How to Prepare for Ice (Fishing!) Season
BY DREW ZIEHNERT | SPORTS
As winter approaches and the temperature begins to drop, it is time to start preparing for the upcoming ice season. Whether you ice fish a few times a year or daily, being prepared for the season can have a huge impact on your success. Staying organized and making sure all your gear is ready to go when the ice hits can ultimately make the season more enjoyable and make you more effective on the ice. There is nothing worse than getting to your spot and seeing that your ice auger blades are dull, or your flasher’s battery won’t hold a charge anymore.
Ice Rods, Reels, and Line
After the ice is gone and it’s time for open water fishing, most of us just find a safe place to put our winter gear until it’s time to ice fish again. The hope is that everything is exactly how we left it, but there’s always the possibility that equipment broke and needs to be replaced before the season starts.
Rod, Reel, & Line Checklist:
• Make sure all rod guides, blanks, tips, and reel seats are in working condition
• Make sure reels are in working condition (Oil if they feel sticky or stiff from sitting)
• Depending on the feel of the line and how much you ice fish determines the urgency of whether you need to change your ice line out or not
• Line Test: Run your old line through your fingers and if it feels like the line is nicked or rough, it’s better to play it safe and just replace it. If it feels smooth, then you should be alright for another season.
• In the winter, your line is more susceptible to nicks from sharp ice edges and is spooled on smaller reels leading to more coiling and memory issues. So, if it is in your budget to replace your line every year, it’s beneficial.
Pro Tip: Record/write down what line you have on your reels (lb test, color, type) so you know what you need to order if you run out.
Tip Ups: Running Tip Ups on the ice is a highly effective way to cover water and catch fish that are keyed in on live bait. Although a tip up has just a handful of parts, they do require maintenance and a yearly check to ensure they will function properly.
Tip Up Checklist:
• Inspect each tip up and ensure there are no parts/bolts missing (If there are, order replacements and always get extras)
• For cross style tip ups such as Heritage Lakers or Frabill Stick Tip Ups, always make sure to pull lightly on the spool to ensure it hasn’t become loose (I have had spools fall off when fish take hard runs, or the line gets wrapped around the reel).
• Make sure the tighteners/nuts aren’t rusted out and you can still tighten them down (you can also make a bag to bring with you on the ice with extra tighteners just in case one falls off).
• Inspect the trigger mechanisms and reels; grease if they don’t move freely (for fish like lake trout and Atlantic salmon you want there to be as little resistance as possible when they are taking line).
• Check your flags to make sure they are still intact and will not fall off
• Tip Up line test: Do the same thing you did with your ice line to your tip up line to make sure it feels smooth and check for wind knots
Tackle Organization can be extremely important so that when you need to make quick lure switches, you know exactly where they are. It also helps you see what lures and tackle you need to get for the upcoming season.
• Check over your lures and make sure the hooks are still sharp and nothing is rusted
• If there are specific lures that are proven fish catchers, it is a good idea to have at least 1-2 extras because chances are at some point you will lose one
• Have a variety of hooks, split shots, and swivels for live bait applications such as tip up fishing and slip bobber fishing (I also keep some extra treble hooks in my tackle box for when treble hooks get bent out)
• Organize different tackle boxes depending on what you’re using them for or even the species your targeting
• Write down the lures you are missing and what you need to get for the upcoming season
• For tackle boxes the best ones I’ve found to stay extremely organized are the Rapala Utility boxes that have slots for tungsten jigs and the Plano Edge boxes (these seem to prevent rust the best)
Ice Augers and Ice Blades
Having sharp ice blades can make setting up on the ice a lot easier and can get you fishing faster. There are a lot of variables that determine when you need to get your blades sharpened and some things you can do to improve their longevity. Power Augers are becoming increasingly popular and simple, battery/auger maintenance will ensure they will run right.
Ice Auger and Ice Blades Checklist:
• Make sure you have an Ice auger blade cover (using your ice auger as a walking stick without a blade cover can dull your blades extremely fast).
• If you’re using a power auger, you want to make sure you can start it a few times at home before thinking about using it on the ice. If it’s a gas auger, make sure it has fresh fuel (you want to run the highest octane if possible). If it’s an electric auger, make sure the batteries are charged and will hold a charge.
• Check your auger blades for visual defects like nicks or burrs (Usually ice blades will stay sharp about 2-3 seasons if used properly).
• Drop off old blades at your local bait shop to get sharpened before the season starts
Fish Finders and flashers on the ice have become somewhat of a necessity and can be a useful tool to locate and stay on fish. It is extremely important to put them away properly at the end of the season to ensure they will be ready to use next winter.
Fish Finder/Electronics/Batteries Checklist:
• At the end of the season you want to unplug your batteries from your sonar units, so they are not pulling a charge throughout the offseason.
• You want to leave your batteries fully charged before unplugging them (If you can, charging them every 60 days or so when not in use can ensure the batteries will always hold their maximum charge).
• Make sure you charge your batteries with the recommended charger (New flashers are coming with lithium batteries that need to be charged with a specific charger to prevent damage to them).
• Check over your fish finder/ flasher to ensure they have no parts missing, so if there is you can order it in time (Check over your knobs, cords, screen, battery connections, and transducer).
• Clean the fish finder/ flasher screen with a soft cloth and a mild detergent to ensure the screen has no scratches or dust.
Warm Gear & Safety Gear
I cannot stress the importance of wearing the right gear on the ice to ensure that you are comfortable while ice fishing in the harshest conditions. You want to make sure you cover all the places where heat is likely to escape your body. Having the proper safety gear with you will also give you the reassurance that if something went wrong you have the tools to save yourself or someone else while on the ice.
Warm Gear & Safety Gear Checklist:
• Go through all your ice clothing (bibs, jackets, gloves
, hats, boots) and make sure there are no rips or holes from last season (make sure all ice clothing is stored in an area where mice cannot get into it)
• If your gear needs to be cleaned this is also the best time to clean it (certain bibs and jackets require handwashing).
• Try on your boots and if they are waterproof, make sure they are still waterproof because keeping your feet dry is crucial.
• Make sure all your early ice safety gear is in order and functioning (spud bar, ice picks, ice cleats, throw rope, extra warm clothes, etc.)
Drew Ziehnert is owner/operator of ZiehnertGuideService.com