We get a lot of questions here at USAngler, and for anglers new to the sport, that’s completely understandable.
If you’ve never been out on the water, or you’ve only been fishing with friends who did most of the heavy lifting, you may not know much beyond the basics - and there’s nothing wrong with that.
We all started somewhere!
One question we get about ice fishing is “How big are ice fishing holes?”
We’ve got the answer for you, so keep reading!
It All Depends on Your Auger Blade
There are some crazy answers to this question out there, mostly from content farms that don’t know a thing about fishing.
To fish through the ice, you begin by drilling a hole to reach the liquid water beneath. That hole is created by an auger, basically a giant drill.
There are many kinds of augers, some powered by your arms and back, and others that use powerful drills or electric, gasoline, or propane motors.
Powerful ice fishing augers can eat big holes in the ice.
Generally speaking, the more powerful the auger, the larger the diameter blade it can spin through the ice. Less powerful augers drive smaller diameter blades, both because they may lack the raw power to cut a big hole and because these smaller blades work faster, all things being equal.
Hand augers tend to be smaller, too, because you’ll tire pretty quickly when drilling dozens of holes through thick ice.
For instance, the power Eskimo Quantum, a gasoline-powered auger, comes with your choice of an 8- or 10-inch diameter blade. By contrast, the awesome Nils High-Velocity hand auger comes with either a 4 ½-, 6-, or 8-inch blade, and you better be pretty fit to run the largest of the three!
As you can see, auger blades come in a range of diameters, and that diameter determines the size of the ice fishing hole.
It’s as simple as that.
No one that I've ever heard of brings multiple auger blades out onto the ice. They run the auger they have, though some folks might bring a spare hand auger with them just in case their powered auger fails.
Awesome hand augers can drill big holes, too, but you’ll feel it!
You don’t “choose” the diameter of the hole for some imagined ideal size, nor do you “choose” the diameter to fit a certain ice thickness.
But Which Hole Size is Best?
An easy answer is the one you can make.
A 4 ½ inch hole may not be big enough for large fish!
If you’re going to be drilling dozens of holes to chase walleye as they migrate from the depths at dusk, using a hand auger with an 8-inch blade is going to be a workout you’ll remember for life.
Similarly, if you’re using a small powered auger that just doesn’t have the horsepower to chew ice like a hungry shark, then you’ll probably be running a modestly-sized blade.
With a powerful, ice-devouring auger that has plenty of grunt, dozens of 10-inch holes may take almost no time at all.
The only reasons hole size matters are for ease of landing big fish and safety.
Big ice holes give you more room to land and release fish.
If you’re trying to pull a monster pike through a 4-inch hole, get ready for some real maneuvering and trouble. Generally speaking, larger holes are simply easier to fish, and they ice over more slowly.
But a 10-inch hole is a hazard, especially on thinner ice and most definitely where small children are concerned.
In short, bigger is usually better, but you need to keep safety in mind. And the only way to drill a big hole is with a big blade - there’s no getting around that limitation.