By Steve Scepaniak
I watched as the angler next to me set his hook time after time, each time shaking his head as he failed to connect. I tried to keep quiet but instead asked him about his fishing line, which had more coils in it than a Slinky.
He simply replied that he had no time after hunting season to get his ice-fishing equipment ready for the hard-water season. So he tried watching the coils stretch out to detect when he had a bite.
It reminded me of a few months earlier, during hunting season, when I was going through my list of what ice-fishing-gear-replacement needs and noticed a note at the bottom of my list I left for myself years ago. It was short and to the point: “Ice Fishing Equipment.”
Like most outdoor enthusiasts, I go directly from hardcore hunting mode to ice-fishing frenzy with no time in between for gear preparation. Thus, the note. Once I was done restocking my hunting supplies, I took out my box of ice-fishing gear to be worked on as well.
When done right, it usually takes two to three hours and it’s well worth it.
If you had to rate the importance of tools in ice fishing, new line would be at the top of the list. However, a good number of anglers don’t put on new line each season. But the benefits outweigh the costs, period.
I did an experiment years ago with monofilament line that had more memory than I did of my first date. I took 1 foot of coiled line and slowly pulled it out alongside a tape measure until it was tight.
That 1 foot of coiled mono stretched out to 18 inches – 6 inches of stretch. With that much memory, any fish would have plenty of time to spit the hook long before the bobber or spring twitched.
I prefer fluorocarbon line over monofilament line for many reasons. It has far less memory, there’s little stretch, and fluorocarbon is just about invisible in the water.
For panfishing, I like using a fluorocarbon line of 2-pound-test diameter with 4-pound-test breaking strength. For walleyes, I prefer 6-pound fluorocarbon line with an 8- or 10-pound breaking strength. For bigger, toothy predators, I like to stick with the heavier super braids in 20- to 30-pound test with ultra-fine wire quick-strike rigs or leaders.
Keep your spinning reels and baitcast reels well lubed. I use gun oil to lube mine. It is one of the finest lightweight oils on the market.
For spinning reels, put some oil on a Q-tip and lube the bail on both sides of the reel. Unscrew the handle and lube the threads, the shaft of the handle that goes into the reel, and the inside of the handle receiver as well. Remove the spool cap and spool, and when the shaft is in the up position, oil the entire shaft and work it up and down several times, then reassemble.
For baitcast reels, add a drop of oil to the worm drive and work it in by winding a few times. Add a drop to the handle by the plate as well. Remove the side plate and with an oiled cotton swab lubricate the sprocket and bearings of the reel. If magnets are present, I gently clean them with a cotton swab dipped in isopropyl alcohol to remove any residue that’s built up.
Check your rods to make sure the thread wrapping on the eyes are doing well. If not, a little clear fingernail polish will seal them like new. Wash the handle with warm water and dish soap. It adds to the longevity and sensitivity of the handle and removes dirt and odors.
Now’s the time to add a spring to a regular rod tip or replace existing springs on spring-bobber rods with a lighter, more sensitive spring or a heavier, less sensitive one.
Keep your lures, jigs, plastics, spoons, and everything else well organized. Panfish lures are divided into groups and sizes. Horizontal jigs and vertical jigs are separated by color.
Even if you don’t have the weights of each color separated, having them together helps immensely. My panfish equipment goes into a couple of small compartment boxes for ease and convenience – horizontal in one or two boxes and vertical jigs in the others.
Walleye lures are grouped in similar fashion. Spoons are separated by those of like colors and sizes, as are airplane jigs. Everything has its place.
Rod and tackle locker
The modern rod lockers that have been around for a while make ice fishing much easier and fun. They carry your rods and reels, lures, ice cleats, scissors, pliers, first aid kit, and basically anything else you can think of.
I like to have everything organized and separated in its own place – panfish rods on one side and walleye rods on the other. Walleye jigs in one compartment box and hooks in assorted sizes in another, with all the compartment boxes being well marked for ease and convenience.
Panfish jigs, lures, hooks, and plastics have their own marked spots in my rod locker as well. First aid kit, matches, mantels, lighters, and cleats fill in the last compartment. No more trying to carry 5-gallon pails full of equipment.