Using an ice screw for hard water fishing

If you’re just starting out with ice fishing, you should know that it all starts with a hole in the ice and that there are several different ways to do it. I cut holes in ice with a spud, hand snail, gas snail, and chainsaw. In some northern environments, the latter is a great way to use a long-blade saw to cut large rectangular fishing holes on thick ice. A spud can do the job on thin ice, but the thicker the ice, the harder it is to use a spud. Plus, you’ll have slightly jagged sides and lots of bumps on your wrists, arms, and shoulders.

Most ice anglers, and certainly keen ones, use an auger, either manual or powered, the latter being preferred in the northernmost lakes where the ice can get very thick. Gas powered augers are a mainstay, but battery powered augers are also an option.

Learning to use an ice screw does not take long, and the benefits of timely, numerous, and clean hole cutting are obvious.

General use

  • If you are new to ice fishing, read the manual first. Follow the instructions and pay special attention to the instructions for standing with a snail.
  • Keep your feet shoulder width apart and stand tall without bending over excessively.
  • Good boot soles and / or ice cleats or grippers will help you stand firmly on the ice.
  • Keep the blades sharp and have a replacement set on hand if the current ones get dull.
  • Always cover the blade when a snail is not in use and store it so that it does not lie on top of snow that will freeze on the blade and make it less effective.

Manual augers

  • Use a blade size appropriate for your quarry. When it comes to panfish and small trout, pikeperch and pickerel, you’ll appreciate the ease with which a 6-inch blade is easier to use than an 8-inch one. If it’s just Panfish, a 4 incher can do it and you’ll find it’s easier to use. Plus, you can drill more holes without fatigue.
  • The number of holes you want or can drill depends on the blade size (more effort for larger blades) and ice thickness (more effort for thicker ice).
  • Your upper hand holds the snail in place and should stay in place while your underhand turns the blade. Avoid swaying too far.
  • Align the auger as perpendicular to the ice as possible to avoid an angled hole.


  • Power snails excellently cut thick ice, make large holes (for larger quarries) and drill many holes. Since torque is not a problem with high-performance screws, as with manual ones, you can do more.
  • Use a snail if you want or need to move around a lot. Here’s how to find fish instead of drilling a hole and waiting for fish to find you.
  • Overcoming jiggles while starting a hole with a snail can be a chore. What helps here are sharp blades, blade tips that bite into the ice quickly, and light weight.
  • Power snails tend to put on a lot of mud and water after punching through. It is therefore imperative to wear high waterproof boots.
  • Use fresh gas, preferably without ethanol, in a gas powered auger at the start of the season to minimize start-up problems.

These ice snail tips will get you started, provided of course you already have your fishing license.

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