By Joel Nelson
Like most outdoors types, I’m happy to let the seasons come and go as they will. In other words, I do much better when seasons flow in an orderly fashion.
Fall is already a jumble of bird hunting, deer hunting, and suspended crappies. So it is that it seems ice fishing doesn’t get the preparatory recognition it deserves. Yet, subtle reminders about the fact that water will soon be “walkable” are all around us if we’re paying attention.
This season, I found a half chewed-up hoodie in one of my ice totes, which should strike fear in the heart of anyone who ice fishes. Mice can do an amazing amount of damage when left unchecked all summer, but I was somewhat spared. It turns out that the only thing the mice wanted was that hoodie for nesting material.
My electronics shuttles were un-chewed, and, importantly, aside from a bit of mice droppings in the bottom of a flip-style shelter, the canvas on my fish house was left intact.
Yet, what if it had been?
I had to put an order in for an extra fish house last week, and it was three weeks out for delivery – that is, if the outlet received the product when promised, provided that the shipping wasn’t delayed due to supply-chain problems. This was something we never thought of in previous seasons, but it likely has to be something to consider this season.
Now, imagine that the canvas on my shelter had been chewed up, but I didn’t find it until the night before my first ice-fishing trip at the end of November. I can say with some confidence that I wouldn’t have another shelter until Christmas or beyond, and that’s if I were lucky.
Sure, if you’re not picky in what you use there likely will be options during the ice season, but for the first season that I can remember, all outdoors gear, as you’ve probably noticed, is in short supply.
The good news for the consumer is that ice-fishing gear is readily available through retail and other outlets online, and given some clicking and calling, you can line up the lures, line, rods, and other gear with some simple planning. Increasingly, retailers are getting better at figuring out exactly where their products are, how to get them to you, and if they’ll be delayed.
The bad news for the consumer is that most outlets aren’t motivated to provide them to you at the sale price or discount you might be used to seeing. For that reason, especially if what you desire happens to be on sale, you may not be able to wait and find a better sale, because the item might be sold out or the better sale might not happen.
Similarly, due to huge demand, there may not be the immediate motivation by retailers to bend over backwards to track down a simple item, when they know as soon as it hits the rack it’ll head to the register and be out the door.
What’s an ice angler to do? Well, for one, beware of drop-ship arrangements from internet retailers, particularly if there is no stock listed for that item. Some retailers and manufacturers may be happy to hold onto your money for as long as it takes to eventually get said item back in stock. It might be March, but unless you’re sure about the stocking, it’s tough to count an online purchased item as an item you may get to use in good time.
Going straight to the manufacturer to purchase is an option, but again, you may be waiting for items promised yet un-delivered. I’ve been finding a good old-fashioned phone call will identify stocking and items at local sporting good stores, which motivates me to get there and grab what I need before it’s gone. Quality retailers are great about talking you through this stuff, so it’s the perfect time to make some friends in the fishing section of your favorite shop.
Among the items in shorter supply this year will be electronics, shelters, and augers – the big-ticket items for sure.
Yet, that’s a tricky prognostication because shipping delays will put a glut of certain manufacturer options into the marketplace eventually, just perhaps not until we’re into the season a ways. The trick is talking to retailers and figuring out which items are the ones worth waiting for – and which should be picked up immediately, on-site.
Lures, for the most part, offer some great stocking, and usually, provided you can find the right color, you might be able to get close on the size, or vice versa. If you’ve got some pre-determined favorites of an exact size, shape, color, and brand, you should pick those up immediately, because odds are that stocks will not last.
Whether it’s a refrigerator or a reel, we’re learning to inventory, prep, and plan ahead these days, so I say it’s never too early to get ready for ice. You might be lucky, and need only line and a few lures. Or you might need a few rod and reel setups or something more major.
If you’re on the latter end of that scale, no matter what you’re looking for, it’ll pay to shop especially early this season.