Ice fishing isn’t easy and I have had my share of fish get away. Of course, there are a million reasons why it happens but sometimes you have to get back to basics to discover the truth.
After talking to a few ice anglers with more experience, it became apparent that my hook choice for hardwater situations needs to be a bit different.
Always downsize your hook and lure size for ice fishing. Size #8 to #14 hooks are ideal when targeting panfish or trout with small baits like wax worms or spikes. Rig up small minnows (3 inches or less) with size #6 to #8 hooks. For large minnows or dead bait, use size #4 or #6 treble hooks.
Obviously, the best hook size depends on your technique, the size of fish you are after and even the mood of fish on any given day. It’s a lot of variables to work out but that’s why we wrote this guide. Read on for all the information you need to pick the best hook size for ice fishing in all situations.
Hook size by bait type
Picking a hook should satisfy two primary goals. First, the hook should go undetected by fish when they bite and second, the hook should not affect the natural presentation of the bait.
Get those two things right and you are well on your way to catching more fish. With that said, your choice in hook size depends a great deal on your bait selection.
For hooking live minnows, use the smallest hook possible that lets them swim freely while still keeping them secured on the hook. Small to medium sized minnows match up well to size #6 or #8 hooks. Step up to a size #4 octopus style hook for larger minnows.
Make sure to check out our full article describing the numerous ways in which you can hook a minnow for ice fishing!
When smaller morsels like wax worms are on the menu, small hook sizes are a must. Size #10 to #14 are standard on most panfish jigs and they are just the right size to put one or two waxies on.
For even smaller baits, tie on a size #16 hook. Honestly, there are very few occasions where I downsize that much. Yet, when fish are on edge, it makes all the difference in the world.
If you are not sure how one size hook compares to another, check out this hook size chart from jannsnetcraft.com. This printable PDF provides accurately scaled hook sizes so you can compare before buying hooks online.
Hook size by species
Not only should you tailor the hook size to your bait but also the species you’re after. A hook that is appropriate for 20 pound northerns is hardly going to fool a tiny mouthed bluegill.
While the hook sizes we list for each gamefish is not set in stone, it is a good starting point. You can always refine your hook choice to match your preferences.
Crappie have pretty big mouths and can inhale a decent sized bait when they are fired up. The only problem with that big maw is the soft fragile tissue that surrounds their mouth. Tiny hooks that might work for gills are much more likely to tear free when fighting crappie.
That’s why, for crappie, I stick with size #6 single hooks when baiting up with small minnows. Try a #4 hook or larger in areas with trophy slabs.
If you are using waxies and other small baits, you can get away with size #6 hooks. Regardless of the size, wide gap hooks generally stay pinned in a crappie’s mouth better than standard gaps.
As one of the top gamefish in the country, you’ll find no shortage of information about rigging up for walleye. Luckily, picking a hook size for walleye is a well tested subject.
The best hook sizes for walleye are #2, #4 or #6 depending on the size of your bait and how the fish are biting. When using small or medium sized fathead minnows, go for a #4 or #6 hook.
Once you step up to larger golden shiners for big eyes, a size #2 hook works best. Just remember to scale down one size when walleye get finicky.
It’s understandable that novice ice anglers tie on huge hooks when chasing big northern pike. Some of the best trophy pike waters have an abundance of 20 plus pound pike with mouths the size of small culverts.
Despite their gaping jaws, the “smaller is better” mantra still applies. Size #6 hooks are, in my opinion, the best starting point when ice fishing for pike. A quick strike rig with a pair of #6 hooks can handle most dead baits. In heavily pressured lakes, small #10 trebles are not unreasonable.
I catch trout through the ice with a variety of baits but one thing stays constant, small hooks. When they are feeding aggressively you can get them to slurp down larger baits but most of the time go small.
When ice fishing for trout, the absolute largest hook you should use is a size #6 if you bait up with minnows. For sticking on a chunk of crawler, use a size #8 or #10 hook and a #12 hook for eggs. Small 3mm or 4mm tungsten jigs work well too since they usually have a #12 or #14 size hook.
Perch & Bluegill
Perch are some of the easiest fish to catch through the ice and therefore, the least finicky when it comes to hook size. Even so, they bite light and a single #8 hook easily fools all but the most wary jumbos. Most days a 4mm tungsten jig that has a #10 hook tipped with bait will put more fish on the ice than anything else.
Of all the panfish, bluegill have some of the smallest mouths. Even when they are feeding aggressively, scale down your hooks. A size #6 to #10 long shank hook is the way to go for big gills. You’ll appreciate the long hook shank when it comes time to remove the hook from their tiny mouths.
Selecting hook size for tip-ups
Whether you are ice fishing with bait on a deadstick presentation, jigging an artificial lure or setting up several tip-ups, the theme remains the same. Downsize your hooks.
Unlike using a jigging rod or even a deadstick, success with tip-ups depends on getting fish to hang onto your bait until you arrive to set the hook.
Use too big a hook and fish will spit it as soon as they feel metal. Obviously, the bigger your bait, the larger your hooks can be without being detected.
More often than not though, you’ll pull more walleye, pike and lake trout through the ice with smaller hooks on a tip-up.
For walleye, a size #14 or #16 treble hook works wonders in tandem with average sized minnows for bait. If you don’t like the idea of using treble hooks, use a single octopus style hook in size #8.
Generally, anglers prefer larger hooks on their tip-ups for pike and lake trout. Mainly because the baits are bigger. Size #6 treble hooks are common on quick strike rigs but don’t shy away from size #8 or #10 trebles when the situation demands it.
Not only will it give your bait a more natural presentation, it will also result in more secure hook sets deeper in the mouth. Mainly because fish commit to the bait better.
What size treble hooks for ice fishing
This might sound redundant, but once again, your size selection for treble hooks depends on the application and species.
Treble hooks are mostly used on a quick strike rig with a tip-up as we talked about earlier. They are also good when deadsticking a live or dead minnow for walleye, lake trout or pike. Occasionally, ice anglers will target stocked trout using a treble hook with bait.
When stocked trout are your quarry, tie on a size #14 or smaller treble hook. A single egg or a small piece of worm should cover the hook. It’s all about scaling down your bait for a finesse approach. Although, you’ll end up gut hooking some fish so catch and release using small trebles is not advised.
For those looking to improve your hook up ratio on northerns and walleye, a treble hook may be the way to go.
Walleye have a tendency to drop your bait when the hook interferes with their bite so keep them small. Size #10 to #16 are fine in combination with small to medium shiners and won’t inhibit the minnow’s natural action. Opt for smaller hooks during tough bites.
When you step up to northern pike, a size #6 treble hook is a universal size that seems to work for even the biggest northerns. High quality, sharp hooks are a must though. In some cases, a size #4 hook is better if you’re fishing with oversized dead bait for giant pike and lakers.
If you could only pick one treble hook size for the majority of techniques and species, size #10 can do it all. Small enough for all but the pickiest walleye and still strong enough for a powerful lake trout.
Even a big northern will have a hard time straightening out a size #10 treble. Plus, the fine point on a #10 treble slips between hard teeth to find purchase on softer tissue.
Hook sizes on ice fishing lures and jigs
One of the challenging things about ice fishing is deciding if the hooks included with your lures and jigs are the ideal size for your application. When it comes to jigs you’re stuck with the size you buy. Although with most lures you can, and should, swap out hooks.
Again, downsizing hooks on lures is just as crucial as with live baits. Be it a Swedish Pimple or a Jigging Rap, one size smaller on the hook could help you get the job done. Just make sure you don’t go so small that tipping your lure with a minnow head, for example, will cover the hook points and prevent solid hook ups.
When it come to tungsten ice jigs, hook sizes are not as standard as I would like. It is especially challenging when buying different sizes online since there is nothing to compare them with.
Use the chart below to get a general idea about hook sizes for a variety of tungsten jig makers.
|Jig Size||Weight||Hook Size|
|4mm||1/32 oz||#12 or #14|
|5mm||1/16 oz||#10 or #12|
|6mm||1/8 oz||#8 or #10|
Hopefully, you can see how important choosing the right hook size is. While it may not be the deciding factor for success on every trip on the ice, picking the right hook goes a long ways to putting the odds in your favor.
Next time you go through your tackle, take a look at your hooks and see where you could benefit from downsizing.