By Vic Attardo
My opinion: ice fishing is the fastest growing hook-and-bullet sport in the good ‘ole U.S. of A. From New England to the upper Mid-West and to either side of the Rocky Mountains, ice fishing, despite climate change, is giving anglers new thrills and producing constant innovation and improvement.
For the last 10 winters, I’ve encountered more anglers on the ice for their first time, or anglers with just a few trips under their long johns, than I did “growing up.”
Once you take ice fishing serious enough, desiring to improve your skills, you’ve become an official member of the unofficial “Frozen Chozen.” If you’re one of the new kids on the ice block, there is some second level information that will help improve your game. One of these nuggets has to do with line.
There are three types of line you can use on a spinning reel or the new fangled fly-reel type multiplier reel. They are: braided ice line, monofilament, and fluorocarbon.
Let me make a major statement here that will save you money: there is no reason to fill an entire spool with expensive fluorocarbon when ice fishing.
Even though winter water is usually amazingly clear, you really only need fluorocarbon as the last couple of feet of leader, not on the full spool. To save bucks, my reels have fluorocarbon on the last four feet of line, sometimes less. When fishing for panfish in water 15 feet deep and shallower, fluorocarbon occupies only the last three or four feet of line on my spool, the rest is either braid or classic monofilament.
I start with four feet because as I cut off lures and bait I’m also cutting off snippets of leader and eventually I’d be too close to the more visible line.
When I have less than 18 or 20 inches of fluorocarbon leader, I re-tie another full length. A 50-yard spool of fluorocarbon lasts me ages if I store it away from heat and sunlight.
Perhaps the most overlooked consideration for choosing to use either braid or monofilament when ice fishing is air temperature.
It’s how these lines react to frigid air temperature that makes the choice important.
If the air temperature is less than 20 degrees the line is susceptible to freezing beads, and stiffening.
Freezing beads are those tiny pearls that stick to your line like drops of super glue and make it difficult to work the line through the guides and fight a fish.
Under water, line does not harden or acquire frozen beads. It’s when the line is brought topside and exposed to the frigid air that it gets troublesome. The underwater temperature of about 30 degrees is warmer than the cold air above the ice and the beads don’t stick to line underwater – unless you submerge a line full of frozen beads back underwater, a real problematic condition.
The only way to rid yourself of frozen beads is to wipe the line with your fingers. Don’t try to crack the beads because they’re too darn hard to pop easily but just sliding your fingers down towards the water surface get rids of most of them there.
Often you’ll get frozen beads while you’re jigging as that’s the time and technique where the line is most exposed to repeated dunking and cold air.
To partially combat this unwanted frozen portion of line, I’ve learned that line choice is a big consideration.
On my panfish rods I like a 5-pound braid for the main line and a few feet of 2- or 3-pound test fluorocarbon. The easiest connection between the two is a tiny barrel swivel.
This configuration is useful when the air temperature is above 25 degrees F. I may still get some beading but it’s not really a problem as the beads will wipe down the line.
But when it gets below 25 or 20 degrees F, under cloudy conditions with a nasty wind chill, beading is even more of a problem. For that reason I don’t use braid when my mustache freezes to my lip if you know what I mean.
You have to realize that water adheres to braid despite its slick coating. Braids always “feel wet” and are more susceptible to hardening. Also they loose their sensitivity when hard.
On the other hand, monofilament and fluorocarbon are less susceptible to stiffening. Also I spray a line softener such as Real Magic on the spool and this helps.
When extreme temperatures are expected I carry at least two jigging sticks with the same line configurations. If one rod freezes too much I cover it in my sled until it become workable.
The reels are spooled with six-pound test mono with a three-foot leader of 2- or 3-pound test fluoro carbon. In truly cold temperatures this is my best bet.
This setup has two other advantages.
I don’t want 2- and 3-pound fluoro rubbing against the rough sides of the ice hole as I fight each fish. The six-pound test can stand more of that punishment.
The next advantage is a matter of convenience.
If I suddenly decide to pursue bass or walleye, or larger trout or catfish, I can cut off the three-foot leader and have six-pound test as my strong main line. This line weight is good with rods of medium-light to medium-heavy specifications.
It’s been a real boon to ice fishing in recent years that specifically crafted monofilament and fluorocarbon ice lines are formulated to reduce stiffening.
However, when the air temperature gets below 20 F, and you’re working a horrendous wind chill, even a quality ice line will bead and stiffen.
Of course, all these temperature rangers are meaningless if you’re fishing in a heated tent or hut. It doesn’t matter how it feels outside and it’s unlikely any line “indoors” will bead or stiffen. For that reason, when I know I’ll be sitting in a tent, I prefer the sensitive braid and a fluorocarbon leader religiously.
As you work on your ice game there are many tricks and techniques that will improve your success, but line is the most basic and often overlooked.