Magic Wands

By Ted Peck - December 15, 2013
Most of the time I'm a bucket fisherman. Although there are several portable ice shanties ready to go in the pole barn, about 75% of the 45-75 trips out on the ice every winter are spent astride a six-gallon bucket.

The reason is two-fold. When guiding, clients literally keep me hopping. There is usually little time to sit down, let alone get comfortable. When "fun fishing" the first essential is finding fish. Sometimes this means moving a little, sometimes a lot.

Several companies make winter ice fishing suits. I have a Frabill StormSuit and SnoSuit and love 'em both. Essentially, these are ice tents that you wear. On the Mississippi vehicle travel can be treacherous. If you fish here, plan on walking between a hundred yards and a mile.

A mile is a long way to travel with a six gallon bucket full of gear and a power auger slung over your shoulder-especially if you're an old guy. A sled makes this chore easy. With a 20 foot rope you scarcely know you're pulling something.

I can't imagine hitting the ice without my Vexilar FL-18. The only other necessary gear is two ice dippers-and of course, the rods.

On an easy day a basic fiberglass stick with a cheap plastic reel can be enough gear to put fish on the ice. But when you make a living out there with ice and winter wind the only easy day is yesterday.

Have you ever seen an old guy heading out across the ice with a dozen fishin' poles in his bucket ? Watch him like a hawk. Old guys are the original fish locators. They have a dozen poles rigged up, because when the bite is on there is no time to re-tie with wise old eyes to guide the path of angel hair string through a tiny eyelet.

My eyes aren't that bad yet. On a fun fishin' mission I travel with four rods most of the time. Over the years I've acquired dozens of ice fishing rods, most of which see at least some time on the ice every winter.

For client rods most winter wands are HT Polar Lites or Frabills. Both companies market quality rods at a reasonable price point. Reels aren't that critical. Ones with the fewest moving parts seem to work best in a brutal environment. Choose one you can back-reel with rather than a complex drag system. Old school? For sure. Even an AK-47 will jam once in awhile but a fist is always ready to go.

Rods are what put fish on the ice. When you're out there with your back to the wind with the hole icing over every three minutes, you need all the sensitivity you can get. This boils down to rods and strike indicators.

Under balmy conditions those ballpoint pen spring hybrids like the Cyclone work just fine. Schooley's old wire spring bobber continues to function when icing is a serious problem, but lacks sensitivity required to see extremely light bites.

A few years ago Greg Wilczynski designed a strike indicator which doesn't ice up under the most brutal conditions. It is also adjustable, allowing tweaking for both lure weight and bite sensitivity.

Wilczynski's brainchild is incorporated into the St. Croix Legend Series ice rods.

The new St Croix Silver and Gold series rods are the best ice wands I have ever fished with. Their 24" light action is near-perfect for everything from perch to pike on the Upper Mississippi-if you know how to back reel.

Most companies which offer winter fishing gear have products which can outfit an angler completely for a day on the ice. Frabill and HT Enterprises both offer quality equipment.

St. Croix does one thing and does it better than anybody: They make rods-right here in Wisconsin.

Author Ted Peck
Ted Peck
Cap'n Ted Peck has over 30 yrs. guiding experience, specializing in multi-species fishing on Pool 9-10 of the Mississippi from Genoa, Wi. to Prairie du Chien. Cap'n Ted is a pro staffer for Lund, Northland Tackle, MinnKota, Bill Lewis Lures, Evinrude, Uncle Josh, HT Enterprises and Custom Jigs & Spins. When not guiding Cap'n Ted communicates the outdoors experience via newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and through seminars. This work has taken him all over the midwest, Canada and beyond... but he always returns to the upper Mississippi which he considers the most diverse fishery in North America. Click here for more info on Ted's guide service. Cap'n Ted's new book Mississippi Musings with the Old Guide is a personal account of his long career as a professional fishing guide on Old Man River.