By Vic Attardo
Certainly the best reasons to purchase and use a tent for ice fishing is to stay warm and dry. I’ve caught plenty of fish during a freezing rain, but I wouldn’t have caught one of them if I hadn’t been cozy as a bed bug in an on-the-ice tent. I would have just gone home.
Also I’ve caught a lot of fish on breezy days or when the thermometer was in the low teens, but again, they’d be a lot harder to catch if I wasn’t hunkered in a tent – and with a space heater.
Also I’ve caught a lot of fish on crystal clear sunny days. I probably would have caught some of these fish anyway, but being able to sit in an inky black tent with the ice holes covered in shade, instead of a bright frozen sun, made the catching all the better. I once carried roofing shingles with me, slit a hole along a side and ran my line through the shingle placing the tile over the open hole so the bright sun didn’t alert the fish – particularly crappies and perch. These days I tug the flip-up tent over my head and the fish are none the wiser. That instant darkness is another good reason to use an ice fishing tent.
Back to that breeze thing: the super light tips of many jigging sticks will wobble in a wind making strike detection difficult, being in a tent prevents that.
If you don’t own an ice fishing tent, here are few things to consider before you shell out $300 to $500 for the latest model.
Initially make sure you’re strong enough to lift a packed tent connected to a sled onto the back of your truck by yourself because Uncle Phil won’t always be there to help. Hopefully the store where you purchased the tent has your model on display. Lift it and see how you might, or might not manage.
Check the weight of the tent. Remember this is the unloaded weight and not only will a tent get heavier with equipment but when wet or clotted ice forms on the bottom, you’ll be dealing with more pounds.
Certainly 40 or 50 pounds doesn’t sound like much, you may carry that amount in top soil each spring for your garden, but tents are not as compact as bags of dirt. I fish with some pretty strong boys and in a pinch they’ll wrangle a collapsed tent from the back of their truck, but it goes so much easier when there’s a muscle man on either side to grab the rails and slide it out. Then again, even a 50-pound tent is problematic when you have to drop it from the tail gate to the hard ground. Actually I shouldn’t have said “drop” because the bottom shell on flip-overs is made of plastic and I saw one shatter when dropped to the ground on a very cold day – and isn’t that when a lot of ice fishing occurs, on very cold days.
When considering buying an ice tent, there’s something strange you should ponder. I don’t think myself claustrophobic, but after a time in a single-man tent I get antsy. Usually I just unzip the door and take in a little air, but if it’s raining or snowing that might not be an option. Also I love ice fishing because of the beauty of winter. But there’s no beauty sitting in a nearly black, perhaps airless closed-up tent. After a time I need to get out. Consider how you’re going to handle those feelings.
Even when I’m by myself, I like the extra room of a two- man tent as opposed to the single sit-on-the bucket pullover. But although I’ve got a Mediterranean-width chest, the 90-pound weight of a two-man tent with a sled is so much of an effort I have to leave it home when by myself or doubting there will be anyone helpful in the parking area. At the end of a long ice day (and aren’t they all long?) you’ll need strength to get the boat back in the bed.
Basically there are two types of designs for the ice tent, either the flip-over or the hub. A key difference between the two are that flip-overs come attached to a tub – a high-sides sled – that serves as the stiff floor for the tent.
Hub tents are umbrella like and don’t have a tub or floor. The corners of a hub tent must be driven into the ice to remain secure in a stiff breeze, or a couple of guys need to remain inside to keep it in place. However, the existence of a hard plastic tub is no guarantee they’ll remain in place in a stiff breeze. More than one ice angler has gone for an inadvertent ride on a frozen impoundment.
I helped assemble and then used a hub-style tent last year and I was impressed with the roominess, but we needed one sled just to transport it out on the ice.
The hub tent was rated for five or six people. Sure we could have jammed them in, but my rating is for four adults and perhaps a dog or child, with chairs, bait buckets, sonars and rods.
The pack size of this CLAM tent was 72 inches long and a meager 11 inches wide. It expanded to a 144-inch diameter with a 80-inch center height. Remarkably this large tent weighed only 42 pounds because it didn’t have a tub. You need to place it on a sled to transport it across the ice then nail it down.
All-in-all tents can be a pain when you’re preparing for a trip or a day on the ice, but once out there you may be awfully glad you went to the trouble.