By Mike Schoonveld
When you find me sitting on a bucket next to a hole in the ice you know either the bite is right or I’ve run out of better things to do to give me an excuse to not go ice fishing. Even when the “fish are jumping out of the holes” I’ll probably pass if I can find something better enough to do.
But I do go ice fishing, mostly because where I live, once the deer seasons are over, my coyote traps are frozen solid, my guns are all cleaned, and my planned trip to south Texas is a month or more away. But just as in the “soft water” fishing season, I view the thin connection between my rod tip and hook – waiting to impale the next fish that swims under my hole – as very important.
I don’t have any particularly “favorite” brands, but I do shy away from non-brand name lines. Stren, Trilene, Suffix, Seaguar and plenty of other brands will reliably do the job. The cheapo brands you can find on eBay or Amazon will save you a few bucks and are reliably unreliable. I may not be an ice fishing fan, but when I do go I don’t want line failure to be another reason to dislike ice fishing even more.
Fluorocarbon is the one kind of line I use every time I ice fish, in every hole I drill, on every reel I own. I don’t spool the reel (or the tip-up) with fluorocarbon, but I have three feet of fluorocarbon leader between the main line and the hook or lure on every line. It never hurts to use a fluoro leader. It often helps.
Braided line comes in many sub-brands – four strand, eight-strand, fused and others – but all of them retain the main two attributes of braids. They are remarkably thin and have almost zero stretch. I use braided line on my ice gear as much as possible because these attributes allow me to get my hook down to the correct depth with less weight and allow me to detect subtle nibbles more easily. When ice fishing a “subtle” nip is about as aggressive as most of the fish under my hole ever get.
“As much as possible” suggests there’s time braid is impossible. It’s never impossible, but fishing braid on subfreezing days outside of a fish shelter is impractical, if not impossible. Water on the braided line freezes and the frozen line becomes all kinds of nasty to use. So when I’m going to be hole hopping or just making a quick trip and not fishing in a shanty or portable shelter, I use monofilament line. Instead of being nasty like braid, water-frozen mono is only a bit unfriendly.
The only thing left to decide for most ice fishermen is what strength of line to use and that depends mostly on what they hope to catch. Me, I have two things left to decide. I’ll need to decide what strength of line to use, but only if I can’t decide on any other outdoor activity better than going ice fishing!