Ice Fishing in Extreme Conditions - Part Two

Part Two: Fishing Well When You Get There

By Dave Genz

Last time, we started going over a plan I use for fishing as well as possible when winter weather gets downright nasty. I suppose the definition might change depending on where you live, but everybody knows what you mean when you tell them it was ‘brutal’ out there. In a lot of ways, being able to fish well under extreme conditions comes down to preparation, and setting your mind to it. We covered that aspect in our last story. Now, it’s time to hit the ice and execute our plan.

Just to review, I mentioned last time that this is probably not the day to tackle a new lake. If you can, go to a lake you know well, and go right to your best spot. Make ’small’ moves until you locate fish, and then settle in, get the heater stoked, and figure out what it takes to catch them. Chances are, even if you can do this, you’ll still have to drill some holes and make some moves. Don’t fall into the trap of being satisfied just to get a hole in the ice and your line down there. You can sit there all day if you want to, but another thing I always say is ‘how long does it take to catch nothing?’ If possible, go with a couple friends on a day like this. Not only does that provide help in the event of equipment trouble, but you can work together to make life easier on all of you.

-When we fish together, we often split up and check completely different areas, touching base with radios or cell phones, depending on distance. But on a really cold day, we’ll huddle together on the same spot, and leapfrog past one another as we look for active fish. That way, everybody doesn’t have to make every move.

You decide ahead of time, for example, that you’re going to check out a deep weed edge. You find the edge, and then decide which direction you’re going to move. We try to go out there with two vehicles, or two snowmobiles, or a snowmobile and ATV. Whatever the combination of transportation, we’ll position one of them at the end of the area we want to test, and another at the beginning. It’s similar to what you do when you’re going to float a river in a canoe. You don’t walk back 12 miles to the truck after floating the river, do you?

After we leapfrog past each other and end up at the end, we can use one motorized transport to take us all back to the beginning. If we only have one ‘machine’ out there, one person hops in it and moves it to the front of the leapfrog line when we get some distance from the starting point. If you’re walking, think about the wind and plan for it. Decide what direction you want to move as you look for fish. Position the vehicle at the ‘end’ of the line, and walk back into the wind before starting to fish. Fish with the wind all the way down to the truck or snowmobile, and you will be really happy that you’re not staring at a half-mile walk into the teeth of the wind when your propane runs out.

I mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: wear a windproof, waterproof outer layer of clothing. If the wind can’t get at you, it’s amazing how warm you stay. If you’re a live bait fisherman, like I am much of the time, think about what you have to do to keep the bait from freezing. Minnows should be kept in a thick Styrofoam bucket with the lid on. Maggots, wax worms and the like should be kept at least “one more layer in” if you’re used to keeping them in your outside pocket. It’s pretty depressing to drill a new hole, get ready to bait up, and be greeted by solid little chunks that used to be wiggling maggots.

Put your heater up on top of a bucket. This requires extreme attention to detail. Get the bucket settled level and firm, so it won’t tip over, and keep it far enough inside the shelter so fabric being whipped by the wind doesn’t knock the heater into your lap. I am completely serious about this. Take a lot of care when you set this up. Elevating the heater helps keep the propane vaporizing. It makes a big difference in terms of how many BTUs the heater can throw off on cold days. The radiant heat gets to you better, too, when it’s positioned to warm your face and middle of your body. Plus, an elevated heater is in a better position for you to hold your reel up to it, if it becomes stiff during the course of the day. If you go to leave the Fish Trap, shut off the heater and put it back down on the ice, so you don’t knock it over, and so the wind doesn’t knock it over when you stand up.

Take great care to keep your auger blades free of ice. There’s no way you can drill a hole if you allow slush, snow and water to build up on the cutting surfaces. This is another thing I’m almost afraid to tell you to do, because it’s easy to ruin the blades and you could cut yourself if you’re not careful. But if ice does build up on the auger, you have to get it off there before you can drill another hole.

I helped develop a new tool that StrikeMaster is going to make for next year that does a great job. It doesn’t even have a name yet, but it’s a tool that’s a peening hammer on one side and a chisel on the other. A peening hammer is what welders use to knock the slag off a weld. It’s a rounded, tapered hammer that allows you to (VERY CAREFULLY) knock the ice off the auger. You almost can’t be careful enough, because if you hit the sharp edge of any part of the cutting surface of the blades, even once, even a little bit, you probably have to put new blades on the auger. And if your hand or arm hits the sharp cutting edges, you are probably done fishing for that day and headed in for stitches. But if you do it lightly, and carefully, you can knock off the ice without ever hitting the cutting part of the blades. Once the auger is mostly free of ice, you can cut a new set of holes.

Having said all this, the best way to solve this problem is to prevent it. When you finish drilling, make a clean spot on the ice, or put the auger up on your tailgate, and set it down without ever letting it contact snow, slush or water. Then, when you go to drill the next hole, there is no buildup.

When you’re fishing, bank in your Fish Trap flaps. If the wind is flopping those flaps up and down, it’s much colder in there and you don’t have as much control over your presentation. Before you even set up the Trap, take time to contour out a spot for the front hoop to settle down into. If the front ‘wall’ is up high enough to let the wind under it, you’ll never get banked in very well. I just use my boot, but a small shovel works well, too.

As you bank in, make good use of the auger slush. Put some on the flaps after you get inside. If you need more, use your skimmer to put a bit of water or slush on the snow, and use that mixture to further bank the flaps down. The desire to be able to bank in, then still move in and out of the house, is why we started putting zippered doors on most Fish Trap models. If it’s windy, you have to contend with the possibility that the fish house is going to blow down the lake when you leave it. Sometimes, you can’t even stand up without having it start to take off. StrikeMaster makes the Ice Loks, that let you anchor the Trap securely. When I forget them, I’ve had good results from laying my auger down behind the fish house, tying the rope around it, and letting that be the anchor. This goes for any day, but on really cold days take really good care of your electronics.

Don’t take batteries for granted. Make sure they’re charged up, and keep them warm as long as you can before taking them out into the cold. Keep ice off the bottom of the transducer on your Vexilar, and free from the underwater camera element. Every time you lift these items from the hole, let the water drip off, wipe it with your glove, and stow it in a location that doesn’t allow them to drop into a snow bank. The new Genz Box and Ultra Pack have built-in transducer holders that are there for this very reason, as well as for long-term storage. Set your camera carefully down on carpet, a towel, etc., so you don’t let ice build up on it. If you take care of your equipment, and think as you fish, you can have a comfortable and rewarding day no matter how cold it gets out there. In fact, by working together with your friends, you can have some great times that make memories, when you would have stayed home in the past.

First Published December 28th, 2005

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