The Ice is Coming

By Dan Galusha

Ice fishing season is upon is getting closer, and that means getting the tackle and equipment out from storage long enough before the first day it is to be used. Once it is pulled out a lot of us will say, “I don’t remember putting that away in that mess.” In some cases it may not have been, as critters, water, dampness, heat and mold can take its toll on anything.

The first thing to check is the shelter. If there is damage to the canvas then it will have to be replaced or repaired. This can often take some time if it needs ordered, or there is a back up at the canvas shop. If it is damp, molded or wet then it will need a thorough drying, which will be best on a warmer, sunny day, and better yet, one with a breeze. Set up the shelter, and open the doors, do this for several days if needed.

Drills are the next priority. Check the blades, and replace or have them sharpened. It is always good to have an extra set of blades on hand, so if new ones are purchased throw a second set in the cart. Be sure the engine starts easily, and runs well. A warmer November day will be much easier to solve problems then on a cold day when you are thinking about going out on several inches of ice. Replace the spark plug, and fill the tank with fresh gasoline that is mixed with the oil recommended by the manufacturer. If you are using one of the new Jiffy propane or electric drills, check all of the items suggested in your owner’s manual, especially the battery on the electric models.

With electronic gear many problems are battery related. Tom Zenanko, of Vexilar, provided the following information on this topic that can be used throughout the ice season:
“Batteries should be charged after every use, and in-fact we recommend anglers who use their units frequently to keep the battery plugged into the charger at all times when not in use”.  (The new digital chargers make this possible)

Some rules to remember:

1. Do not use your battery indicator to judge if your battery is charging, or is charged.

2. Look to your wall charger that you plug in to see if the light goes from green to red.  If it does not turn red the instant you plug it in, then you might have a bad connection or a bad crimp where the wires meet and connect to the battery.

3. While the battery indicator is great while you are fishing, if you plug the charger into the wall socket, it may show 100% on the indicator, but the red light on the charger is telling you the battery is not fully charged, so the lights on the charger are the key.

4. As your Vexilar begins to fail due to low battery, you will note the indicator, for which some units have a low battery light that comes on then starts flashing when the system will start to shut down.  Your screen will light up or “spark” as many people like to call it with lights all around the dial, this is also a signal of low battery, then the lights go out and the motor still runs, then of course nothing at all will happen.

5. Our biggest problem here at Vexilar is battery charging, most anglers do not charge after every use, or feel they need to run the battery down to zero before charging and this is 100% wrong.  These are lead batteries not NiCads. Like your car battery they like to be kept fully charged at all times.  If you do not disconnect the battery terminals on your Pro Packs or shut off your ultra pack when you are not using it, in 37 days the battery is drained to zero from the battery status indicator.  When you connect the charger, the battery is so dead, the charger does not know there is a battery in the system and the red light does not come on. The charger stays green but when it is plugged in the status indicator reads 100% since the charger itself is now powering the system.

6. When a battery is completely drained, as mentioned above, there are only two things you can do.  Try to get it to take a charge again or get a new battery.  This neglect is not covered by our warranty so it has been a real issue with many anglers who fail to take care of their gear and blame us…  One method is to let the battery rest with the charger on for 24 hours.  The light on the charger will be green, but we hope that something is trickling into the battery and holding.  After 24 hours unplug the charger and plug it in again, if the red light comes on, there is a good chance you can save the battery, if not, well, let’s say – you are shot out of luck.
There could also be some connections, or something else that will need work. A good way to check out such a unit is to take it to a dock, and drop the transducer along the edge. I definitely stand behind the saying – “I wouldn’t go ice fishing without my Vexilar flasher”. So I want this piece of equipment running at its best.

Rods, reels and line come next. While I have several Frabill outfits, I get my 6 basic units ready first, and will take care of the remainder as the season progresses, or the situation demands a different model. My six basics are two Panfish Popper, two Bro rigs and two of the new Straight Line Combos, spooled with 4 and 6 pound line. Because the water I normally fish is not deeper than 4 to 30 feet, I replace only the first 50 to 60 feet of line. Be sure to check the rods for any damaged guides or wrappings, and grease the reels with a winter tolerant product, such as Frabill’s Sub Zero grease.

Along the same line of thought are tip ups. These should have the line replaced, and movable parts greased.

Dippers and chisels should be given a quick once over. The dippers can have a few loose rivets, but not much else normally goes wrong. Any chisels, whether on the handle of the dipper, or one of the lager Mil Lac style may need some oil and sharpening.

Buckets and rod/tackle cases are a major part of an ice angler’s equipment. They carry all sorts of things. Three that I suggest are a Frabill Sit-N-Fish bucket with Pail Paks, Frabill Rod Safe and a JR Rod/Tackle case. The rod/tackle case carries rod/reel combos, and some boxes of terminal tackle and bait, my buckets have a safety rope, camera and other miscellaneous items, while the Rod Safe can be used in a couple of ways – one for carrying up to 8 rod/reel combos, and the other for carrying fewer rod/reel combos along with some small boxes of lures, Gulp Alive bait management containers and jars of Power Bait. A good cleaning and contents sorting is normally needed.

Don’t forget the terminal tackle and bait. Sort out the jigs, hooks, split shot, floats, and jars of prepared baits by types and sizes. It is amazing how so much stuff gets mixed together, and you can’t find what you want once on the ice. After taking inventory, stock up with what is needed. This can also be an order for live bait, such as wax worms, spikes, etc., which can normally be cheaper purchased in a bulk box. If you don’t have need for that many perhaps your buddies would want to go together on the purchase to save everyone some money. It will often take a week or little longer to process an order, so plan accordingly as to not receive the bait too early in the season, but not past the time when it is needed.

Another item that some anglers use is a propane gas heater. These should be checked very carefully, making sure there are no leaks. Any type of leak, no mater how small can be very dangerous, causing the unit to catch fire and explode.
Last, but not least, check out all of the clothing – snowsuit, boots, cleats, and so on. Comfort and safety is a big part of ice fishing, and preventing hypothermia or a fall is extremely important.
The ice is coming, so check everything carefully, and have a safe and good season.

If you have any questions about this, or another fishing subject, drop me a line through the Dan’s Fish ‘N’ Tales® website at This site also provides a link to the Iowa Sportsman website.
Until next time, get out on the water, and have a great day of fishing.