Ice fishing is one of my favorite sports in the winter. I love the feel of the winter air on my face and the excitement of catching fish under the ice. What I don’t enjoy is the amount of gear that I need to carry and the distance I need to travel around the lake. If you’re like me, you know how much of a chore this sport is. Therefore, taking a UTV or ATV for ice fishing is a “no-brainer” but just exactly which one should you choose?
Both UTVs and ATVs are excellent choices for taking with you on your ice-fishing trip. The choice between which one to take depends mostly on your budget, the number of people you’re taking with you and the actual ice conditions.
In this post, we will make an in-depth comparison between using UTVs and ATVs for ice fishing and to help you understand the difference between the two if you’re considering getting one soon.
Factors for Choosing UTV or ATV for Ice Fishing
Besides looking at vehicle specifications, there are a couple of different factors that you need to consider before making a choice. They are:
While most toy haulers and horse trailers will work for transporting your ride, what works for one may not work for another. This is especially important if you’re upgrading from an ATV to a UTV. The larger body and height of a UTV will require a bigger trailer or truck bed. Check out my post here if you are considering using a horse trailer to transport your ATV or UTV.
One of the biggest concerns while going ice fishing is the possibility of falling through the ice. You need to take precautions in order to save yourself and your ride in such an event. Most ATVs can float itself but not with the rider. On the other hand, UTVs will not float.
ATVs will require at least 5 cubic feet of flotation. There are certain tire extensions that are available on the market to increase your ride’s buoyancy. You can also choose to DIY a setup that works for your ride. Check out my ATV / Quad flotation guide for additional tips for floating your ATV.
UTVs can weigh up to 2000 lbs and there is no practical method to float a UTV. The guys at PowerModz was able to float their UTV by attaching lots of flotation to their ride but this isn’t practical. You can check out how they did it in the video below:
It’ better to use an ATV rather than a UTV from a safety perspective. On the other hand, you may still be able to take your UTV out for ice fishing if the ice is thick enough. Below is the ice safety data provided by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
For clear ice only, if the ice thickness is:
4″ or less – Don’t go
4″ – Ice fish on foot only
5″ – 7” – Ice fish safe with ATV
8″-12″ – Can use a car or small pickup
12″-15″ – Can use a medium truck.
For white ice, double the above thickness numbers. This is because white ice is only about half as strong as clear ice.
Also, keep in mind that ice is never 100% safe and it’s up to you to test the ice thickness and assess the risks before driving your ride on top.
Number of People
Will you be ice fishing by yourself or with a group of buddies? For safety and flexibility, it’s always recommended that each person bring their own ATV, properly fitted with flotation. That way, each person carries their own gear and can maneuver to different parts of the lake if they want to.
However, if you want to use a UTV so a few people can travel and fish together here are some things to be aware of:
- Fuel – Added weight and increased amount of people on your ride mean you’ll be burning fuel a lot faster.
- Ice Breakage – I’ve already mentioned about the risks you’ll face when taking your UTV on the ice. Adding the weight of your gear and people increases the risk of the ice breaking. Be sure to check the ice thickness before moving out.
- Cargo Space – Depending on the size of your UTV, you may not have enough cargo space for everyone’s gear. You want to be as light as possible on the ice which means everyone will take less than they would if they hauled their own gear. Keep in mind that safety gear is a must and shouldn’t be taken out in favor of non-essential gear.
Do you have enough lights on your ride? When you’re out on the lake, it gets pitch black at night. You need to have all the lights you can get during that time. The headlamps on your ATV will not be sufficient and you’ll need to carry extra lights with you. On A UTV, you can easily mount full LED light bars on the top frame before heading out.
You may have considered installing snow tracks on your ATV or UTV for winter riding. Although they work great for snow, there are some things you need to know before taking your tracks for ice fishing:
- They Won’t Prevent You from Falling in the Ice – Some people think that having tracks on their ride will help spread the pressure out across the surface area of their ride. Although this is true, it won’t prevent the ride from falling in the ice.
- They Take Time to Install – A typical set of tracks may take up to 1 hour to install.
- There Are Some Speed Losses – You won’t be getting the speed from your ride on tracks. You can expect a speed loss of up to 50%.
- They Burn More Fuel – Lower speeds means you will need to work your machine harder to compensate for the speed loss. This will lead to more fuel consumption.
- Significant Costs – Tracks are significantly more expensive than tires.
In the context of ice fishing, tracks can help you steer better and have more control over the ice. Tracks make no difference in the selection of an ATV or UTV for ice fishing because they will not prevent you from falling through the ice.
If you’re concerned about traction, install wheel chains. They are much more cost-effective and often gets the job done.
Looking for a good setup?, check out my post on a good ice fishing setup for UTVs. The post also contains other setups for hunting and fly fishing.
Choosing between a UTV or ATV for ice fishing is not a hard task. You just need to make some careful considerations about the amount of gear and people you will be bringing. Safety is the #1 determinating factor when considering between which ride to use for your next ice fishing trip!