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Ice Fishing in Door County

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What was once a necessity is one of Door County’s most popular wintertime things to do — ice fishing. When the deep freeze comes to the Door, many locals get excited about the ice that will soon form, counting the days until it will be thick enough to move their shanties out to the fishing hole. So much so Door County is considered one of the top ice-fishing destinations in the country. Anglers flock here to hunt for whitefish, trophy walleye, northern, and trout, and so can you.

For visitors, it’s now easier than ever before to get a taste of this tradition. From fishing charter companies to local bait and tackle shops, there are pros who can help you navigate ice fishing on your next winter vacation here.

Little Sturgeon ice fishing.

Ice Fishing with a Guide

The easiest way to take part in this fun outdoor winter activity is to go with a guide. Not only do they know where to go to help you catch trophy walleye or whitefish, but these guides do all the heavy lifting for you. The full-service experience often includes transportation to the ice, a warm ice shanty with a floor to keep your feet off the ice and toasty, and tips and tricks to help you catch fish. Moreover, some also help you clean your catch, offer a meal, and a safe return off the ice at the end of the day.

“Our days start at 3 or 4 a.m. so we can get the ice shanties warm and ready for our guests,” said Reel Action Charters Owner and Captain Scott Gutschow. “We’re plowing trails through drifts, drilling holes, spooling rods, and preparing the bait long before anyone arrives, so being the actual guide is a real treat.”

Door County’s fishing guides also offer the latest fishing technology and years of expertise earned over the fishing hole. These guides are experts at advising you what kind of fish species you can target depending on the time of year, ice conditions, and what is biting, including walleye, trout, white fish, perch, and more.

Ice Fishing Solo

When cabin fever sets in, locals and visitors alike want to bundle up, grab their gear, and go ice fishing. If you’ve got some experience and want to go it on your own, you can easily spot ice fishermen and fisherwomen on the ice or check in with local bait shops who know where the action is taking place and will offer suggestions on where to go along with tackle.

Unlike open-water fishing from expensive boats, ice fishing doesn’t require a lot of money. Wacky Walleye Guide Services Captain Dale Stroschein, who is going on 40 years of experience fishing in Door County’s waters, shared his must-have list of gear:

  • Rod and reel

  • Bucket to sit on

  • Hand or drill-powered ice auger

  • Multiple pairs of gloves (they get wet when you catch fish!)

  • Warm hat

  • Good boots

  • 1” thick piece of insulation (to stand pm to keep your feet off the ice)

  • Portable ice shelter

“The portable ice shelter is optional and sells for a couple hundred bucks,” said Stroschein. “Once you have the right gear, you can find public access points across Door County accessible on foot, so you don’t need an ATU, UTV, or snow machine.”

For Gutschow and probably all of the ice fishing guides across Door County, introducing new people to ice fishing is one of their favorite things to do. This activity is fun for the whole family and all ages, too.

“From jumping on a Polaris Ranger to drive miles out on the ice to firing up the auger drilling holes, it’s all new to them,” said Gutschow. “They’re standing on the ice far offshore for the first time, taking videos of us drilling holes — it’s truly something to experience, and it’s fun to witness.”

Sherwood Point Lighthouse winter aerials.

Ice Safety Tips

Before you head out on your first (or your next) ice fishing adventure, make sure you brush up on ice safety tips. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, there is no such thing as 100 percent safe ice. You cannot judge the strength of ice by one factor, such as its appearance, age, thickness, temperature, or whether the ice is covered with snow. Ice strength is based on a combination of several factors that can vary from body to body, and it can vary in different areas of the same body of water.

Do your best to take extra caution by checking with local fishing shops or guides for ice conditions at the river or lake where you want to fish. Ice that is at least four inches thick should be safe to fish and walk on. Before you take a step on the ice, review these ice safety tips.

  1. Always remember that ice is never completely safe under any conditions.

  2. Fish or walk with a friend — it’s safer and more fun.

  3. Contact local sport shops to ask about ice conditions on the lake or river you want to fish.

  4. Carry a cell phone, and let people know where you are going and when you’ll return home.

  5. Wear proper clothing and equipment, including a life jacket or a float coat, to help you stay afloat and prevent the loss of body heat if you do fall through the ice, and extra mittens or gloves so you always have a dry pair. 

  6. Wear creepers attached to boots to prevent slipping on clear ice.

  7. Carry a spud bar to check the ice while walking to new areas.

  8. Carry a couple of spikes and a length of light rope in an easily accessible pocket to help pull yourself — or others — out of the ice.

  9. Do not travel in unfamiliar areas or at night.

  10. Know if the lake has inlets, outlets, or narrows with currents that can thin the ice.

  11. Look for clear ice. Clear ice is generally stronger than ice with air bubbles in it or with snow on it.

  12. Watch out for pressure ridges or ice heaves. These can be dangerous due to thin ice and open water.

  13. Driving on ice is always a risk. Use good judgment and consider alternatives.

Ice Thickness Guide

Wind speed and direction can affect the stability and safety of ice on big bodies of water. High wind can cause the water to move, warm up, and crack the ice, potentially leaving people stranded on floating ice chunks. Always check the weather and have a backup plan for high winds. Refrain from going on ice that has melted away from the shore, as this increases the chances that ice will move if the wind direction changes.

2 inches or less: Stay off the ice; it’s not safe for any activity.
4 inches: Safe for fishing and walking.
5 inches: Safe for ATVs or snowmobiles.
8-12 inches: Safe for small pickup trucks or cars.
12-15 inches: Safe for medium-sized pickup trucks.

Find an Ice Fishing Guide

If you’d like to schedule a guided ice fishing excursion while you’re in Door County, you’ll find a few options to choose from, including:

Brown Dog Guide Service
Hooked Up
Silver Strike Charter Fishing
Reel Action Sport Fishing Charters
Wacky Walleye

A couple heads out to ice fish at George Pinney Park.

Find an Ice Fishing Bait and Tackle Shop

Local bait and tackle shops are the perfect place to gear up for your next ice fishing trip while getting advice from local anglers.

Howie’s Tackle
Stevenson Pier Mini Mart & Gift Shop

About the Contributors

Captain Dale Stroschein has 15 years on the Walleye Tournament Circuit and was inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and has been guiding the waters of Green Bay and the Door Peninsula for over 30 years. His passion for the sport extends beyond guiding, as he is known for donating his time and fishing gear to teach the next generation. He is offering private ice fishing excursions starting in 2024. Stroschein leads these full-day “run and gun” ice fishing trips.

A third-generation salmon fisherman with maximum Lake Michigan chartering experience, Captain Scott Gutschow grew up fishing in Sturgeon Bay. He is the owner and operator of  Reel Action Sport Fishing Charters with nearly 4,000 trips to the famed Sturgeon Bay bank, which is one of the most consistent salmon and trout fisheries on all of the Great Lakes. 

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