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Gear Up for Ice

Ice Fishing

Ice-fishing has always been a way for residents of the Great White North to pass the winter. But ice-fishing has become more popular in recent years because of products and accessories that make the endeavor more enjoyable, successful, and accessible than ever. Clothing for cold-weather activities has improved in leaps and bounds in recent years. Not only are items like bibs, jackets, boots, and other apparel warmer than ever, but they are lighter and more comfortable. Modern-day materials like Thinsulateä, Gore-Tex®, and Primaloft® create apparel that is wind and water-resistant in addition to being warm and lightweight, so you don't look like the Pillsbury doughboy.

How you dress for ice fishing depends on whether you plan fishing on the open ice or in a shelter. Most anglers opt for a shelter. You don’t want to overdress while making your way to your destination. Ideally, you’ll want to peel off outer garments once you reach the cozy confines of the shelter. When drilling holes or setting up a shelter, you can work up a sweat. Chances are you’ll be cold then. Be sure to dress in layers. You’ll be well served by a waterproof, windproof jacket, and bibs, like Whitewater’s Great Lakes Jacket and Bibs. Made from tough, mini-ripstop stretch nylon with a slick polyester lining to help you easily get the jacket on and off. A waterproof, windproof laminate and taped seams ensure the Great Lakes Jacket and Bibs can ward off winter’s chill and are more than adequate for most ice-fishing outings.

Add a HD Bouy Hoodie, and a Whitewater Torque Heated Vest underneath. The combination will keep you dry and warm on all but the most extreme days, allow freedom of movement, and once you’re in a shelter, you can peel off layers as needed. Three areas of concern for ice fishermen are your head, fingers, and feet. Experts claim 90% of a body’s heat loss is through your head. Pull on a Whitewater Knit Logo Beanie to prevent initial heat loss through your noggin, and then have a Whitewater Washed Logo Cap at the ready once you are inside the shanty, fishing and cooling down.

Hands can get frosty, especially if they get wet. When traveling, heavily insulated mittens or gloves are mandatory. Once you reach your destination, a pair of fingerless gloves, like Whitewater’s new Wool Fingerless Gloves, leaves your hands free to tie on jigs and unhook fish and keeps your hands warm even if the gloves get wet.

Boots are another area of concern for ice anglers. Everyone has their favorites. Bulkiness can be an issue if you like to get out and move around outside the shanty. Inside, put a piece of carpet or a floor mat on the ice to prevent direct contact between your boots and the ice. Shelters can be hub-style or flip-over. Which you choose depends on how you like to fish and how many others might be fishing with you. Hub-style shelters are spacious, easy to set up, and can accommodate multiple anglers. When fishing with a group, hub-style shelters are ideal to use as a base camp where anglers can gather, get warm, cook lunch, and then fan out to fish.

Flip-down shelters are perfect for one or two anglers who want to be mobile. Flip-downs can be set up quickly and have the advantage of having a tub to hold all your gear. The self-contained flip-downs can slide easily into the back of a pickup truck. You’ll need some way of making holes in the ice. Early in the season, when the ice is thin, a Swedish-type hand auger is more than adequate. You can buy hand augers from 4 to 8 inches in size, depending on the quarry. Many ice anglers have gone to augers that attach to a powerful, 20-volt hand drill. The drills are affordable and compact and work well when drilling 4- to 5-inch holes in pursuit of panfish when ice thickness is moderate.

 As winter and ice thickness deepen, power augers are a godsend. These days, ice anglers have the option of gas or electric power augers. Power augers excel because they can easily punch through a foot of ice to create eight or 10-inch holes to wrestle trophy walleyes through. Electric augers have the advantage of being quiet, and there are no fumes to contend with if drilling holes inside a shanty. With advances in technology, electric augers are getting lighter and lighter, and a single charge will allow you to drill 100 holes. Which rod and reel combos you choose for ice fishing depends on the species you’re targeting. Ultra-light combos are best for panfish, considering the light line that is used to catch them. Rods can stretch between 24 and 36 inches depending on whether you’re fishing in a shanty or on the open ice. Panfish rods act like a big shock absorber to protect frail lines. 1- to 4-pound test monofilament or fluorocarbon works best for panfish. Spinning reels will work but tend to create line twist. Add a tiny barrel swivel between your lure and your rod to counter line twist. Panfish will turn up their noses at a madly spinning jig. Refrain from using tiny ultra-light spinning reels. An alternative is to use a straight-line reel. They eliminate line twist.

Combos for walleye and trout need to be a little stouter. Medium-action rods rated for 4- to 8-pound test line excel. Reels with a smooth drag are a must for bigger gamefish that are likely to pull drag. Clear mono or fluorocarbon is preferred in the crystalline waters under the ice. Rods can be from 24- to 48- inches, depending on whether you’re fishing inside a shanty or outside.Take advantage of multiple rods by having rods set up for jigging or a dead stick for live bait. When using a float, medium-action rods will suffice for either jigging or live bait. Special rods designed to be used as dead sticks have a powerful butt section but a highly visible, flexible tip to detect subtle bites.

Tip-ups are another way to get multiple lines in the water and cover ice. There are an array of tip-up brands on the market. A tip is to make sure the spool on the tip-up spins freely. In the old days, ice anglers filled tip-ups with heavy Dacron line, modern-day ice aficionados have discovered tip-ups filled light, premium monofilament tied to tiny treble hooks can land almost any fish in the lake, and you’ll get more bite.

As you learn more about ice fishing, you’ll discover how important electronics can be to success. Graphs, flashers, underwater cameras, GPS, and other electronics are critical to success and represent a sizeable investment. If you can go with a friend who knows about ice fishing and electronics to give you a heads-up on what’s available, you’ll be a step ahead of the game, and you can make an informed decision on what best suits the way you fish and your budget.

Safety is one of the most important aspects of ice fishing. Carry ice awls, keep your phone in a waterproof bag, use a spud to check ice thickness, especially early in the season, carry a length of rope, use GPS and keep your eye on the weather. Make sure someone knows where you’re going and when you’re expected to be back.

With any luck, we’ll have a good ‘ol fashion winter this year to keep the burgeoning crowd of ice fishermen happy.