Now is the time to get ready to take advantage of hot first-ice action.
First ice is thin ice so you don’t need a power auger on first ice. In fact, you want to make as little noise as possible on thin, clear first ice, but you know it won’t be long when you’ll appreciate a power auger. Now is as good a time as any to make sure it’s in working order. How did it cut last time you used it? Were the blades sharp? If not, pick up a new pair of blades or have the old ones sharpened if that’s possible. Put some fresh gas in the auger and fire it up and make sure it run well and revs up to high speed before you get on the ice. Run it for a minute or two with the guard on. This is a good time to consider buying one of the newer four-stroke models if you haven’t already.
Electric augers are getting more and more popular. They‘re quiet compared to gas-powered augers and with the recent technological advances, batteries last much longer. Making holes with a quiet electric auger can cut down on the time it takes for things to settle down and fish return to the area.
A sharp hand auger works as well as anything on first ice. Don’t make any more holes than you need to keep noise to a minimum. Avoid groups of other anglers once you know the ice is safe. Try to find locations where the ice is milky or less clear or there is snow on the ice. Leave some slush in the hole to prevent light penetration.
Invest in a spud bar or ice chisel. That’s all you really need for making holes in thin, first ice and ice chisels are a necessary safety tool. Use the chisel to check ice conditions as you slowly walk out, especially if others haven’t already been on the ice. This is a case where being first isn’t always best.
First ice is usually very slick so a pair of ice creepers is mandatory. Creepers are insurance against a nasty spill that could result in broken bones, a concussion or worse. The elastic type that stretch over your boots are easy to put on and stay on. You won’t regret purchasing high-quality creepers that feature diamond beads made from casehardened steel alloy that are strung on steel aircraft cable. They provide superior grip on ice or snow and will last a lifetime.
A life jacket is a good idea anytime you’re on the ice, but especially first ice. You’re not likely to be fishing deep water on first ice, but if you go through it might be difficult getting out. Ice awls are useless if the ice is thin. A life jacket will keep you afloat until help arrives or you can break ice back to shore. Inflatable life jackets are the way to go. You hardly even know you have them on and you can easily adjust them to fit over bulky ice fishing clothes. You can invest in inflatable life jackets that inflate automatically or manually. Brightly colored life jackets make it easier for rescuers to see you, especially if you are on big water.
Get your portable shelter out and set it up before the season. You may not need it on first ice, but it’s a good idea to have it ready. Set your shelter up and air it out. Hopefully, the moth balls you put in it last spring were a deterrent and rodents have not taken up residency or created new “windows.” Take all the tackle out, inventory it and find out what you may need to replace or fix. Check the support poles and fittings. Tighten critical nuts and bolts and make sure the frame goes up and down smoothly.
Now is the time to check tackle. Rods and reels have a way of getting tangled and snarled in an ice fishing shelter or sled so get everything separated and ready. Clean and lube reels and check for loose reel seats or damaged guides. Put new line on reels. Light line has a way of getting coiled up over the summer and line twist is taboo when it comes to ice fishing. There’s no need to fill the entire reel. Strip off 50 or 75 yards and splice in new line using a blood or barrel knot.
Inventory your lures. Baits that were stored with a little snow, condensation or moisture in the boxes may have gotten rusty. Remember that hot tungsten jig that you were smacking all the slab bluegills on last year when the season ended? Make sure you have an ample supply before the season starts. Plastics have been all the rage in recent years, but they can get clumped together in the summer heat. Make sure all your lures are organized and ready for first ice.
Many times graphs or flasher aren’t needed or even desirable on first ice, but you need to get batteries charged, screens and connections cleaned for when they are. If you have a relatively new unit, before first ice is a great time to get on the internet and refresh your memory and familiarize yourself with some of the features that the unit has that you might not have taken advantage of last year. Maybe the unit has a graph and flasher, but you only used one or the other. Got a new mapping chip? Don’t wait until you’re on the ice to figure out how to use it.
Take advantage of some of the ice fishing shows to see what’s new. It won’t make ice form any sooner, but it might satisfy you until it does.