Side-by-Side vs. ATV vs. Snowmobile for Ice Fishing

Side-by-Side vs. ATV vs. Snowmobile for Ice Fishing

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If you love to ice fish (like I do), then you know that finding the best spot is half the battle. And you also know that getting there is the other half. So what should you use to get there? Let’s take a look at using a Side-by-Side vs. ATV vs. Snowmobile for Ice Fishing.

It could be sheer ice one day and 2 feet of snow the next.

It could be 4 inches of ice or it could be 14.

And, one of my personal favorites… snow on top of a few inches of ice, on top of a few inches of water, on top of some more ice.

Scares you to death when you break through to water, only to find out there are another 12 inches of ice below that!

Speaking of being scared on the ice… Remember, ice is NEVER 100% safe.

It could be 8 inches in one spot and just a few feet away it could be 4 inches. You never know. You always have to be careful.

Before we get into it what type of heavy recreational vehicle to bring on the ice, check out this post from the Minnesota DNR discussing recommended ice thickness based on activity.

So which one is better?

Well, like most things, that depends…

  • Do you have miles and miles you need to travel over ice?
  • How thick is the ice?
  • How much snow is there?
  • How much gear do you need to take?
  • How cold is it?

Answers to these questions will determine what is the best choice to get you out on ice fishing.

Side-by-Side vs. ATV. vs. Snowmobile for Ice Fishing



Using a side-by-side for ice fishing can be a fantastic choice under certain conditions.

Typically with a side-by-side, you can haul more gear and more people. It’s easy to pack an auger, flasher, poles, tip-ups, heater, bait, food, etc in a side-by-side ATV.

Depending on your situation it can be easy to pull your portable fish house, skid house, or wheelhouse out to your fishing spot using a side-by-side ATV.

Also, many side-by-sides or UTVs come with doors and a heater.

This can be a huge plus when you have miles to go to get to your spot and it is 10 degrees below zero.

Some of the side-by-side manufacturers even make a bed-mounted portable fish house so your side-by-side acts as your shelter as well.

Check out the video, it’s pretty cool!

Side-by-sides are also great at plowing snow. So, if you need to plow a road to your fish house or your fishing spot on the lake a side-by-side can be a perfect choice.


Side-by-sides are heavy! This is probably the biggest disadvantage to a side-by-side when ice fishing.

Depending on your make and model you could need anywhere from 7-10+ inches of good ice.

Another drawback to a side-by-side ATV for ice fishing is that they are not that great in deep snow.

They do OK in snow, but unless you put a track system on them they can get stuck easily in deep snow.

And getting a side-by-side unstuck on the ice is not fun – trust me. If you get stuck with one of these on the ice you could spend your whole day working on getting unstuck instead of fishing.

Lastly, if there is no snow and only ice, and you don’t have a track system, then you may need to put chains on your tires for traction.

Side-by-sides don’t work all that well on sheer or glare ice.

Pro Tip

If you do get stuck, and you have a winch, as well as an ice auger with you, you can drill a hole in the ice and use something like this to anchor to. It works slick!



The biggest advantage of an ATV over a side-by-side is weight. An ATV is smaller and will weigh less. So, you will be able to use it on thinner ice or earlier and later in the season.

In addition to pulling your portable fish house out with your ATV. An ATV can also pull a wheelhouse or even a small skid house which a snowmobile typically cannot.


The downside to an ATV is that just like a side-by-side, they are not great in deep snow or sheer/glare ice.

If you want to travel in deep snow you will need a track system.

Also, if you want to drive on sheer ice you will be more comfortable if you put some chains on your tires.



The biggest advantage to using a snowmobile when ice fishing is that the snowmobile is made for snow!

No other machine is going to go through deep snow faster or easier than a snowmobile.

You can easily travel at fairly high speeds in deep snow on a snowmobile.

Another advantage is weight. Even though many of today’s snowmobiles are heavy, maybe even as heavy as some ATVs, their weight is spread out along the track.

Typically the ice does not need to be as thick for a snowmobile to travel over the ice safely.


The real disadvantage to a snowmobile for ice fishing is hauling your gear and people.

If you are pulling your portable fish house out then it is probably not an issue. You can stow your auger and everything you need in your portable.

They do make Auger mounts and storage systems for snowmobiles as well if you are serious about ice fishing with a snowmobile. I have used a few of them and they work great.

You cant carry a lot of people, but you also don’t want that many people in your portable. So you can probably fit one person on the back of your snowmobile and you are all set.

Another potential issue with a snowmobile when ice fishing is that they are not great on sheer or glare ice. You really need snow if you are going to ride very far.

That said, it’s common to use a studded track with a snowmobile and they also make inexpensive “scratchers” you can install that will help keep your track cool and lubricated if you are riding on ice with little or patchy snow.

All things considered

Win for Side-by-Side!

If you need to carry a lot of gear or people, you don’t need to go a very long way over the ice, the snow is not terribly deep, and most importantly, the ice is thick enough, then the side-by-side is the way to go.

Especially if you have doors and heat!

Win for ATV!

If you don’t own a side-by-side, don’t need to pull as much, and the ice is thinner, then the ATV is a great choice.

Win for Snowmobile!

If the snow is deep or the ice is thin, or you need to go a long way fast, and you don’t need to pull too much, a snowmobile is a perfect choice.

Again it all comes down to conditions, your preferences, your budget, and what you may already own.

Side-by-Side vs. ATV vs. Snowmobile for Ice Fishing

Regardless of what you choose, all of them are fun to ride and you are fishing!

Have Fun!