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Let the Good Times Roll
by Ron Anlauf

Itís time to get back on the ice and get after a few walleyes, maybe a bunch of fast action perch, or even some big slab crappies or hefty bull bluegills.  Whatever the case; let the good times roll. However, before you grab your gear and go charging out to make history, it might be a good idea to take a little time and make sure youíre prepared.  There are some basic items besides the obvious that you really couldnít get by without, and if overlooked or forgotten your first trip might not be what it could have been. To help with your preparation a pre-ice mock up is in order, and includes laying out all of your equipment and then thinking through a full day and what you might end up needing.

If youíre going to be using a portable shelter; set it up and make sure everything is there including a tow rope, especially if you plan on walking out.  Doesnít sound like a big deal but it definitely could be if you really need it.   

Whether youíre walking out or not, a good pair of ice cleats is an item that often gets overlooked and really is a safety issue.  Many times Iíve seen anglers with their feet up level with their eyes just before they slam down hard on the ice.  Cleats could have saved them the trouble and the pain and what could easily result in a serious injury.  The best cleats are easy to put on and provide traction on the heel and ball of the foot.  Anything less and sooner or later youíre going to be kissing the ice.            

Another item related to safety is a pair of ice picks designed to help you pull yourself back up on the ice if you happen to go in.   Itís not something most want to think about but really should prepare for in case the worst were to happen.   A set of picks could save your life and are well worth the money.  They donít takeup much room and easily fit in a coat pocket.   Team Crestliner member Danny Plautz of Muskego, Wisconsin also brings along a fifty-foot length of rope:  ďAt first ice I never go alone and always bring along the rope in case somebody falls through.  Iíll tie some knots in one end to make it easier to throw.Ē 

Although early ice may mean moderate temperatures, a good heater is still a must.  Even if it worked last year before you put it away for the season  it wouldnít hurt to fire it up now, just to be sure.   During the off-season things happen, whether itís rust, or maybe just an insect thatís make a cocoon in the wrong place.  The thing is it doesnít take that long to make sure itís in working order.   

Getting the heater lit is another component to your fist ice checklist.   Matches can get the job done but need to be kept dry.  A waterproof container like the ones designed for camping are the ticket and well worth a couple dollar investment.  Another good option is a butane lighter, like the typed used for starting charcoal.  They help to keep your hands away from the flame and eliminate the smell of burnt hair.  Even if you have a lighter matches in a waterproof container are still a good backup, just in case.    

As you run the first trip through your mind youíll get to the point where you have to drill some holes.  You can probably get by with a hand auger at first ice, as long as the blades are sharp.  To be sure; trydragging your thumbnail against the blade and see if it starts to shave a little off.  If it wonít, or doesnít digin, you better have them sharpened or replaced.   If you plan on using a gas auger check the blades and tryfiring it up to make sure itís in good running order.   It wouldnít hurt to have a chisel along as well, to help test questionable ice and to bust loose a shelter that might have frozen down.   

If youíll be using an electronic depth finder it would be advisable to make sure the battery is still good and fully charged.   My Marcum LX-5 has an LCD charge indicator that letís me see at a glance just exactly how much juice I have left.  After charging your unit, fire it up and make sure itís operational.   A depth finder is the most important piece of fishing equipment that I can bring with and if itís not running Iím out of business and probably headed home.  

Another depth finder that Iíll use is the Marcum LX-i which is a handheld thatís mainly used for finding structure.  Itís a handy tool that has a transducer built into the face and is read by pouring a little water on the ice and then pushing it tight.  Thereís a digital readout on the top that will first show the bottom depth and then flash the depth of anything holding up off the bottom.   Instead of pouring water Iíll bring a self lighting torch along and melt some ice.  Itís quicker and easier than dragging water around and comes in handy for lighting the aforementioned heater.  

Sunglasses are another item related to safety as you can easily burn your eyes under a bright sun. Besides the direct sunlight thereís also reflected that light that compounds the problem and you could end up with a painful case of welderís eyeís, if youíre not careful.   Along with the sunglasses you should also bring along some sunscreen.  If you havenít been burnt on the ice sooner or later you will, if youíre not screened up. 

Most trips are going to include some type of live bait, heavy on the minnows.  Getting bait to your intended destination alive can be very important.  Bait containers like the cheap Styrofoam jobs are prone to tipping over and are not very durable.  A better option would be a smaller plastic insulated cooler with a nice square base and a lid that locks securely in place.  Another option would be using a water jug with a lid that actually screws on.  They can be laid on their sides without losing any water and will hold quite a few minnows.  They also come in handy if you need to poor a little water on the ice to read a depth finder.  To get your minnows out of the bucket, donít forget a net.  Dipping your hands into ice-cold water to grab a fresh minnow gets old fast.  

Another handy item is a dry towel.  When youíre handling a lot of fish youíre hands can get cold and wet quickly.  A simple towel can keep you dry and keep you fishing a lot longer.

Surely thereís more to think about and everything hasnít been covered here but this should help get you started.  And if thereís something that may have otherwise been forgotten thatís all the better.   See you  on the ice.