I have been ice-fishing for a lot of years now. I shocked someone last week when I told them I do NOT own any kind of ice-fishing shelter. That got me thinking about the way I do things on ice; let me share that with you, tell you why I do what I do, and also tell you what some of the limitations are to my system.
I do not have anything against ice-fishing shelters other than the fact that they make it too easy to grow roots. My entire philosophy on the ice is “Drill baby, drill”, mobility, keep moving until I find fish (and sometimes I keep moving even after I find fish). Maybe that stems from some of my younger ice-fishing days when it was a chore to drill or chop just ONE hole to fish? I look at it this way, when you are ice-fishing you are fishing one small area right below you. Yes, in a good spot fish will come and go, but you have to find that good spot first. In my opinion, THE KEY to being successful on the ice is to stay mobile, drill lots of holes to find fish.
There are some great ice-fishing shelters available now, flip-over types, that are very mobile and would fit my system just fine. I fully expect that some day I will own at least one of those flip-overs, but not yet (first of all I will need a bigger pickup to haul one). Instead there are some great cold weather suits on the market now that are made specifically for ice fishing. If you dress in layers, if you use the clothing layers and products designed for ice-fishing, you can stay warm and comfortable, even without a shelter. Some of the ice-fishing clothing I am talking about would be these: Arctic Armor, Ice Armor, Frabill Ice Suit, and Ice Force. Believe me, those products are WAY better than the old brown, farmer coveralls! Of course a good pair of boots is needed, and Sorels have always worked well for me (get some that are rated for -100 or colder, NO, you will not be ice fishing under those conditions, but you will be standing on the ice and you want warm feet). A person will also need several pairs of good gloves, at least one pair will get wet, and do not forget that nothing beats mittens for keeping your hands and fingers warm.
I said I like to drill lots of holes. Many days my partners and I will drill hundreds of holes; sometimes will drill dozens of holes before we even start fishing. So, a good auger is a must. I have drilled lots and lots of holes by hand, still have an old spoon-type auger, and can tell you that for hand augers, sharp blades are a must! You could shave with my old hand auger, and I treat that auger like a baby–do not want anything happening to the blade! However, if you are going to get serious about drilling holes, you have to have a power auger. A power auger is one of the best investments I ever made. I have a Jiffy, and admittedly am a little bit overkill with my ice auger. I have a 2-stroke with the biggest motor they made at the time. I do not want to waste any time drilling holes. Now there are a lot more options on the market, and many of them are lighter than mine. Besides Jiffy I know StrikeMaster and Eskimo augers are also popular brands.
I like long rods. I can remember my Gramps Roth sitting by his ice-holes fishing with the same rods and reels he used for open-water fishing. If you get out of an ice shelter, you are pretty much in the open and free to use any rod you wish, so my ice rods are on the long side, longer than what most anglers use. In my opinion, most of the ice rods on the market, especially the light ones used for panfish, are way too short and way too “Mickey Mouse”. Even though I spend a lot of time on the ice fishing for panfish, like most ice-anglers, I still prefer a rod that has some backbone and length to get a good hook set. When I hook a big panfish or one of those bass, channel cats or other predator fish come by and suck in my bait, I have a much better chance of landing those fish on light line with a longer rod.
Yes, one of those short, “toy” rods can work, . . .
. . . but longer is better!
You can find some longer ice rods on the market, but they likely will not be occupying much retail space at your local tackle/sporting good store. You likely will have to go on-line to find those (e.g. Frabill Ice Jigglers), or you might have to make some of your own.
I have not said anything about depth-finders. . .yet. Yes, if you can afford one, an ice-fishing depth-finder is a tool that will absolutely help you catch more fish. I use one religiously. But, I can tell you by drilling lots of holes and staying mobile, we caught a darned lot of fish before we ever had depth-finders on ice. In fact, sometimes I believe ice anglers get too mesmerized by the pretty flashing lights on their depth-finder screens and again let roots grow too deep (Staring at the Screen).
Of course you need all the other equipment fundamental to ice fishing and if you are a “newby” and wondering about that, this will give you a good start, Ice Fishing Essentials.
What are the limitations to my ice-fishing system? Well, extreme weather conditions make it tough. Air temperatures well below freezing will keep a person skimming ice out of their holes all the time, and knocking ice off of their line all the time, but even then I have made it work. Wind blowing snow across the ice will slush up your holes and in the worst conditions will slush them up as fast as you can skim them. Under those conditions, a portable ice-fishing shelter will make an angler much more effective than fishing out in the open. Admittedly, I watch the weather to pick and choose my ice-fishing days as much as possible. Even then Nebraska actually is on the southern edge of the ice-fishing belt (“it’s all relative!”) and most of the time a person can fish without a shelter. If we have a long ice season I will spend 20+ days on the ice even if I skip some days when the weather stinks. Besides the best bites usually occur on stable, warming trends.
If you are fishing clear water and sight-fishing, you will want some type of ice-fishing shelter too, although I have been known to lay on the ice and stare down a hole.
There are a lot of options, equipment, and different ways of doing things on the water/ice. Ask another angler and you will get some different ideas and they will be just as good as mine. Find something that works for you, something you have confidence in, and make it work. If you see a guy who is never sitting in a shelter, who is drilling holes all the time, and fishing with exceptionally long ice rods, well yes, I am crazy–crazy like a fox!