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Lake-Link Recap of the St. Paul Ice Fishing Show

15 Top Picks for New Hardwater Products, Destinations, and More

by Lake-Link Staff

1) Lightest Thermal Portable For Solo Fishing

Some anglers like to fish early- and late-ice, explore solo, or simply pack minimally. Especially for ice anglers without a snowmobile or ATV, equipment needs to be light for dragging out with a sled-pulling harness or rope by hand. Personally, I like to scout spots quickly with a small flip-over shack. So, at the St. Paul Ice Fishing Show this past weekend I was on the look-out for the industry's lightest one-man flip-over thermal portable. Now that Frabill is no longer manufacturing the thermal Ice Hunter 115 - an incredibly lightweight shack with 11.5-square feet of fishable space and Mossy Oak pattern at just over 50 pounds - it was time to look for the next alternative available to anglers looking for a lightweight, thermal portable.

Enter CLAM's Scout XL Thermal, which weighs a mere 48 pounds and offers 10 fishable square feet. Modeled after the CLAM Scout, one of the original Fish Traps created by portable ice fishing pioneer, Dave Genz, the new Scout XL Thermal is perfect for staying mobile and warm with simple transport.

Also keep in mind that a one-man thermal pull-over shack also makes a great bathroom for use with larger hubs or hardhouses that lack facilities. Just add a Luggable Loo and you're in business, no pun intended.

MSRP: $549.99.

2) Biggest Hub-Style Ice Shelter Made

Another Lake-Link mission at the St. Paul Ice Fishing Show was to figure out who's making the largest pop-up thermal hub-style portable shack, something that will accommodate families or big groups of fishing buddies.

One of our staff is starting to "ice camp" and wanted to find the largest thermal hub-style shack available to lay-down a foam exercise-mat style floor and use cots for sleeping and fishing through weekend-long family forays on the ice-which can reduce the cost of lodging or hardhouse rental and provide nighttime fishing action besides.

The biggest thermal hub on the market?

Otter Outdoors' Vortex Pro Monster Lodge, which has been redesigned for this ice season-the major difference being a full-size, pole-stabilized door on one end rather than a triangular door you had to crouch through to enter-a common-sense design change that makes for easier entering and exits from the toasty-warm, behemoth-sized hub. Featuring an expansive 132 square feet of fishable space, the Vortex Pro Monster Lodge will accommodate 6-8 anglers. Ceiling height is 79" and wall height is 68".

Our pro staff member was so excited about the hub after seeing it on Friday that he went back to the show on Saturday and bought one for 20% off from Reed's and took it up north on Sunday for a trial run. As of Monday morning, he was still enthused, claiming the Otter Vortex Pro Monster Lodge is easy for one-person to set-up, doesn't weigh much at 73 pounds in a sled with harness, and has enough room for him, his three kids, their duck dog, and even another fishing buddy. Four cots - no problem - and it'd fit even more if you purchase bunk cots like these from Cabela's.

He's now outfitting the shack with an exercise-mat style floor, zip-tied Catch Cover Rattle Snake Reels, and plans to hit the road every weekend with the kids for ice camping across the Ice Belt. Not a bad investment.

Retails for $799.99.

3) A Better Portable Heater

Designed by ice anglers and hunters who work for Minnesota's own Pinnacle Climate Technologies, there's now a new portable heater on the scene with more features than your standard "Buddy". The indoor/outdoor safe 18,000 BTU Heat Hog features a quick-to-ignite piezo-pilot and wind shield and tilts to adjustable heat angles which practically eliminates the need for a milk crate to elevate the heater off the ice. That means no more pools of water and slush. The Heat Hog also features a rear dock where an additional 1-pound propane heater cylinder is stored and warmed to optimize BTUs when screwed into place. Also available in a smaller 9,000 BTU model. Hose accessories are also available for both heaters to make hooking up to 20-pound propane cylinders simple and economical.

MSRP: $180 and $120

4) An Improved "Spud" Bar

Personally, we're tired of carrying grandpa's old spud bar to check early and late ice-the thing weighs a ton. Here's a much better system from Jiffy-the 2 ½" Jiffy Ice Scout drill to quickly, safely and effectively measure the depth of ice. Features a color-coded measuring scale that visually indicates the thickness of the ice in inches. At 35 inches long, it's lightweight and fits into most battery-powered drills with its 3/8-inch hex bit. The Jiffy Ice Scout also drills a hole that is the perfect size to fit sonar transducers, underwater cameras, as well as poles and markers for directing ice traffic. Features a triangle at the tip to indicate blade direction and grip the underside of the ice layer.

Guess it's time to retire grandpa's old spud bar…

MSRP: $49.99

5) St. Croix Outside 'Eye Jigging Rod For $100

Ice pro Tony Roach and the new St. Croix Skandic SKAS36M
Looking for that perfect outside-the-shack walleye jigging rod? Look no further than St. Croix Rod's new Skandic SKAS36M medium-power ice rod with the amazing sensitivity of its SC Precision-taper solid carbon blank. And St. Croix pro staff and designers outfitted the rod perfectly for cold conditions outside: SeaGuide light wire stripper, running guides, and stainless steel tiptop with PVD coating and an ergonomic, wear-resistant cork handle. And at $100, it's a rod that doesn't break the bank. Plus, you get a 5-year warranty, no questions asked.

MSRP: $99.00

6) Custom Dead-Stick Walleye Rod

We had been on the prowl for a better dead-stick rod, something to dangle minnows via a rod holder for hands-free second-rod fishing. Heck, if you're in Wisconsin or the Dakotas, which allow more lines per angler, you might just want a couple of these gems. At the Blaine Ice Show earlier this year we talked with the helpful experts at Minnesota-based JT Customs and they directed us to the JT Customs Walleye Snare. Created in tandem with The Next Bite team-Gary and Chase Parsons-this rod practically sets the hook itself. A blend of both fiberglass and carbon, it features the perfect action for dead-sticking 'eyes. The rod slowly loads when the fish takes the bait, the fish unable to feel any resistance while it repositions the bait in its mouth and starts swimming away. By the time the walleye starts to feel pressure, it's often too late and the fish darts away, an action that "snares" the fish. You can literally watch the rod load up from a distance as the spring bobber disappears into the hole.

Great for use in extremely cold ice fishing conditions with the Hot Box system or inside the shack with JT's foldable rod holder. Combine with an Okuma Ceymar 500 or 1000 Baitfeeder reel and you're dead-sticking walleyes like a pro.

MSRP: $120

7) Best Baitfeeder Reel for Dead-Sticking

Speaking of the Okuma Ceymar 500 and 1000 Baitfeeder reels, they're definitely must-haves and provide a great alternative to leaving the bail open and using a rubber band or paper clip to hold your line and bait in place, waiting for a bite and the walleye to peel off line. One of our staff bought one for himself and each of his three kids to use in the Otter Vortex Monster Lodge and he's been super impressed so far. He even used it on an open-water rod this fall on Mississippi Pool 4 in a boat rod holder this fall to dead-stick a large minnow on a drop-shot while jigging with a second rod. The result? An 8-pound walleye on 7-pound test with only the size 500 model. Pretty impressive.

MSRP: $69.99

8) Bluetooth Tip-Up Alerts By Phone or Receiver

Apparently, mere flag and bell tip-up indicators are old school. The young and upcoming ice fishing crowd has gone digital; specifically, using Deep Freeze Bluetooth Tip-Up transmitters and a receiver (or cell phone app) for notification when tip-up flags trip. The BlueTipz Receiver is part of the first and only strike alert system on the market that will send an alert to an angler's smartphone (free app, Android/iOS). The Receiver will blink and beep when it has received a signal from a BlueTipz Transmitter. The Receiver can also be used to increase the operating range of your BlueTipz network. In this case, the Receiver would be positioned in between an angler's BlueTipz Transmitter and their phone. The Receiver is a great option for improving reliability in permanent ice shacks, or for users who simply don't want to use their phone. One Receiver will work for multiple BlueTipz Transmitters.

Network reception is not required as BlueTipz use Bluetooth Low Energy technology in order to communicate with the receiving device, whether that's a user's phone (free app, Android/iOS) or the optional BlueTipz Receiver. The angle at which the Transmitter triggers is also programmable through the mobile app, making it compatible with tip-ups, tip-downs, rattle reels, set rods for bank/dock fishing, etc.

One of our staff bought a receiver and eight transmitters through a Minnesota Deep Freeze dealer called Weeder's Digest, who apparently have the lowest prices anywhere. He plans to use them with his kids in South Dakota while ice fishing/ice camping. Kids, as you know, love their cell phones and this is one way to get them even more excited about ice fishing…

MSRP: $49.99 receiver; $99.99 transmitter two-pack.

9) Custom Finesse "Tightlining" Panfish Rod Combo

In the world of professional tournament panfish ice angling like the NAIFC, "Schooley" or "Skoolie" tightlining rod and reel combos have been used for years to tap neutral to negative fish when all else fails, and are especially big with in-the-know panfish-heads from Michigan. If you're serious about panfish, you might just want to get on the tightlining train. To that end, we talked with rod builder and Thorne Bros. expert, Luke, at the St. Paul Ice Show, a super nice guy. Some of us have consulted Luke to have Thorne build custom walleye and ice rods. He's always super helpful and knowledgeable-and a very serious fish-head himself.

Thorne Bros. was offering a killer deal on their "Griff's Chronicle" custom ice rod complete with a Schooley-style reel at the St. Paul Ice Show. The rod is a 21" "power noodle" (minus 2 ¾" off the tip) with L tripwire and a 4-inch WINN Grip and outside REC Guides.

You might be able to get the same deal by calling Thorne Bros. and asking for Luke.

The rod was conceived by Adam "Griff" Griffith from the YouTube Series "The Crappie Chronicles". Built for fishing in close proximity to the hole with its 19" total length and a 2-inch trip-wire spring bobber. Designed specifically to pair with a Schooley-style reel, hence the reversed guide added to the front of the WINN grip. This is beneficial for anglers who fish outside in a lot of wind, like to watch their line (tightlining), or want to fish in a shack. This rod is made to allow easy fishing of the smallest finesse presentations and to trick the smartest, and biggest panfish below the ice.

MSRP: $149.99

10) A Better Rattle Spoon

From the looks of pegs at bait shops across the Ice Belt, everybody's excited about Northland Fishing Tackle's new Glass Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon. The reports from Northland Pro Staff who tested them last winter is unanimous-it's destined to be the next standard in rattle spoons. Mille Lacs Lake guide and Northland Pro Staffer Brad Hawthorne exclaims: "It's the best damn rattle spoon I've ever fished, period. With the original Buck-Shot, walleyes come in from a distance to investigate and then spend some time deciding if they want to eat. With the Glass Buck-Shot, 'eyes race in from a distance and annihilate the spoon, no hesitation whatsoever. I watched it happen all last winter on Humminbird MEGA Live. It was unbelievable."
(L-R) Northland Fishing Tackle Marketing Director, Mike Anselmo; CEO, Gregg Wollner; and Pro Staff Director, Charlie Peterson show off the new Glass Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon
Constructed of a lead frame with a high-pitched glass rattle, its sonic vibrations are truly unique to hardwater baits. And a natural, semi-translucent hard resin protects their paintjobs against scratches and chips. Available in three sizes - 3/32-, 1/8-, and ¼-ounce-and eight dynamite colors. Make sure to stock up on Super Glo Redfish and Super- Glo Perch, two absolute killers on most walleye waters, although the smaller sizes in every pattern will catch everything that swims. We've fished them on-the-ice already and the results have been extremely positive. Fish are called in by the high-pitched glass rattle from afar and absolutely crush the bait.

MSRP: $9.99

11) This Bait's Caught Fish Over 50 Years

While we can all get caught up with the latest-and-greatest ice baits to hit the market, it's also a big mistake to forget about baits that have produced for decades. In a lot of situations, anglers just aren't fishing them anymore so the fish see them as entirely new. The result? Fish on the ice.

Case in point, we have an ice fishing buddy named Frank who's in his late 70s and consistently catches more and bigger fish than the rest of us. His secret? Swedish Pimples and original Kastmasters. That's all he fishes and has been for decades.

Enter a small bait company called Al's Goldfish out of Massachusetts that has been making baits since 1952. Ask anglers in the Northeast and they'll tell you they catch the snot out of fish.

For ice, their Lil' 49er produces irresistible flash, moves backwards, sideways, and forward and is completely unpredictable, drawing reaction strikes from difficult fish - similar to a minnow-profile glide bait like the Jigging Rap but in a spoon format.

We bought a handful (gold and glow options) and can't wait to try them across the Ice Belt!

12) Portable Underwater Video Gets Sharper & Bigger

We've been big fans of Aqua-Vu underwater cameras since they came out, using them to determine bottom composition, look for weeds and rocks, investigate fish presence, and watch our baits in real-time. They're also helpful in determining the difference in fish species that show up on today's electronics. I don't know how many times we've hunkered down on what we thought were walleyes only to discover suckers and other less desirable species. Plain and simple, a portable camera needs to be part of your ice arsenal. We've been using the Micro Revolution 5.0 which is just the right size to store in backpack compartment and pull out when needed. Plus, at $369.99 it's affordable.

Still, Aqua-Vu keeps improving their product. The 5-inch portable is now available in an HD version with improved screen resolution and lithium battery, which we'd like to test at some point.

And like fish-finders, screen size just keeps getting bigger in portable units. Aqua-Vu now offers an HD 8-inch model for even sharper and larger viewing. Both are still small enough that you don't need a lot of extra space to carry them on the ice, unlike some of the first units that hit the scene years ago.

It should be mentioned that kids love underwater cameras. If you don't have one and you fish with young 'uns, you're definitely missing out. Underwater viewing keeps them occupied (and educates them) as to what's happening in the subsurface world. Personally, I wouldn't fish without one. They're really indispensable for telling you visually what's going on below the ice and what the bottom really looks like. You can also watch fish react to baits and jigging cadences, giving you first-hand, visual knowledge to switch things up and catch more fish.

MSRP: MicroRevolution 5.0 HD, $599.99; AV822 HD, $799.99

13) Forward-Facing Sonar Bundle & Improved Mapping

It comes up in every ice fishing conversation these days-forward-facing sonar. Like the first flashers to hit the ice, forward-facing sonar is a paradigm shifter, allowing anglers to find fish faster than ever before in forward view and watch their reaction to baits in down view mode. It's also practically eliminating drilling dozens of holes. Instead, once you get a rough idea of where you want to fish via a LakeMaster, CMAP, or Navionics chart, it's as simple as drilling one hole, dropping the forward-facing sonar transducer in forward view mode and scanning the area for the presence of fish. Then it's a game of pacing off the distance and drilling a couple more holes to fish out of, right on top of a pod or school of fish. And when the fish move, you can follow them. It's that easy.

While Garmin, Lowrance, and Humminbird are all offering forward-facing bundles specifically for ice fishing, we keep hearing from in-the-know ice anglers that Humminbird's MEGA Live is especially effective in the hardwater realm.

Humminbird's ICE Helix 9 MSI+ GPS G4N MEGA Live Ice Bundle allows anglers to watch fish, structure and your lure in real-time, powered by the unreal detail of MEGA Imaging, all on a full-color 9-inch HD LCD display. Crystal-clear Dual Spectrum CHIRP Sonar provides ¾" target separation, CHIRP interference rejection, built-in GPS with Humminbird Basemap and compatibility with both LakeMaster and Navionics maps.

Additional features designed specifically for the ice angler include AutoCharg Live ICE for real-time user mapping, Jig Charge mode, split-screen views, premium shuttle and 20Ah Norsk lithium battery.

Combine the unit with the recently-introduced LakeMaster VX series mapping card for your region and you're really cooking with gas. VX cards feature built-in SmartStrike, which allows you to enter search parameters like season, time of day, temperature, and fish species to automatically highlight high-probability areas of where fish might be located. Depth Highlight has also been improved with four customizable depth ranges-and 2D shaded relief-to easily discern bottom detail, depth changes, and target productive waters. VX cards also feature aerial imagery so you can navigate confidently and find new fishing spots easier, especially helpful on the ice.

MSRP: $3099.99

14) Lithium Batteries You Can Trust

The chosen lithium battery supplier for Humminbird's MEGA Live Ice Bundle, we've been told by trusted sources that Norsk lithium batteries are ultra-reliable. Based in Minnesota, USA, the company was started by serious fish-heads looking for a better battery solution. Norsk lithium battery features include Thermal Core Heating Technology (marine batteries), Internal Battery Management System, Built-in Battery Meter (ice fishing batteries), and much more. For ice, Norsk offers a 7.5AH Lithium Ion Battery; 15AH Lithium Ion Battery; 20AH Lithium Battery w/ Charger Kit; as well as a 32AH model designed specifically for forward-facing sonar bundles.

Right now Norsk is offering a FREE USB bait aerator with all battery purchases-and they make a pretty sweet and affordable fishhouse LED lighting system, too.

MSRP: Varies

15) Cook On Your Portable Heater

Looking for an easier way to "catch and cook" on the ice? Consider this Buddy Heater accessory from LD's Hot Rack LLC. Their multi-purpose stainless steel cooking grate features tabs that fit into the front of portable Buddy-style heaters to create a stable heating/cooking surface, eliminating the need for a separate stove to brew a pot of coffee, make soup, boil hot dogs, grill brats, or cook whatever you can imagine with the addition of a pan, small griddle, or some aluminum foil. Available in three different sizes. Super cool product. And yes, we bought two at the show…

MSRP: $39.99

Top Ice Destination

Walleye & Jumbo Perch Factory: Devils Lake, North Dakota
If you haven't ice fished Devils Lake, North Dakota, you really need to. With walleyes and jumbo perch galore, as well as pike, white bass, and panfish, ice angling opportunities are virtually endless ice-up to ice-out on the 212,000-acre body of water. Whether you want to book guided ice fishing and lodging separately or together with everything included top-to-bottom-or prefer the DIY approach-Devils Lake is a top-tier ice fishing destination.

From trophy catch & release fishing to bringing bags of "eater" fillets home, Devils Lake provides it all. Perch limits are 20 daily, 40 possession. Walleyes and pike are 5 fish daily, 10 possession-and there are heated fish-cleaning stations with stainless steel tops, waste management, grinders, and bathrooms situated around the lake.

We've fished Devils Lake on our own, as well as with their network of guides who support each other in promoting the area. Of the half-dozen or so times we've ice-fished Devils we've never had a poor trip and every guide has been top notch, from Bry's John Bouvette to Perch Patrol's Zippy Dahl to Perch-Eyes' Jason Feldner. We've stayed in the fully-furnished and customer-service oriented Woodland Resort, as well as inexpensive motels - not to mention the back of the truck in nearby campgrounds…

This winter at least one of our Lake Link pro staff is looking forward to ice camping for a weekend on the lake, actually fishing through the night in a giant hub shelter. Call us crazy, that's okay.

Fishing Devils has always been a numbers game, with lots and lots of fish caught and some big fish in the process. The bite can be simply unreal-and at just about any point during the winter from early to late ice and every week in between. Simply, there's no wrong time to ice fish Devils…

Again, there are lots of guides to choose from in the Devils Lake area who can help put you on your target species. Take a look at A and H Guide Service, Ancil's Guide Service, Bry's Guide Service, Fin-Hunters Guide Service, Perch-Eyes Guide Service, and Perch Patrol/Perch Express.

To learn more and plan your trip sign up for Devils Lake Tourism's newsletter here.

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