Must Have’s For Ice Anglers

By Todd Reed

The ice fishing season is nearing and another exciting year is ahead for anglers in Iowa. As each ice season approaches anglers all over Iowa eagerly anticipate the first time they will hit the ice in search of their favorite wintertime species. Ice fishing is a simple way to fish and allows anglers without boats to roam their favorite lakes and get away from the shore. With a bucket full of gear and an auger the lakes of Iowa are yours to roam during the magical season.

Throughout my 30+ years of ice fishing, this simple activity has gone through major changes in equipment. The activity is quite simple; drill a hole in the ice, drop your bait, and wait for a bite. How you do those different tasks is all up to what type of ice angler you choose to be. I know some people who love to set up an ice shack and sit on the same few holes all day. This works for the most part and you can literally wear a sweatshirt all day long when running a small heater. Comfort fishing, as I call it, is a great way to relax, talk with friends and hopefully catch some fish for a meal. Mobile anglers seem to be always on the move trying to hit the perfect spot on the lake to haul in fish after fish. Both are fun, and both are a great way to spend a day outdoors in the middle of an Iowa winter. As this ice season creeps up on us, check your equipment for these “Must Have’s” before the ice really settles in.

Ice Auger
This may seem quite obvious, but perhaps it is time for an upgrade. There are many options when it comes to drilling a hole in the ice. If you are still drilling with a hand auger, I would suggest getting a gas, propane, electric or cordless drill auger bit. Having a powered auger will allow you to drill many more holes throughout the day and that should equate to more fish. Most of the ice fishing season, the ice remains fifteen inches or less, this is ideal for a light-weight cordless drill auger. Many people have a brushless cordless drill laying around, all you need is an ice cutting bit. There are many on the market for less than $200. A favorite of mine is the K-Drill, made mostly of aluminum and plastic and is very lightweight. It attaches to any half-inch drill and will cut dozens of holes with one battery. Another great feature of the K-Drill is the blades are sharpened for free by the company for life. That brings me to my next point- no matter what auger you do have, get those blades sharpened or purchase new ones for the season. Sharp blades make all the difference.

Rod/Reel Selection
Ice anglers often have a large selection of rods and reels, often times more than their summertime collection. However, this is not necessary. Having these four setups will allow you to fish for any species under any condition in Iowa. The first combo you will need is a jigging rod for smaller jigs, 3mm in size and smaller. This rod, (22-26 inches), must have a very soft tip or a spring bobber to detect the lightest of bites. When using a rod without a spring bobber to work your jig, make sure the weight of the jig “loads” or pulls down on the rod tip just a bit. This will help you see the bites. I prefer to pair these rods with a smooth spinning reel with an excellent drag system, like the Quantum Drive in the size 10. Rod #2- Same as the first but with less flex at the tip for 4mm and above jigs. Rod #3- Spoon rod. This is a rod that gets overlooked by many anglers, but when paired with the right spoon it can be deadly with crappies, gills, perch and yellow bass. Spoons are great for the anglers on the move. They can call fish in from a long distance for their next meal. When jumping around from one hole to another, using a longer rod can make you more efficient. I prefer to use a 36-inch Jason Mitchell Dead Meat Stick for this presentation. The sensitive, hi-visual tip is perfect for any panfish spoon. It is a must have when jumping around to different holes and jigging spoons. Rod #4- A finesse rod is critical for those days that the fish are looking at your bait but will not bite. This combo should have a large spool on it to minimize line twist, the old Schooley reels are perfect for this. The rod itself should have a spring bobber at the tip to not only jig ultra small jigs, but to detect the smallest of bites.

GPS
When most people think of this the first thing that comes to mind is a lot of money. This cannot be further from the truth. Technology is out there and you have this device on your phone. All smartphones have a built in GPS system. All you need to do is get the Navionics App. It costs $10 and is worth way more than that! It has built-in lake and river maps to all the popular lakes in Iowa, big and small. It has detailed contour maps of the lake bottoms and includes some fishing structures to try around the state as well. You can mark your own hotspots on this app too, so you can return to them time and time again.

Clothing
If you are cold, or your feet are wet, no fish will make things fun. Waterproof boots and weather-tight clothing are a must for ice anglers. Even if you plan to fish in a shack, you may have a lot of time out in the elements setting things up, moving around during the day, and getting back to shore at the end. Spend wisely and layer up on those cold days.

Electronics
Last but probably the most important is having some type of electronics to tell you if fish are nearby. The Vexilar flasher is by far the most common unit you will see helping anglers catch fish. There are many models to choose from, starting around the $250 mark. Using a flasher is very simple and will last you for decades. A flasher will not only tell you when you may get a bite, but more importantly it tells you to move on when no fish are present. It can also tell you if your jig is something the fish like or if they are just looking. No ice angler is complete without the use of electronics, if you do not have one yet, you are missing out!

Ice fishing has brought me so many memories; from drilling a few holes on the backwaters of the river with my Dad while in middle school, to the many weekend trips with fellow ice friends each year. It is a great hobby I have learned so much about and have come to appreciate the times on the ice. The friendships and time outdoors are priceless during the Iowa winters, and the fresh fish frys are always fantastic too!