Based on recent weather forecasts, the 2014/2015 ice season is fast approaching. Here in Wisconsin, getting on the ice before November is in the rear-view mirror is looking like a reality once again. Even though many of us are still in hardcore whitetail deer hunting mode, there’s ample opportunity to start getting that ice fishing gear ready to go now that it’s getting dark at 5pm. Here are some of the preparations I like to make so that when the time comes I can load up the truck and hit the hard water in short order. There is nothing worse than trying to untangle last year’s mess when your buddies are already working over those early-ice fish.
First and foremost, re-line those poles. Seems like common sense but I see people using the same line from the year before. Even if it is in decent condition, it still gains memory sitting on that reel for several months and will want to coil. This not only effects the action of your jig, but won’t drop through your eyelets and spring bobber as efficiently as it could. If the line on your pole was barely used the previous year and you just can’t get yourself to discard it, at least re-spool it and try to remove some of the memory. To do this, tie the end of your line around a tree, open the bail and backup until all the line has come off your reel. Now cut or break the line where you have it tied to the reel and leave that loose end on the ground. Go back to where you began with the line tied to a tree and tie this end to your reel. While putting pressure on the line so that it spools tightly, reel the line back on your spool. Now the old line that was used the previous year is the last line to come off your reel, leaving the line that probably never came off your reel last year the first that will be used this year. I know some people who do this, but if it’s monofilament line, I would go one step farther. Remove your spool with the line on it and soak it in a bucket of warm water for a few minutes. This will help remove any of the remaining memory from when it sat all summer. Other money saving tips include using electrical tape wrapped around your spool to reduce the amount of line needed to fill the spool up and buying bulk yardage spools of line instead of the small spools found at the stores.
Throw your flasher batteries on the charger to charge while you’re re-lining those rods. Make sure they take a charge and keep them fully-charged throughout the season so they are always ready to go. If they won’t fully charge, or seem to discharge quickly, it’s time to replace them. If they aren’t working optimally at home, they will be worse out in the cold weather. A flasher is critical to helping locate fish and distinguish feeding patterns, so if the battery is dead by noon, it will usually make for a less productive day of fishing. We like to run Marcum locators and have had very good luck with the replacement batteries Marcum sells on their website. There are some cheaper ones that can be found on eBay but in most cases you get what you pay for. I still have the original battery in my LX-3TC that was bought 4 years ago and it seems to still be going strong. One of the keys to making a battery last is make sure it is fully charged when you put it away and charge it once or twice throughout the offseason. The 4th of July is a good “halfway point” to the next ice season and this is a good time to throw those batteries on a charger.
If your auger still has gas in it from the year before, dump that out and start fresh. Put in a new mix and start it at home before your head to the water. It’s also not a bad idea to run some Sea foam or Sta-bil through it to help keep those carbs clean. I have been using a Dewault drill in combination with a Nils auger, so no worries about my auger starting but I make sure my batteries all fully charge and are ready to go. Another thing to consider is either replacing your auger blades or getting them re-sharpened. On my Nils, I sent both my cutting heads in during the offseason to be sharpened so I have two sharp auger heads that are ready to tear through some ice. A lot of replacement blades are stainless steel, so this doesn’t apply, but if you have steel blades and just got them sharpened, protect them from rust. After sharpening, lightly coat them in vegetable oil or some type of rust preventative to keep rust from destroying your nice clean edge while they wait for action in your garage. Also, it’s not a bad idea to do this a couple times throughout the season if it tends to sit for any period of time.
Time to pull those shanties out and hopefully you used moth balls or dryer sheets to prevent mice from making a home there in the offseason. If you do have some mouse holes or some wear and tear from the previous year this is the best time to patch them up. The weather is only going to get colder and during the season it can be hard to get your shanty completely dried out. On my Clam Yukon, I patched a bunch of holes last year using iron-on jean patches. They worked great and were much easier than sewing on a patch. I used a patch on both the inside and outside of each hole and coated the entire outside of my shanty in silicone to help it repel water. Another thing I like to do is lube your sliding poles up w/ vegetable oil or some type of lubricant. Not only does this help them slide easier, but prevents ice from building up on them once it gets really cold.
Check the condition of your sleds. Whether you use a shanty that pulls on a sled or just a sled to hold all of your gear, a little maintenance can make them a lot easier to pull. If the bottom of your sled is extremely rough from pulling it over gravel or concrete it’s going to pull a lot harder than if it is smooth. One thing you can do is take some fine grit sandpaper and use it to lightly smooth out the bottom of your sled. You don’t want to get too aggressive because you don’t want to remove too much material, but just smooth out those rough spots. Early ice is of course easy to pull a sled, but as we get more snow it can be beneficial to coat the bottom of your sled in silicone or cooking spray to help it glide better. It also keeps ice and slush from building up on the bottom if you happen to drag it over an open hole on a cold day.
Finally, organize your tackle. Using a jig box designed to hold individual jigs in place can save you from knocking the paint off your prized tungsten jigs when they are bouncing around loose. If your plastics aren’t sealed they can lose a lot of their scent in the offseason. I like to coat my plastics in a mix of anise, worm and fish oil. Whether the plastics are stored in little bags or in compartments in a tackle box I like to put a couple drops in each compartment and mix them around to give them a nice coating of scent. I still have B-Y Baits plastics off our original molds that were probably shot over 3 years ago that I am still using up and give them a fresh coat of scent each season. On my tipups I like using a 2-3ft fluorocarbon leader attached with a swivel and sometimes use some blades or beads to help make the offering a little more attractive. If you have a bite-off on the ice it can be a pain to tie one of these back up in the cold. I like to tie a half dozen of these up and wrap them around a piece of cardboard so they don’t become tangled. That way, after a bite-off I only have to tie one knot and I’m back fishing.
There is so much more that can be done to make your ice season start off without a hitch, but these were just some of the things I have found helpful. There are lots of intelligent ice anglers out there that have some great ideas for better ways to store, organize and prepare your gear. I invite you to search out these forums and articles for other great ideas. Also, if you have anything helpful you would like to add, leave us a comment on this article below or share it on our Facebook page. We’re always looking for innovative ways to make our fishing excursions more enjoyable. For those of you that will be testing the ice conditions here shortly, be careful and remember to spud and check ice depth as you go. Just because you measure 3” in that first spot doesn’t necessarily mean it’s even throughout. All this prep talk has me itching to get this season going, so hopefully our next blog post will contain a fishing report from our first successful trip.
Have a great ice season!
- Darrin Anderson