Sunday, January 10, 2010

Ice Fishing Equipment Today

Now that we are in the heart of ice fishing season I thought it would be nice to share my equipment and get a better understanding of how we ice fish today. When I grew up, ice fishing was a simple cup type auger that drilled a 6 inch hole. By the time I turned 20 the Mora Swedish Auger came on the market and really changed the game of drilling holes in the ice, if you keep the blades sharp. Poles consisted of a simple stick with a nail in the end to secure in the ice. There were no reels and the line was simply wrapped between 2 posts on the handle. There were no portable shelters or electronics and most serious fisherman had a simple hard sided permanent shelter with a wood stove. Today's ice fisherman have a wide variety of equipment that rivals their soft water counterparts.

Without a doubt the most valuable piece of equipment today for ice fishing is the portable depth finder. My first depth finder was a Heath Kit model. Heath Kit was a company that basically sold unassembled electronic equipment at a substantial discount over comparable finished brand named product. This included a variety of unassembled products including televisions, radios, and a host of electronic test equipment. The difference is that you had to solder together the circuit boards, assemble the product into the chassis and do all the electrical calibration. The finished depth finder was almost identical to the Classic Lorwance Green Box. Although it worked good, the 0 - 60 foot range was too deep for the waters we normally fish. Reading an early InFisherman magazine, they talked about using these summer depth finders for winter fishing. Quickly converting it for winter use, I was in business. My next depth finder was another flasher, the Hummingbird Super 30. Again a box type it worked great as a winter fish finder and worked excellent until I saw the Micronar FL-8, 3 colored LED flasher (now Vexilar). This was the ticket and could be used on my boat in the summer. Building a special mounting box with a motorcycle battery and my own transducer mount, it still is being used by my friend Jack Taylor. Upgrading I got the new FL-8, then a FL-18 and now a FL-20 pictured. It has all the bells and whistles and are truly my eyes on what is going on beneath my hole. I am spoiled for sure.

The next most important piece of equipment is the power auger. Today I run a Strikemaster Lazer 9 inch. As mentioned before I started with the Mora Swedish 7 inch hand auger and still use it for early ice. Once the ice gets past 6 inches it's time to produce some CO2! My first auger was a used Jiffy I found in the newspaper. At $100, it served me very well for many years but was starting to get weak. Bill Lundeen carried the new 3 bladed Laser 9 inch and I just had to have one. It was nothing but trouble. The red handle broke twice and the 3 bladed auger was worthless as Strikemaster had replaced it once already. Taking it back to Strikemaster once they seen me standing with it the first thing the guy said was "having trouble cutting?" They knew and put a new 2 bladed 9" auger and it's been perfect ever since. The auger is 42 inches long and at our Lake of the Woods trip in April we need another 12 inch extension to get through the ice. It certainly makes hole drilling easy, especially if your drilling many holes. I find that the 9 inch hole is a perfect size, especially with a transducer floating in it.

High up on the list is the ice shelter. My first portable was a small one man dome tent you set up on the ice. It was quite small and could be heated with a small single burner Coleman portable camp stove. I often would feel sorry for the guys fishing with me as i was always snug and warm while the others were forced to stay outside. My best day ever ice fishing on Mille Lacs was in that dome as we were right by Doe Island and the fish went bonkers. I must have caught 18 walleyes in 45 minutes. That's a challenge with an open flame stove inside the tent with you. My others included a Frabil, 2 Insta-tents, 4 Otters, and finally this Clam Thermal X fully insulated portable. Abet heavy, it is roomy and extremely warm inside. This will be my third year and it is the best shelter I have yet to own. Once you get a good seal around the outside flaps, you can comfortably fish in short sleeves even if it is -10 below outside. The inside was designed with the fisherman in mind with heavy duty poles, sown in pockets for storage, and I found some real neat Frabil velcro hooks that make organizing a breeze.

Too keep the house warm I use a Mr. Heater Big Buddy propane heater. This baby puts out a whooping 18,000 BTU's. A lot of my friends have the standard size Mr. Heater 9000 BTU however I'd rather have the big output and be able to turn it down as opposed to just being able to stay warm. Prior to this I was a big fan of what we call a Sunflower Heater. Screwed directly to the propane cylinder, they do a great job of heating but are a definite burn hazard. Having burned a number of good bibs and shirts as well as my friend Jason's Otter Ice house I sold it to him a few weeks earlier, the Big Buddy is expotentially safer. It has a number of safety shutoff features including a tip sensor as well as a low oxygen sensor, which in the confined space is a real plus. The other advantage is being able to leave my propane tank outside, using a hose to connect the two. I love the extra room. The only issue has been the water puddle from the heat melting the ice in front of the heater. This was solved using a custom made piece of treated plywood cut to fit the corner and keep the ice in it's frozen state.

Next are the lures. Here is 2 of my very favorites. The Jigging Rapala and Lindy's Rattlin Flyer. The Jigging Rapala has a clear plastic tail piece that is glued to the lead body. This causes the lure to move forward as the lure is jigged. It can move horizontally up to 18 inches when you quickly pull the line up. This action mimics a minnow darting around, giving that injured look. On the bottom center treble hook I always put a minnow head for an attractant. Many times the fish will just hit the minnow head however if in an aggressive mode will literally inhale the entire bait. As you see with hooks on either end it does an excellent job of hooking those fish that attack it. The other go to bait is the relatively new Rattlin' Flyer by Lindy. The center is actually a hollow chamber with a couple of hard BB's inside that rattle when jigging. The wings on either side help to give it a random action, moving to the side. It has a red treble hook on the end, a color that has become extremely popular, and one that I personally think is worthless as red is the first color to disappear 5 feet under water! Again my favorite presentation is with a minnow head firmly attached to the hook. That rattle can really call them in.

Last but not least is my latest investment. Although Ice Armor specialized Ice fishing suits have
been around for a few years now, I have resisted the "Geek" factor and ignored the benefits. My trusty old Carhartt's have served me well yet not being water proof I guess I just got sick of
getting wet knees from kneeling on the ice. My brother Steve gave me a generous gift of a Cabela's Certificate for a job I had done a while back. Although not expected, one never looks a gift horse in the mouth. Deciding to treat myself to a Christmas present, I drove over and picked up this suit. It is really very nice for the person that tends to fish outside a lot, which I like to do. In fact it even says on the label, "Like wearing your own portable shelter". Well I don't know about that but with a ton of pockets and water proof fabrics I should not have been so stubborn when they first came out. Ice Armor has an extreme model however I believe that it would probably be too hot sitting in my shelter.

Well there are other things like specialize ice rods with spring bobbers, reels filled with braided line for positive hooksets, clamp on rattle reels for positive alerts to a set line bite, underwater camera's, and a menagerie of tried and true baits for all occasions. Either way having the right equipment can make your time on the ice much more comfortable. If you have any questions please drop me a comment below and I will try to help. As far as fishing this week, I just got home from a night on Mille Lacs with my friend Mark Applen. Having Direct TV in his ice house was a great incentive to spend Saturday night and Sunday afternoon jigging and watching the playoffs. We caught a total of 3 walleyes, which by the comments of the DNR creel survey guy who interviewed us as we drove off the lake, was the best catch of the day! I will do a short update on our fishing trip later in the week.


Anonymous said...

Geez Dave, you and I pretty much have the exact gear (maybe different models but same manufacturer).

I just got back from a day and a half on Lake of the Woods. Big numbers of fish. I only had to measure a couple of them. It was nice mix of walleyes, sauger, and 'pout. The crappie bite was on too. I had a buddy chasing them around Oak Island and he did very well. Released a 16incher.

Off to St. Paul this week. Stop in if you're in town.


NeenahPete said...

Dave, if and when I ever take up ice fishing, I will come back to your post for these great tips! Do me a favor and add "equipment" to your labels if you can because that's the first word I'd probably use to find this good stuff. Yes, you are spoiled but deservedly so!

pkellin said...

Looks like a great set up... I have the armor suite too. It is great wear, if you can get past the grief from friends saying what a "slicker" you look like. If you are ever board, i hvae a wesite with some buddies. It's kind of the same thing as here., see what you think.

Dave Anderson said...

Keith, I plan on making it over maybe Wednesday.

Pete, I added equipment, good idea. As far as spoiled, i might as well because no one else does!

Pat, Great Website! I love the frankness and pictures. I was going to do a website but seemed like too much hassel to maintain. What are you playing in the picture?

pkellin said...


It was a rock band guitar that i was playing in the picture. I agree that it is hard to maintain, as you can tell from our lack of updates. The biggest issue is that only two of the six of us know how to do anytihng on websites, and i am not one of them.

Have you ever tried sturgeon fishing? If not i highly recomemd it. it is a great fight, and an off time of year for walleyes.

Take care!

Anonymous said...

For all your blog followers: We grew up fishing with cane poles on the river banks of the Beef River using bolts and nuts for sinkers cause the real ones cost too much. Dave and I would walk miles up and down the river for a sucker or a carp wow Dave has come a long way.
Good for you Dave I still live in the same place and fish the cane poles