Getting Ready for Ice Fishing

Even though he fishes hard all summer and fall, Dave Genz is still best known as an ice fisherman. In the sled of his best-known invention, the Fish Trap, he dragged the sport into the modern age. Many cycles of ice-up and melt have passed since those early days of the ice fishing revolution, but modern ice fishing is still defined as much by the equipment as anything else.

As the long, lazy days of summer transition to the quickened pace and sharper air of autumn, those of us who love ice fishing start rummaging around in our stuff to get ready. Pulling everything together and making sure it works before the ice gets thick enough is an important process. That’s partly true because gear is still being invented and refined every year, and so researching what’s new becomes a separate, and significant, part of the program.

Sure, Genz gets his Fish Traps out and looks to see whether mice have snacked away little air vents in the tents, and puts new line on all the reels. But he also spends considerable time considering what the busy bees at manufacturing companies have been coming up with, that he might want to add to his arsenal.

Two-Part Process

Getting ready for ice fishing really is a two-part process. First, you gather together all the gear you have and get it prepared for ice-up. As you do this, be realistic about what shape each piece of equipment is in, and whether it’s time to consider replacing it.

First and foremost, if you don’t have life jackets that ‘wear’ conveniently over ice-fishing clothes, for every member of your family, get them before the season starts this year. New models are available from Stearns that clip on your waist, and other low profile and thin models are available that wrap around your shoulders. You should never go ice fishing without a life jacket on, just in case.

Whether you own a Fish Trap, Clam or other portable shelter, get it out and set it up. Now is the time to tighten all the nuts, bolts and screws, and make sure the frame sets up and takes down well. If you’re a Fish Trap user and don’t have a travel cover, eventually you’ll wish you did. Travel covers create a seal around the sled that keeps gear free of snow and slush when you’re towing from spot to spot. They also keep the Trap from opening up like a drag-racing parachute in the back of a pickup while you’re zipping down the highway. But they probably shine brightest as an off-season storage aid.

Again, because they create a tight seal around the sled, they help keep mice and other rodents from setting up shop inside your Trap. After each ice season, clean out the interior of the Trap, store much of your equipment inside, then cover the whole works with the travel cover. At the end of each summer, things are usually as they were.

Now is the time to get fresh gas for your auger and make sure it runs right. Start it up out in the driveway and let it idle for a while, then make sure it revs without any problem. Keep the auger guard on and make sure you have firm footing. If your auger takes mixed gas, make sure you don’t just use last year’s mixture. Take the old stuff to a local business that recycles old gas and oil, then mix up fresh stuff. If you don’t have oil, look for StrikeMaster’s brand. It makes a perfect gallon, and produces much less smoke.

If you have a chisel, sharpen it so it will chop well into the ice when you’re checking thickness. If you don’t have a chisel (sometimes called a spud bar), you can actually find one at stores in late fall.

Keep paper and pen handy as you go through your stuff, and write a list of what you need. Don’t wait too long to shop. Stores tend to be well stocked right around deer hunting time. Key pieces of gear sell out fast after that.

Early ice is a time when hand augers are a great asset. Everybody walks onto early ice, because it takes a while for ice to get thick enough to support ATVs, snowmobiles and trucks. In some areas, the ice never gets thick enough to support vehicles. Lazer hand augers from StrikeMaster cut easily through fairly thick ice, and having one when you walk from spot to spot cuts down overall weight.

As for power augers, they are Dave’s main tool once he starts driving his Bearcat snowmobile onto the ice. If you’re in the market for a new power auger, look closely at the four strokes from StrikeMaster. Engineering and new-age materials have allowed them to be lighter than ever, and the new four-stroke engine has distinct advantages. No oil to mix with the gas, fuel economy is astounding, and it’s so quiet Dave has had people ask if it’s an electric.

Now is the time to buy new auger blades, but don’t put them on yet. If your auger was cutting well at the end of last winter, it will do fine on the relatively thin ice of early season. In the process of checking near-shore ice at early winter, it’s not unheard of to drive through and contact the bottom. Better to dull the old blades than the new ones. Put new ones on after the ice gets thicker.

Back to rods and reels. At the very least, wipe them down and put new line on. Dave prefers limp, clear monofilament for most of his fishing. “If you have that old stuff on there,” he says, “it’s always coiled up like a slinky. Our presentation demands that the line hangs straight, with no kinks in it. Otherwise, you don’t have the feel you need. You have to have new line or the system breaks down.”

Many of us take the Vexilar out of the Genz Box and put it on the boat for summer. But if you don’t, you should have been charging the battery every now and then. Clean the connection points, wipe everything down, charge up the batteries and make sure the unit runs well for extended periods. If this is the year you’re going to join the legion of flasher users, it’s a perfect time, because Genz helped Vexilar create a new instructional DVD that teaches you how to become good at reading a flasher display. It comes in the box with every new flasher setup.

Go through your little tackle boxes and make sure your favorite ice jigs and other lures are in good supply. Again, make a list of things you need before the ice gets here and shop early. If you haven’t tried soft plastics as a trailer, you owe it to yourself to check out the Techni-Glo series from Lindy. (Make sure you get a Tazer, an inexpensive charging light that fires up the glow paint on Techni-Glo jigs and tails.)

If you’re not happy with the clothes you have for ice fishing, look at the Ice Armor brand. The ‘blue suit’ you see Dave and the Ice Team Power Sticks wearing is better than ever: waterproof, windproof, warm, comfortable, and padded in the knees and seat. And the new Ice Armor waterproof gloves are the ticket for jigging, drilling holes, landing fish, all the stuff you do out there. You can plunge your hand into the hole to grab a fish and your fingers stay dry.

If you don’t have a good heater, check out the Mr. Heater Buddy. It has a low-oxygen sensor that cuts the pilot light if necessary, so it’s safe for use inside a Fish Trap or Clam.

Now that you have checked all your equipment, happy ice fishing.

First Published on December 28th, 2005

Winter Fishing Systems, Inc 2019