Ice fishing is a long standing tradition in the cold sections of the world. We ice fish for fun and to add fresh food to our dinner table when little local fresh food can be found.
When it comes to ice fishing, you can’t be too safe. It can be difficult to be patient while the ice forms and thickens. I’m looking at friends’ pictures on Facebook, holding up big trout they pulled through the ice. Ice fishing opens statewide on January 1 here in Maine but we won’t be fishing…at least not on the ice. At the end of the December the lakes around me are wide open. When we do finally get out on the ice we’ll be inching our way out as we test the ice.
Before you step out onto the ice you need to take a look around. Check the bank first of course, then use your binoculars to look further out. If you’re familiar with the currents, springs and bottom of the lake, you’ll know where to look. If not, inspect every area you expect to fish. Are there open areas or dark spots that indicate thin ice? Binoculars aren’t commonly found in the ice fishing bin but they should be for early and late season fishing.
As you move onto the ice a Frabill’s hammer chisel is great for checking the strength and depth of the ice. We test the ice by chiseling a hole every three to five feet. The chisel is also useful to check cracks and shifts in the ice, and to open holes on those slow days when you don’t break up the ice by pulling up fish. The start around $50.
Staying on your feet is tricky when there isn’t good snow cover. Ripples can be as treacherous on the ice as a smooth-as-glass surface. A pair of creepers for each person and a couple more for the bin help keep us safe. They fit snugly on our boots and are comfortable, almost unnoticeable when walking on the ice and in snow. Keep an eye out for loosening if you have to cross crusty snow. Expect to pay $10 to $15.
Ice picks save lives. Two ice picks are connected by a cord, preferably coiled, and drape over your shoulders. Your coat might have a loop to feed the cord through to keep the picks from dropping to the ice. Draped over your shoulders, the picks hang chest height. If you go through the ice you grab a pick in each hand and jab them into the edge of the ice. They’ll either help you keep your upper body above the water or provide grip to help you get out of the water. Everyone on the ice should have a set of ice picks, and like creepers, an extra set or two in the bin for someone who isn’t equipped. Expect to pay around $10.
Striker Ice makes my favorite case for gear storage, the Transporter Gear Case. Soft cases leave my rods tangled and hooks snagged and offer no specific place to keep small items safe. This case has small pockets that keep everything in place. Solid rod tubes for up to five rods provide security and keep the lines from tangling. The main section of the case holds tipups and the rest of your typical gear. The $100 spent will pay for itself by keeping your gear whole.
Nothing beats a gas or propane powered auger when it comes to drilling holes in thick ice, especially when each person can have five or six holes. They’re great but they’re heavy and big. That’s not a problem if you’re driving to the lake or fishing in front of camp, but they can be cumbersome if you’re heading out to a remote lake or pond for the day. A power auger takes up valuable space in the JetSled. A hand auger is smaller and weighs less than 10 pounds. They drill smaller holes but as long as you’re not fishing for trophy fish it’s big enough. They’re great for kids and people who aren’t confident in using a power auger. Keep the replaceable blades sharp and you should be able to drill through 18 inches of ice in about two minutes. You can find them for under $100.
Plano makes a Bucket Topper for five gallon buckets. For around $15 you can keep your small items like sinkers, depth finders, hooks and lures handy. Eighteen sections provide plenty of space. The Bucket Topper has a tight fit. I suggest trying it on a bucket in the store if you’re going to buy them at the same time. Fine for kids to sit on but not strong enough for adults.
An insulated bait bucket will keep your bait fish from getting too warm or cold. I use a Frabill 8 Quart Bait Station with a portable aerator. Bait fish can be expensive. The aerator keeps them alive and active all weekend. A couple of batteries last us the winter. The Bait Station latches tightly to prevent spills while bouncing around in the JetSled but allows the aerator to work without pinching the tubing. The combination of Bait Station and aerator are between $50 and $60. It’s a good investment that lasts for years.
Shelter from the wind keeps us warm on the ice but it can dark inside. Frabill’s 2X Accessory Hangers are handy for hanging solar lights or a lantern. At around $10 per set having enough to hang lights, mittens, coats (if your shelter will hold that kind of weight) and other items to keep them out of the way. The Velcro is strong enough to keep your gear secure. They’re also good for extra hooks on portable kitchens.
For warmth, comfort and staying dry, Striker Ice has a line of clothing that fits the bill. They outfit women so they get bonus points from me.
Striker Ice’s HardWater Bibs are made for ice fishing. They’re waterproof and breathable, all seams are taped, and they’re buoyant. These bibs have 175g of Thermadex insulation, large pockets for gear, a zipping cell phone pocket, two rings to clip your gloves to, and something I think all bibs should have – adjustable length in the legs. You can easily adjust the legs to three lengths without compromising the gators. For those of us who don’t have ice but can fish anyway, these bibs will keep us dry while standing in the lake to get away from trees while we cast. They start around $225.
For women, Striker Ice offers Prism bibs for around $200. They’re lightweight, waterproof and breathable, and have 150g of Thermadex insulation. The bibs feature SurefloteTM flotation assist liner for safety. The legs have an adjustable inseam. Pockets on the front of the thigh are flat but will hold some gear, and clip rings will keep track of gloves.
Enjoy the ice! I can’t wait to get out there with family and friends for our annual ice fishing weekend – postponed a month to make sure we have safe ice.
Interested in more? Check out: Ice Fishing Gear Checklist.