Ice Fishing: The Future is Now

By rick jelak - January 1, 2004
Imagine if you can, walking half way across frozen Okauchee Lake armed with a $2.00 kid's sled, a plastic pal, and a heavy inefficient piece of twisted metal the manufacturer had the nerve to can an auger. It gets worse, after arriving at the "spot" and reaching total exhaustion in the hopes of hitting water while drilling, you wonder: How deep am I? What is the structure? Am I on fish? And most important, are they active?

While this scenario may sound like ancient history, I lived it . In fact it was my first ice fishing experience back in 1971. Armed with a jig pole with the sensitivity of a broomstick and while wearing all the clothes I owned I did the best I could with what little I had.

Fast forward to winter 2004. Today's angler hits the ice armed with clothing and equipment that would seem nothing short of science fiction to the fisherman of the 1970's. Portable shelters designed for both comfort and ease of moblity are now the norm and have virtually replaced antiquated and burdensome wooden shacks. Add in a healthy dose of space age clothing and electronics and you have the perfect recipe for hard water angling success.

The heart of your ice fishing system is without a doubt your shelter. Not only will it protect you from the elements, but also allows you to catch more fish. More on that later. First the ins and outs of your shelter. In my opinion there is only one choice. Flip over portables. Flip over style shacks offer everything the mobile angler needs. They setup and collapse without any assembly or teardown. Just pull it over you while you are seated and your fishing. Flip overs also give you the added bonus of storage since they are built on a large plastic tub. They are large enough to carry all your gear and still easily pulled by hand or 4 wheeler. I have a Dave Gentz Pro model. It sports a high back seat and a hammock style under the seat that is large enough to hold my rods and additional goodies. It keeps them high and dry and within easy reach. This style is available in one, two and three man models.

As good as these shelters are without supplemental heat, your still dealing with the outside temperature. Not me! When I am on the ice you'll see my jacket on top of my auger just outside the door. Reason? My constant ice fishing companion, "Mr. Heater," With Mr. Heater a 10 lb. propane tank with an adjustable heating element I am able to catch fish the bucket sitters miss. The benefits of a heated portable are almost too numerous to mention, but my top reason for packing heat begs to be mentioned. With heat I can fish without gloves or mittens, which allows me to have better contact with the rod. I don't have to deal with frozen holes, frozen eyelets, frozen line or frozen bait. Probably the biggest benefit of a heated shelter is your ability to fish out of the wind. While the bucket brigade is battling line that is in constant motion and are unable to stay warm, the sheltered angler can concentrate on his line and rod tip. This can be the difference between fish fry and leftovers. While there are times when it seems like the fish are hooking themselves and it's just a matter of having your line in the water, more times than not a blue gill bite can be as subtle as your line moving up or slightly side to side. These are the times that being warm and sheltered can be the key.

Now that you are warm and sheltered, your next task is to try to locate fish. Easy! Just as shelter and comfort have made tremendous advances over the last few years so have both manual and power augers. While most anglers have their favorite brand and style, the bottom line is any of today' augers make short work of getting to the water. Without a doubt, the biggest stride in ice fishing gear has to be electronics. The angler in 2004 has the advantage of space age electronics, namely real- time color flashers. With these flashers you can get an instant depth reading and have the bonus of being able to spot fish. This technology really shines when fishing in deep water.

A typical trip for me chasing perch may reveal fish from just under the ice to hugging the bottom in 60 plus ft. of water. With any other type of locator, your time is spent searching and not catching. The feature that really makes these locators a must have tool is their ability to allow you to see your jig, even at extreme depths.

Now that you have located fish there are still a few things you need to do before wetting a line. Again its technology to the rescue. The two most valuable tools in my ice fishing bag of tricks are my under water camera and hand held G.P.S. Without sounding like a commercial trust me, if I forgot one or the other I would turn around for home to get them. What my seem like a luxury or unnecessary to some is part of my must have gear.

My under water camera allows me to see into the fish's world, from 5ft. to 120 ft. just lower the camera into the hole and you are watching your prey in real time. After watching a bluegill inhale a spike tipped jig without the slightest indication on my line or rod it is a wonder I ever caught fish without it. I now have the ability to confirm what my locator is showing. I can now study bottom content, weeds and other structure the fish are relating to. One more task and I am fishing.

A few quick entries on my G.P.S. will insure me of being able to return to my location. G.P.S. or global positioning system utilizes a number of satellites orbiting the earth that allows you to lock in a location or waypoint within a few feet of accuracy. The short version of G.P.S. for the ice fisherman is simple. Store your waypoint and assign it a name and then retrieve it by name the next time you need it. Your G.P.S. will guide you right back to your spot. Just follow the arrow and start fishing.

Your system is now really coming together. Your warm, sheltered and you have the ability to see both fish and your bait. Like shelters and electronics, tackle has also made huge strides. The days of tiny plastic reels and poor quality rods are over. Today's high tech angler hits the hard water with a matched rod and reel combo equal to the quality of open water gear. This type of rig spooled with two to four pound line and a fluorocarbon leader affords you the sensitivity needed to ice fish.

Now we are finally ready to hit the ice. Step one is to locate fish and determine if they are catchable. With your flasher you can instantly decide if you are in the ball park. Active fish will appear suspended or just off the bottom. These are the fish you want to target. Start out with the jig and live bait of your choice. Use the lightest line you feel you can get away with. Sometimes as light as one pound. Drop your jig slowly towards the shallowest target on your flasher. This gives you the opportunity to catch fish from top to bottom and lessens the chance of scattering the school. Keep in mind when pan fish are feeding aggressively color and jig style are normally not an issue. However on the days when fish are finicky be willing to take the time to switch color or type of bait. Believe it or not sometimes a small piece of plastic will produce better than live bait.

On could write an entire article on clothing, just think layering and manmade materials. Leave the blue jeans at home. In conclusion an investment in today's high tech ice gear will allow you to fish with a level of comfort and success that anglers of yesterday could only dream of experiencing.

Author rick jelak
rick jelak
Rick Jelak is an avid angler and hunter. He resides in Cross Plains, WI. In addition to writing free lance articles he is also the Lake-Link field editor for the Madison area. Contact him at Call Of The Wild Guide Service 608-798-3854 or e-mail at unclesmallie@yahoo.com.