By Nick Simonson
In the first installment of this two-part series celebrating the start of the ice season, it was pointed out that the last half century has been an amazing ice age for hardwater anglers. From tackle to tech and the advanced tactics both allow for on the ice, these options have opened a world of better fishing to those who have followed along. As a result, considerably more fish are caught each winter than the season before, ice fishing has become its own booming industry, and the pastime has seen increasing participation. Building on the first five revolutionary items, this second half caps off the analysis of all things awesome on the ice that have made the sport better.
5. Custom Ice Rods & Reels. I can recall as a young boy standing over a hole watching a float hover and then disappear down into the black depths of the blue-white cylinder cut into the surface of Lake Ashtabula. My babysitter’s husband would shout “Run!” and I’d scamper off away from the group with the homemade wood-and-metal jiggle rod in hand and about 15 feet of thick line trailing behind me. In turn, the striped form of a yellow perch would rocket up onto the frozen surface and slide across the ice. It was my first hardwater experience, and since then, I’ve watched the evolution of ice fishing rods change the way we catch fish.
From the first downsized models that allowed for the attachment of microspin reels to the creation of specialized sticks for jigging, dead sticking, and integration of sensitive spring bobbers among many other options, the modern ice rod market is as developed and revolutionary as those offerings for openwater. The recent addition of round, fly-style reels to eliminate line twist and present baits with more precision has changed the way anglers offer up their baits and lures and makes the combos available to modern ice anglers all the more amazing.
4. The Spring Bobber. For those fishing perch, crappies, bluegills and other species with a subtle bite, no tool has proven more effective at detecting the slightest inhale than the spring bobber. Crafted of a small wire shaft and highlighted bead connected to a sensitive spring, these end-of-rod options add a final eye that picks up the tiniest bump when a fish hits a small lure. Whether a clip-on version to help increase bite detection on a favorite ice rod, or one that is built into standard model now showcased by many rod manufacturers, the spring bobber has increased ice anglers’ success exponentially, especially on the panfish front.
3. Modern Ice Suits. I can recall my first set of ice fishing coveralls spending most every winter weekend night hanging over the vent in my childhood home drying out from the knees down. Depending on how fast the fishing was that day, from the elbows too. The brown jumpsuit with the red liner and the hard metal zipper was a hand-me-down from my dad when he upgraded for a new suit to help with winter work in our family’s long driveway. Since then, I, along with many other anglers have invested in waterproof and windproof suits with padded knees designed to soften the blow of hole-hopping, more D-rings than on a mountaineer’s backpack, and plenty of pockets and patches to stash tackle packs and loose lures. Today’s ice wear offered from all major companies can be tailored to fit the exposure level and the exploratory nature of those ice anglers on the move and has helped to keep us out there longer at a greater comfort level, even on the chilliest days.
2. The Power Auger. The Jiffy Model 30 was the first commercial power auger to hit the ice en masse, and the model left hand-drilling options in its slush and shavings as the Tecumseh engine powered the chipper blade down, making short work of even three-foot ice. Since its inception heralded the dawn of modern ice fishing and the ability to make many holes and explore them all, many other companies have tweaked and improved on the power auger. From units powered by propane and four-stroke engines to electric options run by lithium-ion batteries capable of producing three dozen holes on a charge, the power auger has been one of the most amazing technological accomplishments on ice, especially in the last decade where more and more options have become available to anglers. The proliferation has rendered hand models to the back corners of garages each winter, and oftentimes as sale item antiques on the front driveway in summer.
1. On-Ice Sonar. If there is one thing that means the difference between catching fish and staring at a column full of cold water, it is on-ice sonar. No other development has been as revolutionary as fishfinders tailored specifically for winter angling. From Vexilar leading the charge in the 1980s and 90s to the expansion of offerings from industry leaders like Marcum, Humminbird and Lowrance in the last two decades, these hardy units designed to display what lurks below the ice even in the toughest of conditions take much of the guesswork out of winter fishing. I’ve turned around and went home two hours into a drive to an ice fishing destination simply because I forgot my sonar, it’s that important. I’ve recommended to many that it’s best that they have a sonar even before they buy a power auger, it is so key to finding, understanding, and catching fish. Nothing else has changed the way we angle in winter more than on-ice sonar units.
If you’ve kept up with the changes throughout your lifetime on the ice, you’ve likely incorporated these five items – and likely all ten on this list – along with others. If there are any you think are equally or even more important to your hardwater success, let us know in the comments below or on social media. With good ice settling over the region’s water bodies, take stock of these developing technologies and get set for the greatest winter ever.
Featured Photo: Looking Hard. On-ice sonar has changed hardwater angling for the better and helped increase success each winter. No matter the model, being able to see what’s happening below the surface helps anglers find fish and move to more productive areas. Simonson Photo.