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Winter 2004/05 Issue


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Gearing Up for Ice Fishing
By
Rich Davenport

The popularity of Ice Fishing experienced an explosion in recent years, mainly due to improved outerwear and other related cold-weather gear. Couple this with product price declines due to increased retailer and manufacturer competition, and it all equates to more enjoyment for the hard water angler than ever before. Yet, with more choices comes more confusion, as consumers face a wider array of choices, which sometimes can cost a shopper more money in errant purchases, or too many impulse buys. Following these simple guidelines can keep your costs down, allowing you to have more resources to work with when it comes time to hit the ice. 

Inventory Your Existing Gear

With safe ice still a couple months away, now is the time to get out your gear and inspect it for any defects or damage. Let us start from the bottom, up.

 Boots - A good pair of waterproof, insulated boots is an absolute essential to the ice angler. Be certain your boots first fit these criteria (waterproof and warm.) If your footwear is not made of a waterproof material, such as rubber, Gore-Tex or another comparable waterproof substance put a new pair of boots on the list. If your boots are waterproof, but damaged (either cut or worn,) you should do the same. Protect your feet in the cold weather, as they are your primary means of getting around on the ice, and if your feet go numb, or get wet, a shortened day of fishing will result.

A proper ice-fishing boot is one that is 100% waterproof, with at least 800 grams of Thinsulate, or comparable insulation, which also has a sweat-wicking property to help keep your feet dry during your walks. Choice of rubber or Gore- Tex, or the like is really a personal preference or limitation of budget. So long as your boots perform the intended task without fail, the choice of material is not critical. Yet, waterproof and heavily insulated boots are not the entire picture. You must also look for a boot that provides a relatively thick sole. Remember, the closer your feet are to the ice, the quicker they will lose precious heat. A thicker sole provides a higher degree of comfort, while keeping your feet further from the ice, thus reducing thermal loss. Your boots should also sport a "high-rise" style; at least 9" high, if not higher. Veteran hard water anglers are all too familiar with the occasional slush pile that can be mid-shin deep. Stepping in one of these watery obstacles can drench lower cut hiking style boots, no matter what they are made of or how new they are. Also, refrain from the steel-toed variety of boots. That protective piece of metal gets cold fast, allowing your toes to literally become surrounded by cold (ice from the bottom, cold steel from the top.)

Underwear (Socks, long johns, etc) - Every cold weather outdoors type will preach the necessity of quality thermal socks and long johns. Without these undergarments, the simple task of walking to and from your fishing spot would work up such a sweat that you would experience a "boil over". Once you sat down, the sweat would cool, making you very uncomfortable. Socks should be thick and made of a hydrophobic material, such as wool or berkaline. Cotton is hydrophilic, or holds water, versus wicking water away from your body. The same idea applies to long johns. Duofold makes a fantastic line of long johns, in a variety of different weights. Again, try to avoid cotton. Be sure to choose proper fitting garments. Socks should fit with very little extra room, as to avoid bunching and blister-causing snarls. Long johns should be snug, but not overly tight, as tight long johns can restrict your range of motion. Be sure to purchase both the pants and the shirt (or bottom and top) of the long johns.

Dress in Layers

If you have spent any amount of time during a Northern winter, you should be familiar with the "dress in layers" principle. A pair of jeans, turtleneck long-sleeved shirt, a flannel or sweatshirt over top, should suffice.

Outerwear (Overalls, Coveralls, Pants, Jacket/ Parka, Hat, Gloves) The next critical component to your assembly is your outerwear. This includes your hat, gloves, jacket or parka, snow pants, coveralls, overalls, etc. Many choices face the consumer, and costs can really escalate if you are not careful here.

Snow "Suits" - The first recommendation is to understand how much time you intend to spend out in the elements during the winter months, in addition to ice fishing. Getting the biggest bang for your buck is the most effective philosophy to employ when purchasing cold-weather gear, and, if your time outside is limited to only shoveling snow and hitting the ice once or twice, then a heavy pair of pants, or rain pants (which is better!) over your jeans, plus your winter parka is fine. 

Hunters can generally use the same coveralls or overalls that would be worn during late season hunting. Skiers and Snowmobilers can generally employ their existing garb, or purchase something that can address the needs of both sports.

Ultimately, your goal is to wear something that will keep you very warm, be somewhat, if not totally, water repellant, and, most importantly, will help break the wind. Remember you will be out on a frozen lake, with nothing to break that cold, north wind, so you must wear something that can stop the bone chilling gusts from cutting right through to your skin.

Your jacket should have a warm, insulated hood attached, to act as a supplement to a hat when the wind chill dips well below zero.

Hats - A warm hat can be a lifesaver in extreme cold. It is a documented scientific fact that nearly 80% of your body heat escapes through your head! You should therefore cover that dome up, even if it means you are not looking the most fashionable, or despite the fact that it can ruin your do. Standard knit hats will work fine, especially in conjunction with wind stopping hoods. Other options include berkaline or polar fleece balaclavas. These relatively new products incorporate the hood! scarf combination, and can be worn either with the balaclava covering your head, or pulled off your head and left around your neck. These work great for the outdoorsman who hates to part with that favorite, lucky baseball cap!

Gloves - Next to cold feet, cold hands are the worst nightmare of an outdoors enthusiast. Ice fishing combines bitter cold with cold water, and your hands will be exposed to cold water, often, especially when baiting your hook, cutting a hole in the ice or landing a fish. Heavy, waterproof gloves, made of Gore-Tex, come highly recommended. So, too, do the heavyweight Neoprene diving-style gloves. Best bet is to carry two pairs of gloves with you when ice fishing. Even the most waterproof of gloves can be water logged if you dunk your hand too deep into the hole, or if you take your gloves off and on when baiting minnows to a hook. When it comes to your hands, it is best practice to carry an extra set with you!

Safety Equipment

Ice fishing is more inherently dangerous than open water angling. This is pretty obvious, as the frigid water temperatures alone will get an angler into trouble in seconds if exposed. Add to that the fact that you are on ice, which becomes slicker when wet, your clothing becoming heavier when wet, and the danger of a lifeOthreatening situation if you do happen to break through the ice becomes a very harsh reality. Although one should never venture out on thin or bad ice, accidents do happen, even to the most seasoned ice angler, and advance preparations can be the difference between surviving a fall through the ice and being recovered by a cold weather dive team.

Ice Picks - Ice picks are the number one lifesaver ice anglers can own. Relatively simple in design, the ice pick is inchlong steel picks set in handles. This device is generally worn around your neck and, in the event of a break through, can be grabbed, and pulled apart into action, allowing the fallen angler the ability to get a grip on the ice. They retail for $10.00 - $20.00, and are worth every penny.

Rope - Always bring a good length of rope with you when out ice fishing. If you fall through, someone may not be able to walk up to you and pluck you out without risk of becoming victims themselves. Having a rope, at least 50' in length is usually the best bet. Be certain to tie some knots in the rope, each knot being about a foot or so apart, as to provide the victim with something to grasp. Remember, if someone has fallen through the ice, chances are their gloves have become wet, and water will freeze, making the rope itself very slick and nearly impossible to hang onto. The knots help with the grip.

Life Vest! PFD - Each angler should consider wearing a life preserver during the walks to and from your fishing spots.

Conditions can change, ice can shift and the safe walk to your spot may become dangerous; and these dangers can be unseen. Wearing a flotation device can keep you from drowning, in the event help is not immediately available.

Cell Phone or Two-Way Radio - Always bring a communication device with you, and know the emergency channels or numbers. Be sure you put fresh batteries in your radios, or fully charge that cell battery before hitting the ice. Being able to call for help can be the difference between life and death to someone in your fishing party. Also, if using a cell phone, be sure you can get service that is reliable where you are planning to fish. Lakes do not have relay towers, you know.

Fishing Tackle Needs

Next step is to do a complete inventory of your hard water fishing tackle. Now is the time to check your reels, make any additions to your rod and! or tip-up collections, re-spool with new fishing line, and make certain you have the right assortment of terminal tackle to handle the task of fishing whatever species you intend to hit the ice for.

Jigging Rods

Since your fishing presentation when ice fishing is 100% vertical, jigging will encompass just about all your efforts when working rod and reel. Ice fishing rods are typically 3 feet long or shorter, can accommodate a spinning reel, and come in a range of weights from super ultra-light to heavy action for big game fish like walleye, northern pike, trout and salmon. 

Prices range from around $10.00 for a serviceable model to $75.00 for the high-end competition ultra-lights that many use during the crappie and perch tournaments that are held each year during the winter months.

Tip-Ups

The tip-up is most often used with live bait, and is a rig that uses a flag as the strike indicator. Unlike fishing with rod and reel, the tip-up required the angler to hand-line the fish to the hole. A tip-up is simplicity in itself, consisting of a spool, with a "stop arm", a stop lever, which keeps the flag in the down position when at rest. A wooden frame, or plastic frame keeps the flag and top assembly above the ice, while allowing the spool and line to remain below the water line, which keeps the spool from freezing up. When a fish takes the bait, the spool turns to let out line, which disturbs the stop lever, allowing the flag to tip up. The spool of a tip up is typically lined with Dacron, or comparable braided fishing line, to which the angler can tie either a monofilament leader, or a steel-snelled hook, depending on the species being targeted. Use just enough weight to take your bait to the bottom, and keep it on the bottom. Many states have regulations governing

the use of tip-ups, including limiting the number per angler, and having your personal identification written or affixed to each tip-up. Be sure you check your state or province's specific regulations, and be sure to check for exceptions for a specific body of water you intend to fish.

Fishing Line

Although standard monofilament fishing line will serve well ice fishing, the angler must be aware of the fact that cold, freezing temperatures will affect the performance of your fishing line more so than a typical summer day of fishing. 

Under cold conditions, monofilament becomes brittle faster, and brittle line can accelerate and exacerbate line twist. In addition, the higher pound test line used, the faster these factors will affect the performance of your line. Newer, icefriendly line is available, which is more tolerant to cold temperatures, offers less memory and can give more life to the spool than standard monofilament. Avoid fluorocarbon, as this line gets brittle under cold conditions. Lines like Spiderwire, Kevlar, and other braided lines are too visible to fish when hard water fishing, and affect the natural presentation when jigging. A good choice of line is 4 Ib or 6 Ib test monofilament, ice or standard. When fishing for salmon or steelhead, you may wish to use as heavy as 10 Ib or 12 Ib test, but that is really pushing it. Remember, when it comes to line diameter when ice fishing, less is more.

Augers and Spuds

A very critical component to ice fishing is a device to cut a hole in the ice, giving the angler access to the water. Two classes of tools exist of the angler to tackle this job. These are augers and spuds. The spud is perhaps the oldest holemaking tool in existence. A spud is a heavy iron pole with a handhold on one end, and a flat, maul-like head on the other end. To cut a hole with a spud, simply slam the spud into the ice repeatedly, until you make your hole. The more preferred tool of choice is the auger. Available in either a manual style or gasoline engine powered, the ice auger makes perfect circular holes, cutting quickly and efficiently. The cutting action comes from the razor-sharp blades that screw to the base of the auger, while the spirals help to remove ice shavings from the hole. If you have an auger, check to be sure the blades are very sharp. If they are worn, replace them. Augers come in a range of cutting diameters, up to 12". The larger the diameter, the harder it will be to cut the hole. Also, be certain you are familiar with the regulations governing auger diameter, as many states prohibit augers that can cut larger than 8" or 10" holes. This could apply on a lake-to-lake basis, so please review the specific regulations before purchasing an auger. Strikemaster is the maker of the most popular manual Augers. Jiffy makes a great power auger.

Portable Ice Shanties

Without a doubt, the advent of affordable, portable ice shanties has had a tremendous hand in the recent explosion of ice fishing popularity. After all, being in a shelter in the middle of a frozen lake during a blizzard makes ice fishing more enjoyable than sitting on the ice, exposed to the wind on a bucket. If you are planning to ramp up your ice fishing, a portable shanty is a must-have. If you are planning to introduce your wife, girlfriend or children to this sport, then having a shanty will keep them coming back for more ice fishing adventures. These shanties are affordable, but can become very expensive. Before you make that purchase, be certain to understand exactly all your needs, so that you do not buy something too small, or buy something too big. Ice shanties can be as small as a single person hut to the 10-person ice condominium. Factors to determine what you need should be as follows:

         How many people will typically be fishing with you?

        Does anyone in your fishing party already own a shanty?

        Can you drag this portable shanty, by hand, alone?

        Do you have use of a machine, like a snowmobile or A TV?

        Will your shanty fit in your truck or trunk of your car? . Where will you store your shanty during the off-season?

        How easy do you need set up and tear down to be?

        How much gear will you be bringing with you on the ice?

        Will you need a sled to drag your shanty?

The most affordable shanties available today are the tent-style shanties. These typically resemble a Coleman camping tent, and can accommodate up to four persons, on average. Newer models come equipped with shock-corded tent poles, and are set up in a similar fashion to the Coleman-style camping tent. Tent-style shanties typically have a floor, with a floor flap built in to allow access to the holes. These tents can require more set up time, and must be air dried after use to prevent mildew from ruining your shanty. You will also need a sled to drag the tent and poles out onto the ice, so be prepared for an extra spend if you go this route.

The Clam brand of Ice Shanties were introduced around 15 years ago, and was the answer to many hard water anglers' prayers of having a more durable, easier to set up, no need to dry out solution. One person can typically set up and tear down a Clam shanty, no matter their size. Larger models can be rather heavy, which is a drawback, and most models still require a sled to transport them. Newer models do have the ability to be dragged on their bottoms, and are a bit lighter than their older predecessors are.

Dave Genz Fish Trap brand Ice Shanties hit the market less than a decade ago, and really are the optimum in convenience, ease in set up and tear down, roominess, and durability. The aluminum frame construction is very durable, able to withstand 50+ MHP winds. Unlike other models, the Fish Trap shanties come attached to its own sled, and even sports chairs with backs and all! Drawbacks include the fact that these models have no floor, the sled can be a real bear to pull in deeper snow cover, and the shanty is difficult to anchor in place in the event you are fishing in high winds. The Fish Trap comes is sizes ranging from one person to five person or more, and range in price from $100.00 to $600.00.

Portable Propane Heaters

If you own a shanty, you will want a propane heater. This makes the day of fishing far more comfortable, but does add to the gear and the weight of equipment you will have to drag. Coleman makes a great catalytic propane heater, which has two heat settings, low and high, and can be perfect for the smaller shanties, or if carbon monoxide is a concern. Mr.Heater makes a fantastic high BTU output heater that can also double as a stove, but these models really bum up the fuel.

The larger the shanty, the larger the heater you will want. Most, if not all, propane heaters will use the standard 1 Ib propane screw-on bottle, or you can purchase an adapter and use a 20 Ib canister! Again, weight considerations and availability of a machine will dictate your choice of fuel capacity.

Tip for keeping your feet warm Many ice anglers will experience the cold feet syndrome at least once during their ice fishing excursions, despite having the warmest, driest boots and heaviest socks available. This usually happens during long periods of inactivity Gigging over the hole for hours,) and is typically because your feet are resting on the ice, having the heat sucked right out of them.

You may be very comfortable everywhere else, but your feet can be going numb. As was mentioned earlier, heat transfer between your soles and the ice is the biggest culprit here, and can be remedied if you can keep your feet off the ice. The best method to do this is to bring a plywood board out on the ice with you, to act as a foot matte. Find a piece of scrap plywood, one inch thick, that is roughly the size of a welcome matte. Place this on the ice, and set your feet on this. You will be amazed at the results. Some folks use remnant carpet pieces, or even a rubber welcome matte, but the carpet will be waterlogged in a hurry, and the rubber matte is not thick enough to do the trick. Rubber also is a heat conductor, rather than an insulator, so not much benefit will realized from the rubber matte, unless it is so thick it becomes too heavy to be practically carry with you. Wood has natural insulating properties, and plywood is relatively lightweight. Wood will also not become waterlogged, and can be used again, and again without fail.

Tight Lines and Fish On! 

***** 

Editor's Note: Rich Davenport maintains a website www.weloveoutdoors.com The site is filled with great articles about the outdoors. I met Rich and his partner (sorry, I forgot the name) at the Sports Expo last March. They are local guys who enjoy the outdoors and are what I call computer techies. They put together this website for all of us who love the outdoors. Great reading. Visit the site soon.  Another great article from www.weloveoutdoors.com