I love to ice fish but only the hottest bites will keep me on the ice if my hands get too cold. Every ice angler knows that numb fingers make for a long day on the ice. Not to mention, it’s nearly impossible to bait a hook or tie a knot once that happens.
Yet, not all anglers seem to suffer from the cold equally. What is the difference and how can you keep your hands warm out on the ice?
Luckily for you, I have experienced my fair share of useless, frigid hands. Along the way, I’ve picked up a handful of tricks to avoid the worst of it.
Here’s a quick list of my 11 best tips to help beat the freeze so you too can ice fish with warm hands.
- Eat good before you go
- Avoid the coffee
- Buy the right gloves
- Warm core, warm hands
- Bring a towel
- Keep your back to the wind
- Use a shelter
- Heaters and hand warmers are your buddy
- Stay mobile
- Switch to deadsticking
- Don’t be a tough guy
1. Eat good before you go
Food does more than keep your stomach from growling in the morning. It’s the fuel that feeds your metabolism which is essential for warmth. Crank up your internal furnace and warm your hands by eating a wholesome breakfast.
And not just any breakfast. Generous portions of high-calorie carbs combined with the lasting nourishment from fats and proteins will help pump heat to your hands all day.
Finding breakfast foods that fit the bill won’t be hard. Think eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, toast and pastries. Or mix and match. Either way, if your breakfast looks like it belongs on an IHOP menu, you’re good to go.
Don’t think you can skip breakfast and eat after you get on the ice though. Your body’s first response after a big meal is to route blood away from your hands and other extremities back to your organs to process the meal.
Only after the job is done does your body start to distribute warmth again. Make sure you eat at least 30 minutes before hitting the ice to avoid this problem.
2. Avoid the coffee
I fully expect most of you to skip this one. However, if you can manage to forgo coffee, the trade off might be worth it. Let me explain.
Staying hydrated helps improve circulation in the body. As a diuretic, coffee encourages frequent pee breaks and leaves you dehydrated. Not only will metabolic processes that generate heat slow down, you also limit the volume of warm blood circulating through your body and, ultimately, your hands.
I’m not saying you need to give up coffee for life. Just trade out coffee on ice fishing days for some other hot drink that’s caffeine free.
3. Buy the right gloves
Indeed, any glove is better than no gloves when things get really chilly. Yet, wearing the right gloves goes a long ways to improve your comfort during a long session on the ice.
I have seen many anglers wearing inadequate gloves. Whether you are scraping ice and slush from your gear or scooping big fish from the hole, sub par gloves eventually get wet.
Invest in the best and your hands will thank you. Most anglers want a warm, waterproof glove with reasonable dexterity so that removing them is not always necessary when doing delicate tasks.
I have yet to find a glove that keeps my hands drier and warmer than IceArmor Gloves by Clam Edge Gloves. They are flexible, waterproof and plenty warm for all but the coldest days. They are reasonably priced at BassPro Shops.
Don’t over look the miracle of wool either. Raggwool gloves are some of the best gloves you can have on the ice. They are not waterproof but wet or dry, they keep your hands warm. We actually prefer the fingerless flip mitten style. You get dexterity when you need it and addition warmth from the flip mittens once the cold starts to sting. If you want the best gloves for ice fishing without the high price tag, check out the Igloo Raggwool Flip Mittens from Scheels.
4. Warm core, warm hands
Layers, layers, layers! You’ve heard it before and ice season is the time to heed that advice. Dress in layers and buy quality winter gear. I promise, you and your hands, will be warmer.
A warm core naturally leads to warm hands. It’s basic physiology. When your body gets cold, the natural defense is to pull heat from your limbs back to the core in order to preserve vital organ function.
Lucky for us ice anglers, the reverse is true too. Good thermal gear applied in a layered system keeps things hot, forcing your body to circulate excess heat back to your hands, feet and head.
Put on a hat as well to get another boost of warm blood to your hands.
5. Bring a towel
It’s a good day when the ice fishing action is so hot that you’re handling one fish after another. Only trouble is, you get wet hands! Without a doubt, wet hands get absolutely blasted by cold faster than dry hands.
Use a towel to dry your hands immediately after they get wet. Of all the things on this list, a dry towel will do more than anything else to keep your hands warm throughout the day.
A towel is not something most anglers think to bring on the ice. But once you see the wisdom behind it, you’ll always keep a dry towel on hand.
6. Keep your back to the wind
Wind is a killer on the ice. When it’s really bad, I might just pack up and call it a day. But once in a while, the fishing is so good that it’s worth braving even the toughest elements.
When a shelter is not an option, you don’t have any other choice but to deal with the wind. Even a slight breeze can suck the heat right from your hands, especially if they are wet.
No need to make this complicated though. Position yourself with your back to the wind as often as possible. Also, try utilizing the terrain and fish in locations that act as natural wind blocks.
7. Use a shelter
Well, this one is obvious but it’s still worth mentioning. If you can’t ever seem to keep your hands warm during ice fishing season, consider investing in an ice shelter.
Shelters aren’t ideal for hole hopping but when you are hunkering down on a big school of crappie it becomes a life saver. Most are built with good insulation and eliminate wind exposure. Add in a good heater and it will be down right toasty.
Even when you’re hole hopping to stay on top of roaming schools of fish, set up a shelter as a home base. Go drill all your holes and fish until your hands can’t take anymore. Then, head back to your shelter and warm up for a bit. Who knows, the fish could be waiting for you when you get back.
8. Heaters and hand warmers are your buddy
Portable heaters are worth their weight in gold, both in a shelter and outside. Sometimes all it takes to breathe new life into your fingers is a quick roast over a propane heater.
Mr. Heater makes some of the best available and Buddy heaters are a favorite season after season. The Big Buddy utilizes 1 pound propane cylinders giving you several hours of heat in nice portable package.
Let’s not forget about hand warmers either. I pretty much buy these things in bulk. They are cheap and add just enough warmth in your pocket so you can warm your hands every few minutes. Try adding some on inside pockets to warm your core or give your feet some love and drop a couple down your boots.
9. Stay mobile
Hole hopping does more than help you locate more fish, it also keeps your blood pumping. Moving from spot to spot and drilling several holes is good exercise and that can add warmth to your hands.
When the temperature plummets, resist the urge to hunker down in one spot all day. I know it’s easy to get carried away with stubborn determination but get up and move around.
You don’t even need to leave your spot if the fish are biting. Just stand up, stretch or do some jumping jacks every once in a while. It wakes up your muscles and stokes the flames of that metabolic furnace.
10. Switch to deadsticking
Everybody loves active jigging. It’s addicting, fun and very effective. The problem is, you’re hanging onto a rod with exposed hands for hours. Even with gloves, eventually your hands will get cold.
All you need to do is switch it up and deadstick with bait for a bit. Certainly, if the fish are all over your jigging lure, then cold hands are a small price to pay. However, when it’s been awhile between bites, deadsticking can give you a break to get warm again.
Take 20 or 30 minutes warm up. Set the rod down, put your hands over the heater and take a snack break. Then, you can get back to jigging feeling refreshed and warm.
11. Don’t be a tough guy
There is always that guy on the ice who resists all common sense and acts like the cold hasn’t bothered him a day in his life. “My hands are fine” he says, but you know better. Hands that red can’t possibly be “fine.” Once he tries baiting a hook it becomes obvious that his fingers stopped listening to his brain.
Don’t be that guy. Not only will your hands suffer, you also won’t fish as effectively. It’s pointless to impress your buddies with an amazing tolerance to cold. Instead, keep your hands warm and impress them with your fishing prowess.
There’s no reason why warm hands and ice fishing can’t coexist. Follow all these tips and you’ll never need to spend another day on the ice with cold hands.
Don’t leave yet! What about your feet? If you don’t like cold hands then I doubt you like cold feet. We can help you solve that problem too. Go check out all our best tips to keep your feet warm on the ice.
Want to get the most out of your ice fishing season? Check out our Washington State Ice Fishing Secrets ebook. Our book highlights the 10 best lakes for ice fishing in Washington State with actual coordinates to some of our most productive holes. Plus, we thoroughly cover everything from gear selection, tactics and travel planning. To top it off, you also get information on 41 other lakes with superb ice fishing! Check it out before ice fishing season passes you by!