The Big Three Ice Fishing Basics
The Big Three: Get on the ice with the best selection of augers, sonar and houses ever available!
By Nick Simonson
Whether you’re looking to take a serious run at ice fishing for the first time, or planning on upgrading your equipment before the season starts in earnest, the three primary needs of any ice angler include an auger, a sonar unit and a shelter. As the markets have expanded for all of these items, hard-water fishermen have more choices than ever. The winter of 2017-18 boasts the largest selection of these big ticket items and some of the lowest prices seen in the modern ice age. Tailoring each offering to not only the needs but also the budget of every angler, this guide and the friendly staff at Runnings can help connect you with the equipment that is tailor-made for winter fishing success.
The selection of augers has expanded so wildly in the last decade that anglers now have four choices of power, where they once were limited to one brand and model, with just three different sized blades. Options in traditional gasoline-powered models like the Eskimo® F1 8” Rocket Auger and the Strikemaster Lite still make up the bulk of the market, but propane-fueled units like the Eskimo® P1 8” Propane Rocket Auger and Jiffy Pro4 have cut into their share of ice and sales as well.
Riding the surge in recharge-ability, electric units like the Ion X and Strikemaster Electra Lazercater to anglers who fish from permanent houses or don’t cut as many holes. However, the gap is growing narrower in what these units and more traditional models can do as batteries and auger efficiency improve.
Typically, gas and propane powered units are utilized for all day, search and fish missions, where a number of holes can be punched in the surface of a lake. More powerful than the other options, they make short work of thick, late-season ice. The convenience of single-canister fuel gives propane powered augers a slight edge over traditional gas models. However what is gained in speed and power is typically given up in the weight of these augers.
Balancing the selection out, rechargeable battery-powered options give anglers a cleaner way to cut ice, and eliminate fumes which would otherwise hang around in their ice houses. These units can punch dozens of holes on a single battery, and typically perform best when used in familiar areas, or just to re-open holes in permanent shacks. Extra batteries are available for purchase, to double or triple hole punching output in a trip.
Close Second Sonar
An auger is absolutely needed to go ice fishing, and the argument can now be made that a sonar device of some kind – it doesn’t matter the brand or model – is also a necessity. Since Vexilar® first came on the scene more than 25 years ago with its FL8 model, the competition to provide insight under the ice has gotten hot. Offerings from MarCum, Humminbird®, Lowrance and Garmin join the bellweather Vexilar® to provide options at every feature level and price point. High end units even offer a combination of sonar with underwater camera like the LX9 by Marcum. Still others like the Humminbird® ICE Helix boast GPS and full mapping capabilities like many summer sonar models do on boats. Most every unit incorporates some sort of zoom function, to focus on the bottom where lazy walleye and perch may roll in, or they can shift their viewing angle up in the column for rising bluegills or schooling crappies.
From the basics, like the Marcum VX-1 or Vexilar® FL-12, to high end units like Humminbird®’s ICE-55 or the Vexilar® FLX-28 the near-necessity of sonar is within every angler’s reach.
Finally, selecting the right ice shack based on angling style, has also never been easier (save for narrowing down the selection), as hub style shelters for more stationary angling, and flip-over sled-based models for run-and-gun fishing are available for all. From single-man sleds to up to eight person hubs with the most modern tarps and heat-holding insulation, today’s offerings boast the best of the last three decades with incredible portability, regardless of whether you haul your gear on foot, via ATV or snowmobile or truck.
Hub style shelters, like the Clam™ Six-Pack or the Eskimo® FatFish are designed to be popped up and serve as a semi-permanent base camp, where anglers can congregate over a hot spot, or stop in and warm up as they hit the holes punched around the area. These units are lightweight, and often take down and put up in seconds, providing easy relocation when a bite stalls, or the party finds a new school of perch or walleyes to set up on. For windy locations, utilize the included ice anchors to secure the hub loops on the outside of each wall, as one drawback is that these units are susceptible to being blown away by wintry gusts.
Flip-over sled-based shacks dominate the run-and-gun angling market for those fishermen who are constantly on the move. Offerings like the Yukon X from Clam™ and Frabill® Predator provide the perfect protection for a single angler or a pair prospecting for pan-fish and predators alike. The EVO2 by Eskimo® is a hybrid flip-over of sorts, with a pop-up hub style wall, providing more room up front. Heavy-duty models that accommodate three anglers comfortably will require the help of an ATV or snowmobile to haul, but also provide more room and a bigger fishing space with extra square feet to accommodate heaters, sonar and other gear.
For these big-ticket items that will keep you fishing for years to come, and for everything else you need for the upcoming season, from rods, tip-ups, lures, line and accessories, stop in at your local Runnings and let their friendly staff help you find just what you need to take advantage of every on-ice opportunity this winter!