Are ATVs Good for Ice Fishing?

Ice fishing often involves riding through snow, and slush which ATVs can have an issue with. But, there are also some disadvantages to riding a snowmobile over an ATV. So, today I will explain whether an ATV is good for ice fishing, or not.

ATVs are good for ice fishing. They can go through shallow snow up to about 1 ft (12 cm) and have excellent traction provided you put tire chains on them. Unlike, a snowmobile an ATV can be used year-round, they aren’t as heavy as a snowmobile and have ample storage space.

A snowmobile is more versatile in the snow, but after winter ends they are practically useless, there’s also the option to put tracks on an ATV which essentially turns them into a snowmobile but isn’t always required depending on where you go ice fishing.

Many people that go ice fishing say an ATV is superior to a snowmobile so below, I will explain the pros and cons of an ATV for ice fishing, and when it makes sense to get one over a snowmobile.

Ice Fisherman in ATV Pulling Sled of Supplies

Which Is Better a Snowmobile or ATV for Ice Fishing

A snowmobile is uniquely designed to ride through the snow with ease. However, they are very heavy, and can not be used in the summertime once the snow has melted.

Here’s a list of the pros of a snowmobile for ice fishing:

  • Can go through thicker snow than an ATV
  • Can go much faster in snow
  • Can go in much deeper snow than an ATV – more than 1 ft (12 cm)

Here’s a list of the pros of an ATV for ice fishing:

  • Has ample storage space for fishing gear
  • Can be used in all seasons, not just winter

When going ice fishing you will almost always need to travel through snow. An ATV can go through snow up to a depth of about 1 ft (12 cm) without any issues, but it can struggle in snow deeper than that. It typically will get stuck quite often.

Tire chains work particularly well on an ATV. I took an in-depth look at how effective tire chains are on an ATV and showed some videos that demonstrate how much more effective they are in this article about whether ATV tire chains work.

Another option is to put tracks on your ATV in winter. These are wheels similar to what you see on a tank but are made of rubber and provide extremely good traction in snow.

In essence, they turn it into a snowmobile. And an ATV with tracks has various advantages over a snowmobile. Here’s a video that shows a side by side comparison of a snowmobile and an ATV with tracks:

Putting tracks on an ATV is quite a big job and not something you want to do often – it’s about as difficult as changing out the tires once you get the hand of it. They do add some additional cost but with a bit of planning, they will come in about the same or slightly cheaper than a snowmobile.

A snowmobile costs on average US$13,500, whereas, an ATV costs around US$5,000. This leaves plenty of budget left for tracks, which cost about US$5,000. When fishing, it’s very helpful to have space for fishing gear, such as a saw for cutting into the ice, rods, bait, chopping board, and a small gas BBQ.

A snowmobile has some space for storing things. The main area is on the back, and you can also put on aftermarket saddlebags that sit on the side. They have next to no storage space at the front.

By, comparison an ATV has a large flat area on the back, and front, as well as, having the option to add aftermarket saddlebags for extra storage. All things considered, an ATV has much more storage space than a snowmobile.

Key takeaways:

An ATV is superior to a snowmobile for ice fishing because it has:

  • More storage space
  • It can be used in winter and in other seasons
  • There are no other advantages of getting a snowmobile over an ATV

Best sized ATV for ice fishing

I combed through a tonne of answers for people about the best sized ATV for ice fishing. The overwhelming consensus is that an ATV with an engine size over 400cc is good for ice fishing.

Much larger ATVs can be a bit cumbersome because they are a lot bigger, heavier, and less maneuverable. But, depending on what else you’ll be using your ATV for you may decide a bigger ATV is better suited to your needs.

The easy way to tell what size an ATV is by the model number. For example, some of the most popular brands like Honda, and Polaris have models such as the Sportsman 400, and Sportsman 600. 400 means a 400cc engine and a 600 means a 600cc sized engine. It’s possible you might also be using your ATV to go hunting. A key consideration for hunting is how much weight an ATV can safely carry.

I did a detailed analysis of the weight capacity of the most popular ATV brands and models and summarised which one is best for each type of hunting in this article about what size ATV you need for hunting.

Ice Fishing Tournament

Can an ATV Go in Water?

Often when riding your ATV you’ll come across a river and various sized puddles. So, is it safe to ride an ATV through water?

Overall, an ATV can go through water provided you don’t go in water that is deeper than 14 inches (35 cm). Any deeper than that and the water can get into the exhaust, and air intake filters which will ruin the engine. You can install a snorkel to allow an ATV to go much deeper in water.

ATVs are not designed to go through water, and the most popular ATV owner’s manuals all say to avoid going through water where you can help. As well as, to go as slow as you can. The reason is that the surface of a body of water has very little traction and it’s easy to lose control of your ATV, which can be very dangerous.

ATV Rider in the action on Honda TRX700XX

How Much Ice Is Safe for an ATV?

You’ve likely seen a case where someone has driven a car onto ice and the ice has cracked, or they’ve been walking on ice and they have fallen into the freezing cold water. So, how thick does ice need to be for an ATV to ride on top of it?

Ice needs to be a thickness of 1 ft (30 cm) to be safe to ride an ATV on top of it according to Weather Nation. However, ice is not uniformly thick in all places, and some areas can be thinner than others. Therefore, there is always some risk when riding an ATV on ice.

An ATV weighs in the range of 220 pounds to 1170 pounds (100kg to 500kg), not including the weight of the driver. Ice that is about 1 ft (30cm) thick can safely support this load without cracking or causing the ATV to fall into the water. Where it’s virtually guaranteed your ATV will be ruined.


I’m Rob, the owner of RX Riders Place. My family and I have a long history of riding dirt bikes and ATVs and want to share what we have learned.

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