Although the weather has yet to get frightful, it is delightful to get planning and gear in order for those looking forward to spring and the fishing season. Many are hoping for some more cold weather prior to that to test their prowess on the ice as the last few years have seen ice fishing gain a larger market share.
What used to be a bucket pulled on a sled is now state of the art shelters, rods and reels, and heaters that make fishing on the ice like fishing in the living room. Not only has technology leapfrogged in open water applications, it has created a whole new genre of angler for ice.
Shelters have become first class with CLAM, Frabil, Eskimo and Otter leading the way. They are very portable, easy to install and break down, plus because they are made with the best materials, they are durable and extremely light. Pulling gear to the ice can be a job, so space-age materials break the wind, allow for light and get anglers out of the wind and comfortable.
A good ice shelter makes ice fishing more enjoyable. Many of these new high-end shelters incorporate lighting and a sled so it is an all-in-one operation. Just like a boat for open water, these shelters have it all.
Rod and reel combos are on the increase, too. Actions and styles of rod and reel have become more specialized, but are still affordable. Materials in rods combine composites and high-end graphite and are usually very light. They have to have a good backbone, but also have sensitive tips since most ice fishing baits are super small.
Since ice fishing is done over a hole, the rod is short and both inline and spinning reels, both small in size. Companies such as 13 Fishing, St. Croix and Frabil have entire arsenals of rods and reels for this type of fishing.
Electronics have been stepped up too in recent years, with Vexilar, Humminbird, Lowrance and Garmin offering specialized ice fishing gear. All have self-contained units that come in a durable bag and use portable batteries or those built in to the units.
Traditional flasher style options seem to be a go-to for savvy ice anglers since most fish caught are directly below the hole, but now down imaging and forward looking units such as Garmin Panoptics — down and directional viewing — are gaining popularity. Down imaging gives better detail than 2D sonar and forward looking units allow the angler to look around the hole that is cut and not just below it.
Bait selection is on the increase. It used to be light bobbers and minnows or wax worms were the bait of choice for ice anglers, but now life-like insect style plastics, tubes tipped with Gulp crappie nibbles or minnows and small spoons and elegantly painted lead heads and grub bodies seem to be getting notice.
13 Fishing just introduced a new spoon called the Flashbang that incorporates a brass rattle, life-like minnow body and a light stick for flash that northern ice anglers are raving over. Lipless rattle baits fished vertically attract the largest fish in the school. Bill Lewis introduced a Tiny Trap that mimics small panfish with a loud rattle to draw gamefish in.
Clothing for ice fishing continues to evolve with performance lineups that are warm yet comfortable and flexible. Insulated boots, waterproof gloves and performance socks add to the mix. Catalytic heaters, hand warmers and solar heaters continue to gain in popularity.
Remember safe ice is the only ice and never take risks while on it. A single person can stand safely on three-inch ice and four inches is best. Seven and one-half inch ice will support a side by side and anything over eight inches will support a car.
Slush ice is half the strength of blue or solid black ice. Be careful on lakes that are spring fed as that ice can vary significantly over the springs. A float jacket is a good purchase and always carry ice spikes, two picks with a lanyard between them, that are easily accessible should the ice give way to help pull yourself out.
Hypothermia can happen very quickly. Take an extra set of clothes in the car. Many expert ice anglers recommend carrying a high-pitched whistle on a lanyard and always make sure someone knows where you are fishing. A cell phone is mandatory for ice anglers and it’s good to put it in a sealed plastic bag while on the ice. Small multi-purpose tackle containers also are great places to keep baits and safety items.
The possibility for safe ice is just around the corner and if it doesn’t materialize, you can always work on your open water arsenals.