I went through a phase like so many people do, where heading onto the ice meant I had 17 rods rigged and a heaping pile of tackle boxes loaded with options, all piled onto a sled that I’m struggling to drag around. You end up fishing most of the time with one or two confidence baits, so the older you get, you go out with two rods.
Equipment is a fun thing. You make discoveries by experimenting. But there’s something to be said for simplicity. It’s as if organizing consultant Marie Kondo taps you on the shoulder (which you can barely feel, because you’re wearing your ice-fishing stuff) and asks you to bring only gear that makes you happiest. I’m happiest when I’m catching fish, so decisions come surprisingly easy.
What do you absolutely need? An auger, depthfinder, rods, lures, slush scooper, some kind of sled to pull everything, and good clothing.
You gotta be able to make holes in the ice. Like almost everyone I know, my auger choice these days is electric.
My depthfinder, a Helix 7, is rigged up in an ice-fishing pack with a lithium battery that powers it all day. Like all modern units, it has fast performance to show me real-time responses of fish to my presentation. And it has a map chip so I can see where I am in relation to structural elements.
Check out my video via Youtube showing how my sonar/GPS unit is set up: bit.ly/trickicesonar
I always fish outside. But a Fish Trap or Clam hub-style shelter is a great option, too. I keep my fish in a bucket, with some water so they don’t freeze. Scoop water in the bucket with the auger blade cover. You can also use a small cooler to keep fish from freezing.
When it comes to lures and other terminal tackle, I’ve gotten away from large tackle boxes. My walleye box fits in my jacket pocket. It has a couple of rattle spoons, a couple of split-shot, and a couple of hooks. You don’t need to bring 500 lures. For panfish it’s even easier because the jigs are so tiny. An assortment of ice jigs, plastics, and a bait puck with maggots or wax worms and away you go.
Packing light helps you stay on the hunt. I approach ice-fishing the same as open water: if I’m not catching fish, I move to another spot. I drill tons of holes and look down every one with the depthfinder. Everything stays light and tight and my mind is free to focus on finding fish.
Next time: clothing and rods.