Getting Ready for Ice FishingBy Dale Helgeson - December 1, 2004
It's that time of year again. When you wake up in the morning and have to scrape your windows before you drive to work in the dark and you are lucky to see daylight when you get home from work. But there is one good thing about this time of year. It is going to start forming ice. After the ice starts it is time to break out the ice fishing gear.
Before any ice fishing season you should go through all your equipment and test it at home before venturing out on any lake. This will save you many headaches and cold fingers out on the lake.
First of all I check my ice fishing clothes and wash them before the season starts. I make sure my long underwear is in good condition as well as all my outer wear. Make sure to patch any holes or replace it before the season because there is nothing like a nice December wind blowing through you outerwear right onto your clothes to put a chill into you. Make sure you have a fishing towel. I prefer to use a golf type towel so I can hang it up in my ice shack so the heater keeps it nice and warm and dries it faster. This is actually a necessity on the ice so you can dry your hand after handling fish or minnows. This will keep your hands a whole lot warmer. Invest in some quality socks. My favorite socks are Black mountains from The Gene Edwards Company. They are fairly expensive but well worth the money. They stay up on your leg even after walking great distances and wick the sweat away from you while retaining the heating qualities. Good quality outwear is a must as well. Try to get something with at least a waterproof lower because of the constant kneeling in the snow and water near the holes. Boots and gloves are very critical too. I prefer Rocky and La Crosse boots. I have owned both and they are both warm and comfortable. Also pick up a pair of ice cleats especially for early ice when there isn't any snow yet.
After you get your clothes ready and make sure everything is in working order including the zippers and any tie downs it is time for the fishing equipment.
I check all the assemblies of my rod and reel combos. Make sure the reel is securely attached to the rod. Then change all the line on the reels. I use Berkley's Micro Ice line. Make sure the reels are lubed and ready for the season so you don't get unwanted squeaks or reel hitches on the ice. The frozen air will accentuate the problems.
Tip-ups should have their braided line changed at least every other year. Use one that won't freeze up or kink. Then tie some new monofilament leaders. I prefer a 2-4 foot leader. I also make my own steel leaders for northern fishing as well using braided wire. Make extra leaders up ahead of time so you don't have to tie on hooks out on the ice and you can just unclip it and put a new one on. Make sure to use a good swivel for you tip-ups as well. Check the grease in the tip-ups to save it from freezing up on the ice too. Also check the condition of the flags. If the flags are torn or loose on the shaft replace them.
Now that your rods and tip-ups are ready to go it is time for the ice shack. If you have a portable shack set it up in the garage or your yards and make sure the sled is in good condition and patch any holes or trouble spots. Check the canvas thoroughly. Patch any holes in the canvas and spray it down with a water repellant spray to make sure that water doesn't leak in as much as possible. Check all the pivot points and tubing as well.
On a permanent shack you will want to check the runners and make sure they are solid and not rotting or cracked. Check the walls and make sure they are not damaged as well as the windows. Check the floor to make sure there are no weak spots or rotten boards. Replace all broken or week parts of the shack.
Ice augers are one of the most important items in ice fishing. There are several types to choose from. I usually use a spud bar early in the year but mainly to check ice conditions every few feet. Ice can for very unevenly and safety is first priority. I like to use a hand Lazer auger early in the year or when fishing in large groups of pan fisherman because some are offended by power augers even though I don't personally feel they affect the fish even in shallow water. I have drilled hundreds of holes in as shallow as 3 feet and seen fish under my hole right after drilling with my Jiffy power auger. I do use a power auger most of the year because I drill many holes per day to find and follow fish as they move. The main thing to check on the augers and spud bar is to make sure they are sharp. Any blades should be replaced or sharpened before the season start. Power augers should have new gas put in them and a new spark plug and then test to make sure it is running properly. If it is not running properly take it to a small engine repair shop for a tune-up to insure a year of good use. It is a lot better to know your auger will work before you drag it out on the ice and it doesn't run. I always carry an extra spark plug with me too as they tend to foul out occasionally.
Once your augers are ready it is time for the rest of your ice fishing gear. Make sure to have your tackle ready to go. Untangle all you tackle and sharpen hooks or replace them with new ones. Also on new jigs punch the eyes out before putting them in you tackle box to save time and possible cold fingers having to do it on the ice.
Next up is your heater. Check all the connections and test your heater. Make sure the heater is in good working order. If it flames up get it serviced so it will run properly. Another useful tool on the ice is a lanyard. I put a jaw spreader, depth finder, clippers, jig eye cleaner, and forceps on them for easy use. Other useful tools a 5 gallon bucket for your fish which I line with a garbage bag so I can remove the fish easily after fishing and it doesn't make a mess out of my bucket. Grocery bags work well for this. Check the condition of your bait bucket for leaks or cracks. Make sure your minnow scoop is in good order as well. They are very cheap to replace. I prefer the floating nets so I don't have to stick my hands as far into the water. If you have a Vexilar or Aqua View make sure to charge the batteries and test them before taking them out to the lake. After you have everything ready to go and head out for the lake be extremely careful to be sure that the ice is safe. I don't like to go onto ice thinner than 3 inches. Make sure to test the ice every few feet to insure safe travel especially if you are the first one out.
Remember think safety first, be considerate to others out on the ice, don't leave any trash out on the ice even if it isn't yours, and if you check all your equipment first you will have a safe successful season.