Comfort on the Ice...A Major Key to Success

By Jim Hudson - February 1, 2013
It wasn't many years ago, my fishing buddies and I were planning our annual late ice fishing excursion. Each and every year we get together in February or early March and plan to chase walleyes, perch, and panfish on many of our favorite lakes. As the anticipation grew, the weather forecast began to dampen our excitement. Finally when we all got together at the cabin, we were greeted with a massive cold front that had temperatures well below zero and winds blowing 15-25 mph all weekend long. Now, no one likes to be cold, and to be cold sitting on a huge sheet of ice is even worse. Ice fishing used to be a sport, for the hardcore folk but, that isn't necessarily so anymore. With the advancements in clothing, shelters, and heat sources it is much nicer to be on the ice most days. What many people don't realize is these three components can be pivotal to your success as a fisherman on the ice. It may seem as a small detail but, it helps keep you focused and comfortable in any conditions Mother Nature can throw at you.

The Base

The key to any successful system of keeping warm is simply layering. ICE TEAM Pro Jim Hudson refers to this process as "dressing yourself from head to toe". They key to sustaining warmth begins with a good under layer. It is extremely important to have an under layer, both tops and bottoms, especially ones that are made up of moisture wicking material. What this material does for you, is draws the moisture of perspiration away from your skin. Remember this, "wet skin, is going to be cold skin". Complementing this under layer, and just as vital is a good pair of wool socks. Socks are often overlooked, but when cold creeps in it will start with your feet on the ice.

The Exterior

Here we need our outdoor armor to push back against the elements that will try to invade, chiefly the wind, snow, and the rain. Many times when you are on the ice, whether it is setting up your portable, moving your wheel house, or hole hopping trying to find fish, you find yourself mixed in with the elements. Many of the suits that are on the market today are meant to allow you to go toe to toe with the wind, snow, slush, and other elements. Suits today are built to withstand these elements and the best ones are also equipped knee pads and butt pads. At the end of a long day on the ice, this extra padding will save countless wear and tear on your joints. Due to the range of weather we encounter, having 2 suits is never a bad idea. One thing to consider is to have a suit for early winter and one for the extreme cold that can grip the Midwest from time to time. With either one, be sure to buy it big enough to allow for ample layering without restricting movement. Boots are another key piece for comfort and you really don't want to walk out onto the ice or in the slush or snow with boots that aren't waterproof. When searching for pair of boots, find a pair that fits well, waterproof, has high grams of Thinsulate, but also isn't going to weigh you down. Another tip is to consider is a boot that will work with ice cleats, which are vital early and late in the season.

Your Hands

Fisherman often times associate gloves with being cumbersome and, at times, limiting your sensitivity when fishing. Having a couple pair of gloves is often helpful. One pair that can be used when pulling your gear, drilling holes, and setting up, and another that is thinner and affords you better feel for when you are fishing. Doing so will give you that freedom to bait hooks and tie knots easily with three of your fingers exposed. Without keeping our hands warm, it will be tough to finesse that 30 inch walleye onto the ice!

The Shack

The next piece to being comfortable on the ice is having a good portable shack to keep you out of the wind, snow, or rain. According Hudson, "shacks are needed in brutal conditions or just to relax and warm-up". While there are many portables on the market today, be sure to pay close attention to the fabric that your portable is made from. The new thermal technology on the market today can keep your shacks up to 25 degrees warmer and often times eliminate any condensation at all within your shack, which is nice because no one likes to have cold water dripping on your head or neck. Finding a quality shack and being organized within your shack will allow you more comfort and efficiency within your fishing environment.

Helpful Tips to Staying Comfortable in Your Shack

  1. Check out Jim Hudson's heater modification to enhance your ice shack.
  2. Put a piece of rubber or old carpet on the ice where your feet are resting on the ice
  3. Always make sure you block off any wind with snow or slush to prevent it from coming into your shack.

Your Heat Source

Once you are in your shack, you may still wish to use a heater to keep you warm and comfortable when fishing your favorite species. I can remember as a kid getting my first sunflower heater, I thought it was the cadillac of heaters and it was at the time. In the last five years though, portable heaters have changed immensely and become much safer and more efficient. When pairing your heating needs with your shack, consider the size and its surface area you will be heating. For a one man portable shack a smaller heater is all you need. Whereas with a larger two man portable or a hub shelter you will need to look at a larger unit that cranks out more BTU's. If you combine one of these top notch heaters with a thermal fabric you are going to find yourself getting rid of layers while fishing on the ice. Having this comfort gives you a fishing environment that allows you the ability to use your hands and body freely.

Ice fishing, is a sport that is rapidly growing throughout the whole country. Technological advances from electronics to lures make it better for fisherman to catch fish. Couple those things with new advancements in clothing, heating and portable fish shelters and the sport will only get continue to grow. Making a step by step investment and system with these components in order to keep you warm and comfortable on the ice is going to pay off and help you stay on the ice longer. As many fisherman can attest, time on the water or the ice, is what separates average fisherman from great fisherman, and being able to be dry and warm is going allow you to do just that. This winter think about what you wear, the shelter you are using, and how you are heating it and realize even though they seem like just things you wear or set on the ice, they too help you catch fish and become a better ice fisherman.

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Author Jim Hudson
Jim Hudson
Jim Hudson is a fully licensed guide and USCG captain born in Northern Wisconsin. Jim is a college graduate in the field of natural resources and has dedicated himself in the conservation of our natural resources and the sport of fishing. All of this has allowed Jim to become a trusted face in the fishing community, where he is a regular guest on John Gillespies Water and Woods, The Next Bite, Northland Adventures, Butch Furtman's Sportsman's Journal, featured in many of the top fishing publications, and is a pro-staffer and product consultant for many of the top fishing related companies that lead the way for the modern angler.