Deer seasons are over for many of us, so as December returns, so too does our interest in ice fishing. If you’re like me, that starts with some equipment review and accounting.
I look at what I can live with and what I need to replace, which always tends to start with the big-ticket items. Shelters, electronics, and, ultimately, the one tool that is necessary to do it all: your ice auger. No hole means no fishing, and these days, there’s a pile of ways to drill ice and get your fix when the hardwater hits.
Five years ago, I would’ve started the discussion with gas-powered offerings, then made a short mention of some electric options for those so inclined. These days, it’s the other way around. Electric augers dominate the market, and gas options are for those drilling through the thickest Canadian Shield ice and doing so in great volume.
That’s for good reason, too.
Carburetors are messy and so is the fuel that drives them, while electric is clean, easy, and increasingly just as powerful. It’s also lighter, so if this is the year you go electric, I’ll focus the discussion squarely on your options with lithium battery-powered ice augers.
While it would seem that our options have grown, with two or three sets of fuel options powering ice augers, in reality, there are fewer augers on the market than there were in the gas days. Manufacturers have reduced options in electric to fewer than a dozen contenders, and that’s a good thing for the consumer.
It’s also testament to how versatile electric augers are, from drill-adaptive types that are just an auger bit where you supply a cordless drill, to dedicated auger-bit-plus-motor options that can do a great deal more than their gas-powered predecessors. All the positive attributes of electrics have simply reduced the need for additional models.
From here, it really comes down to the Big 4 attributes that should dictate your decision-making process:
For several years now, the market has commanded speed, which is a consideration for most consumers who are buying new augers. Speed is listed as a metric in inches per second, with augers drilling in the 3-plus inches per second for an 8-inch drill being extremely fast.
Speed doesn’t just give you an ego boost on ice, but it makes your day considerably more productive with less effort.
Initial electric auger offerings were in the 22- to 24-pound range, and while they were revolutionary in design and power, they offered few other benefits for anglers. But after more than a decade of design improvements, some augers these days weigh 10 pounds or less.
The overall idea is that the best auger doesn’t accomplish much if you’re too tired to drill more holes with it. It’s more desirable to spend your energy fishing, and not drilling holes.
This measurement describes the total volume of drilling you can perform on a single charge, often expressed in terms of the inches of ice you can drill.
In effect, this metric tells you roughly the number of holes you’ll be able to drill on a given day with one battery. About 2,000 inches is on the high end for most 8-inch augers, and it’s like bowling: You want a high score unless you know you’re only going to be drilling a handful of holes each day.
Fully-equipped augers these days with drill bit and motor cost in the $500 to $600-plus range, but have different options:, multiple batteries, poly vs. metal auger flighting, and, of course, brand.
If you do your homework, you’ll end up with an auger that excels in speed, weight, and cutting capacity at the most reasonable price.
When shopping, make sure you’re comparing apples to apples in terms of the above attributes, but also consider a few other variables.
Aggressive, curved, and extremely angled blades will often cut faster but may present a challenge when re-drilling old holes. Flat blades, or slightly angled and non-curved options can offer a smoother cut. We don’t want speed to come at the expense of the drilling experience, where you feel like you’ve been beat up after a day of fishing.
Warranty is another consideration, even though issues with this technology are few and far between. That said, anything mechanical can fail at any time. Look for the longest warranty out there, both on the full auger itself and also the batteries. With lithium batteries, again, issues are few but these powerplants are a great deal of the expense of the auger. That means your entire purchase should be covered, including the batteries.
The newest designs of augers also have a variable trigger speed option, meaning that if you press down lightly on the throttle button, the auger turns slowly. Press down fully and the bit spins at full speed.
Adjust the pressure you put on the button, and you can drill at whatever speed you like. It’s a premium feature that allows easier cutting in a fish house without throwing ice chips everywhere, and it helps in starting new holes, re-drilling old ones, and drill-touching holes more easily. Consider it a requirement if you’re looking to buy new, anyway.
Ultimately, you’re looking for an auger that drills quickly and smoothly, is lightweight, and can drill the most holes on a single charge without breaking the budget.