably work in all conditions. Solid clear ice is the hardest to anchor on but we have used Eskimo ice stakes without a problem.
The biggest challenge when installing ice stakes by hand is applying enough downward pressure while simultaneously turning the stake. That’s another reason we like Eskimo stakes. They have a wide handle for a secure grip and heavy gauge steel that won’t bend.
As long as you can twist the stake 4 or 5 rotations with sufficient downward pressure, it will bite into the ice and start driving deeper with less pressure.
With Eskimo ice stakes, we are able to anchor our shelter by hand every time. Once you get the rhythm down, each ice stake takes 30 seconds or less to screw into the ice. I barely break a sweat and I am far from the toughest guy on the ice.
Tips to help make the job easier
Getting ice stake to bite into the ice is the hardest part when installing them by hand. Most of us give up but there are a couple tips to make the job easier.
Our number one tip is to buy good ice stakes. Here is a hint. The best stakes rhyme with “buffalo.”
The next tip is to make a chink in the ice as a starting point. Glare ice may as well be concrete, so create a weakness in the surface that lets the threads on the stake bite into it. We use our spud bar to chip the surface, which is enough to get the stake started.
As a last resort, use your auger. I don’t mean drill a hole to drop the stake into. Just drill your auger one rotation to soften the surface. Our StrikeMaster has a chisel point in the center that serves that purpose well. Like the spud bar, it creates a chink in the ice deep enough for our stakes to easily screw in by hand.
Install ice anchors with a drill
In the last few years, battery powered drills have become an ice angler’s best friend. Not only can you use a battery powered drill as an ice auger, you can also use it to install your ice anchors in seconds.
Here are a couple ways to install ice stakes with a hand drill.
For the first option, all you need is a cordless drill and a drill bit. For Eskimo stakes, a 19/64 inch bit is perfect but a 1/4 inch bit works too. The important thing is to use a drill bit with a narrower diameter than the ice anchor. Now, just drill a pilot hole in the ice and then screw in the anchor by hand. It should drive into the ice with little effort.
The second option is going to cost you about $20 but it is worth it for anyone already packing a cordless drill onto the ice. Eskimo’s Ice Anchor Drill Adapter is the simplest way to quickly install ice anchors into the toughest ice. It fits all standard 3/8 or 1/2 inch chucks.
How to anchor your ice shelter without ice stakes
To be honest, ice stakes are not cheap. If you buy a shelter new, it will probably come with a full set of stakes. However, a used shelter or budget brands may not include any stakes or they could be absolute garbage. So, if coughing up $10 for a single Eskimo ice stake is out of the question, then take solace in the idea that you can anchor a shelter without stakes. Here’s how.
- Use the snow skirt. Most ice fishing pop-ups have a snow skirt around the perimeter of the shelter. All you have to do is shovel on a layer of snow or slush around the entire skirt. This is intended primarily for keeping wind from blowing through the gaps. But in a pinch, it also serves as an additional anchor. Keep in mind though, putting snow and slush on the ice skirt isn’t as strong as ice stakes. High winds can still send it flying.
- Ice hole and wedge. This technique takes a little more effort but does the job. However, it is most useful for the guy wire supports and not the corners on your shelter. First, drill at least one, but preferably two, extra holes several feet from two sides of your shelter. On each guy wire, tie on a wood or PVC dowel that is 4 to 6 inches longer than the hole is wide. Feed the dowel under the ice and pull the support rope tight to wedge the dowel in place. Your shelter will be firmly rooted in place and you can then shovel snow on the skirt as well.
- Use lag bolts. 6 or 8 inch galvanized construction lag bolts are also an option in place of ice stakes. You need a cordless drill to drive them into the ice though. You also need an oversized washer for each one. Even so, a half dozen of these will be less than half the cost of quality ice stakes.
Anchoring your ice shelter in place is serious business. Not doing so can end a fishing trip really quick. With a few quality Eskimo ice stakes and 5 minutes of your time, you can ensure a day of fishing in comfort instead of chasing down your way ward pop-up.