Gearing Up For Ice Fishing
Tips for cold-weather fishing: apparel, baits and other necessities.
Across the Ice Belt, anglers are anxiously prepping for hardwater adventures in the months ahead. To make this your best winter yet, we’ve assembled a few timely tips on gearing up to make the most of all the icy good action to come.
Restocking your arsenal of jigs, spoons and other ice fishing lures is a big part of preparing for ice fishing success, but don’t forget to stock up on tippings as well.
While natural baits such as waxworms and minnow heads have long been a top choice for tipping winter fishing lures, modern artificial softbaits catch more fish, while eliminating the hassles of live bait.
Softbaits are easy to store and transport. They’re durable on the hook and never go belly up in the minnow bucket. Plus, you don’t have to worry about making a run to the bait shop before hitting the lake. Added advantages softbaits offer over live bait include more choices in colors, sizes and actions—allowing anglers to perfectly tweak their presentations to the mood of the fish and conditions at hand.
Flavored softbaits come in all shapes and sizes. Choose from dainty panfish baits like Berkley’s Gulp! Ice Euro Larvae and PowerBait Ice Wishbone to larger options built for open water that also work wonders through the ice, such as Gulp! Minnows.
Rods, Reels And Line
Prior to the Ice Fishing Revolution, winter warriors wielded veritable broomsticks strung with thick black braided line or stiff, poor-handling monofilament with all the sensitivity of a sickly Slinky.
Today’s ice anglers enjoy high-performance rods and reels like Berkley’s Lightning Rod Ice Combo, and a variety of next-generation fishing lines to spool up with. Berkley Trilene Cold Weather monofilament, for example, is formulated for as much flexibility at 32 degrees as regular mono has on a summer day.
Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon Ice adds the near-invisibility of fluorocarbon, which can be critical in ultra-clear conditions common in the wintertime. Plus, it offers low stretch for greater sensitivity and rock-solid hooksets. Its thin diameter also engenders better lure control.
High-performance superlines such as Berkley NanoFil or FireLine Micro Ice further reduce stretch and line diameter, while increasing strength. The result is optimum sensitivity for detecting light bites in deep water, as well as precision lure control.
Adding a short fluorocarbon or monofilament leader to the end of your superline mainline for reduced visibility and added abrasion resistance can produce the best of all worlds.
Underwater cameras and sonar systems lift the veil of secrecy from the underwater world, allowing anglers to identify high-quality structure and cover, as well as spot fish and see how they react to different lures, baits and jig strokes.
Sonar is available in LCD and flasher-style displays. Flashers are a traditional, easy-to-use favorite, but modern LCDs paint an amazingly detailed picture of what lies beneath the ice.
Sonar units that include GPS chartplotters offer the added bonus of viewing depth and contour information on lake maps. Plus you get all the perks of GPS navigation, including the ability to mark waypoints over fish-producing strike zones and chart travel routes—a huge plus in unfamiliar surroundings, especially when fishing large bodies of water.
Of course, you can’t strike winter gold without first punching a hole through the icepack with a chisel or auger.
Chisels are great for testing the ice and cutting holes when the ice is relatively thin in early winter. Chisels also excel for re-opening lightly frozen holes toward the end of the season.
Hand augers are lightweight and quiet. Because they require ample amounts of human labor to operate, they’re ideal for slicing small holes in ice less than a foot thick. For thicker ice and boring holes 8 inches or larger in diameter, power augers get the nod.
Choose from gasoline-, electric- and propane-powered engines. Each has its merits. Available in two- and four-stroke versions, gas augers are popular and reliable. Electric augers are quiet, yield no exhaust, and battery life gets better every winter.
Propane models, on the other hand, make fuel mixes and flooded engines a thing of the past. They also require no priming, but extreme cold can dramatically reduce the number of holes you can drill per propane cylinder. To boost your mileage up to 30 percent or more, wrap the cylinder in a tank warmer.
Dress For Success
Apparel isn’t as glamorous as the latest lures and electronics, but it’s also critical to success. Clothing that keeps you comfortable no matter the conditions allows you to fish harder, longer—and that translates into more fish on the ice.
Berkley pro staffer and avowed iceman Bernie Keefe of Granby, Colorado, wins the cold war by strategically layering warm clothing to facilitate personal climate control. “If you get too warm and all you’re wearing is a giant parka and a T-shirt, your only options are sweating it out or removing the jacket and turning blue,” he says.
Keefe suits up by slipping merino wool long underwear over his unmentionables, followed by lightweight yet warm fleece pants and shirt. Next, he adds a pullover hoodie and fleece vest, then finally a pair of bibs and parka. “Don’t forget your head,” he quips, only partly in jest. “A neck gaiter and thick fleece toque keep your head and neck warm even in brutal weather.”
In the shoe department, Keefe dons two pairs of moisture-wicking socks, followed by heavy wool socks and high-quality, insulated waterproof boots. On his hands, he favors heavy gloves for non-dexterous duties such as drilling or driving a snowmobile, and lighter handwear for more delicate tasks such as holding a fishing rod or adjusting his sonar.
“Light gloves get cold fast, so I keep a second pair inside my coat and rotate them frequently so my gloves are always warm,” he adds, offering yet another timely tip to help you catch more fish in comfort all winter long.