As walleye seasons wrap up, start planning for ice-fishing 2013-2014

Ron HustvedtThe ice season is just starting to wind down but retailers already are making a transition to spring. Wandering through a big box outdoors store the other day, I noticed the word “clearance” all over the place.

The retail calendar is a bit faster than everybody else, by a few weeks, and it means that the time is here to get a deal on ice fishing equipment. If you wore your stuff out this year, then perhaps a replacement is in order. If you barely got out there, maybe it’s because what you own is lame and needs upgrading to spark you into fishing more next hardwater season.

The shelf life of ice fishing equipment is pretty good but shelf space at most retailers is limited so they drop the price and try to make it sell at a reduced profit. What items might be best to grab before it’s mothballed for the open water season?

Here’s my take on what to get and what to skip at the clearance and sale rack this year.

Augers have changed a lot in recent years with the push for cleaner emissions and fuel efficiency. Four-stroke models like the StrikeMaster with a Honda motor are certainly trendsetting.

If you are in the market for an auger, don’t just buy into the bigger-is-better concept. An 8-inch hole will handle well over 99 percent of the fish swimming the waters of Minnesota and keep a young one from falling waist-deep or further into a hole. I wear a size 14 boot and when I step in an 8-inch hole I stumble a bit. The same dumb mistake in a 10-inch hole makes me bust my shin on the edge of the ice after my foot submerges halfway up my boot.

That reminds me. If you are in the market for a 10-inch auger, or a pair of damp boots, give me a jingle.

Another item worth considering right now is a shelter or, as my Yooper cousins call it, a “shanty.” They come in blue, black, red, and ice camo but are almost always on sale right now. The ice fishing world is a rapidly expanding industry with plenty of consolidation and new players entering the fray.

Translation? Competition fuel reductions in price. The only problem is that we’ve had a good winter so supplies are limited. Shop and call around, and ask the clerk to check in the back for one more even if the tags are all gone because you just might get lucky.

Rods, reels, and lures are definitely something to avoid unless the deal is insanely good. These items are small and easily fit in the nooks and crannies of the warehouse. Many retailers use these as giveaways and prizes at promotional events at the beginning of next season so don’t expect crazy awesome deals.

When they exist, snap them up. It seems silly to have a dozen jigging spoons in your favorite color heading into spring. Silliness is worth it compared to sitting on the ice next winter when the bite is hot and a pesky pike bites off your hot lure.

Minnows are definitely something to avoid. They might look up at you with those cute, beady little eyes, but resist the temptation to run a baitshop in your basement to save money for the open water season. This seems like a joke, but at least one of my buddies every late winter convinces himself that his cooler full of water and that plug-in aerator will sustain shiners into spring.

It’s not going to work, especially with shiners, but even with heartier crappie minnows and fatheads.  Pour out the extra minnows in the garden, use them to bait in the local stray cat or give them to a local fraternity for spring pledges – just don’t try to keep them.

The electricity it takes to keep them alive, only to die within 10 minutes of getting in the boat, hardly is worth using. 

Categories: Ron Hustvedt

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