Ice Fishing: Preparing for First Ice

By Dale Helgeson - December 1, 2006

It is a clear cold morning in end of November. Some geese are still flying south for the winter as I drag my Frabill Ranger Solo out for my first excursion on the ice of the year. I am looking forward to icing my first fish. There is nothing like seeing a 10 inch bluegill or a 40 inch northern pike come swimming at the hole on 5 inches of crystal clear ice.

But before you can head out onto the ice there are things that need to be prepared to make your trip not only successful but safe. This time of year can be extremely dangerous fishing and safety is the number one thing to consider before venturing out on your favorite lake. Having your equipment ready to go not only takes a lot of frustration out of your fishing trip but makes it much safer and more enjoyable.

Each year it is important to go through your equipment to make sure it is in good working order before you get out on the ice.

After I have Action Marine put my boat away and before the ice even freezes I prepare all my gear. I start with my ice shack. I pull my Frabill ice shacks out and go through them to make sure all of the canvas is on good shape, check the poles to make sure they are all in working order, and check the sled for any wear damage.

Once the shack is checked out and any damaged part replaced I turn my attention to the augers. I check and sharpen the blades as needed on both my StrikeMaster Lazer hand auger as well as my Lazer 224 power auger. Make sure to check the handles and shafts for any damage, especially if you carry them on a four wheeler often. I then mix up some fresh gas and start the power auger to make sure it is in good working order. I do like to add a supplement such as Sta-bill in my gas mix to keep things clean and maintain gas integrity.

After the augers are ready to go I make sure I have a good edge on my spud bar. I use a spud bar especially early in the year to check ice as I walk out onto the ice. I like to punch a hole with the spud bar every few yards to make sure the ice is thick enough to walk on.

Next up is my electronics, I use a Vexilar FL18. Make sure the batteries are charged up and replaced if needed. Check to see that everything is in working order. Make sure the flasher mechanism is worked correctly and the lights are bright. Also check the case to make sure it isn't cracked or damaged.

After the big items on our checklist it is time to start working on the rods, reels and tip-ups.

I usually do these while watching TV and catching my favorite hunting and fishing programs. I change the line on my fishing reels every year. I don't want to take the chance that my lines integrity has been compromised by last years fishing or sitting in the garage all summer. I prefer to use Berkley's Micro Ice. I set rods up from 1-4lb test depending on the application each rod is going to be used for. For reels I use Pflueger President Micro 7620's. Make sure the reels are functioning properly before putting line on them. Look for any damage or sharp edges that are on the reel and repair as needed.

Next I check my Frabill Ultra Ice rods to make sure the eyes are all in good shape and not damaged. Also check the handles and shafts for cracks, splits, or any other damaged areas and have them fixed. Once the rods are checked out, I attach the reels to them. I attach them with color duct tape. Usually black but it doesn't really matter as long as they are secure on the rods and don't move or slide on the rod.

Once the rods are checked out and the reels have new line on them I will tie my favorite Bad Dog jigs on them for the start of the season. Make sure that you go through all of your jigs, spoons and lures to make sure the hooks are sharp and free of any rust or damage. Don't forget to check and stock up on fresh live bait hooks. I prefer the Daiichi Bleeding Hooks for their sharpness and red color adds flash to the bait for added strikes.

Then it is on to the tip-ups. I like to change the Dacron line every other year but make sure to change the leaders every year. I prefer a mono leader as I see more strikes on it. I will use PowerPro leaders if I am using smelt for trophy northern pike though as it is much more resistant to their teeth than mono. Make sure to peel off all the Dacron line and rewind it on the reel nice and tight. They have a tendency of getting a little loose during usage in the winter. I will tear off a little Dacron line and retie my swivel though. Check your tip-ups to see if they are free of friction and apply new grease if needed. Check for damage to the frame, springs and flags as well. After I get Frabill Pro-Thermals rigged with their line and leaders I test every light for each one. The Artic Fire tip-up lights attach right onto the tip-up and work extremely well. Make sure the batteries are working and if they seem dim replace the battery and you should be set for the year.

A few other items that I check is my Min-O-Life bait station. I put new batteries in it and make sure it is clean and operating correctly and the tubing is not pinched or damaged. Also I make sure my XTools gaff and Pliers are in good working order and free of damage. Make sure your gaff is sharp as it will make it easier to gaff a larger fish with. They are extremely handing fishing as they will float if you drop them in the hole. Make sure your heater is in good working order. If you are unsure about it take it to an authorized repair center and see if they will check it for you. I use the Mr. Heater Portable Buddy in my shacks as they have been very dependable for me. Don't forget your lanterns as well. Either propane or electric should be checked. Replace batteries or light bulbs, mantels, over even glass as needed. I also use Tip-Downs manufactured by Innovative Mfg which are a necessity for finicky crappies. I change out the line and make sure the stands, rods, and reels are all in good working order.

Over looked items that people tend to forget to check is your clothing. Make sure your ice fishing gear is free of tears, rips and that the zippers all work well. Make sure you have good thermal underwear that is in good condition and don't forget socks that are in good condition. Black Mountain socks are an extremely warm sock that is the most comfortable that I have worn. If your feet don't stay warm you won't last long on the ice. Check your boots for any cracks of holes. You don't want a leak in you boot. Check your hats, gloves and mittens as well.

It may seem like this will take forever to get done but once you have it done it will save you time from having to fix things out on the ice after you get out to fish. There is nothing worse then getting out and not having an auger start or having a nice fish on the line and your line break because it is weak.

So take the time to get things done right before hand and have a safe and successful ice fishing season. Don't forget to take someone else with you and introduce someone new to our great outdoor sports.

Author Dale Helgeson
Dale Helgeson
Dale Helgeson is owner and operator of The Outdoor Experience Guide Service focusing on lakes in southeastern Wisconsin. Dale is a professional fisherman fishings the MWC walleye fishing circuits as well as writing articles for Lake-Link and Southeast Wisconsin Outdoor Guide among others. Dale is sponsored by these fine sponsors: Geneva Cabinet Company, Action Marine, DR Plastics, Maui Jim Sunglasses, Black Mountain Socks, RAM Mounts, Frabill, Pflueger Rods and Reels, Dave’s Kaboom Lures, Lake-Link.com, Kick’n Walleye Scents, Minn Kota, Strikemaster Augers, Mapping Specialists, Vexilar, Guest Pro Chargers, PowerPro Lines, KINeSYS Sunscreen, NPAA 872. His Pro Staffs include: Daiichi Hooks, XTools, FinTech Tackle Company, Off Shore Tackle, Navionics, Jammin Jigs/Bad Dog Lures