Wednesday, November 4, 2015

My Evolution

As I wait for first ice, I've been re-organizing my gear, adding new gear, and I've been thinking, almost in amazement, about how much I have changed as an ice angler. Everything from how I get on the ice, the fish I target, the gear I use and how I use it, and my overall mentality are totally different now than they were 5 or 6 years ago. It has truly been a very rapid evolution.

The Mental Aspect

My whole mentality and approach to ice fishing has changed, in large part due to a single event. That event was my first NAIFC tournament on Lake Delevan in southeast Wisconsin. Tournament fishing for panfish was basically the gateway for me to get into the modern ice fishing era in a serious way.

Before, I was a multi species angler who liked to fish often. I carried a wide variety of gear to target everything from panfish to northern pike. Sure, I had my good days, but that approach really limited my success. While many species may be in the same area, that area may not be the BEST place to fish for more than one of the species. So you limit your success. 

Now I tend to specialize. I fish for one species and tend to focus on panfish. However, when fishing for fun, I stay flexible. Crappie bite isn't that good? Time to target bluegill.  But by focusing on one species, you find the best pattern for that species and really improve your catch.

Getting Around On The Ice

Mobility is the name of the game when it.comes to catching panfish. A few years back, I primarily walked on the ice dragging all my gear packed into my one man flip shanty. I wore exceptionally warm but very heavy boots and heavy traditional winter clothes. Needless to say, I often only fished one or two spots in a day.

Now, all my gear fits on my ATV. My anger gets mounted to the front rack, a couple of buckets carrying my tackle go in the drop basket, and a large rifle case holding all my rods gets strapped on. Throw in a couple miscellaneous items and I'm ready to go anywhere on the lake. It takes mere minutes to go from the truck to spot one to fishing. Now I can fish any number of spots on the lake easily and efficiently.

My clothing has also changed for the better. Out are the old heavy pak boots, and in are lightweight, slip on, completely waterproof boots from Muck. The Arctic Pro boots keep my feet warm but don't feel like I have a ball and chain strapped on me when I'm on the move. And rather than heavy, bulky winter clothes, I now wear thin but very warm breathable base layer clothing under my HT Polar Fire ice suit. It's very warm but far lighter in weight, along with being wind and waterproof. All key elements in staying mobile on the ice. The suits work so well I rarely even take my shanty out of the truck, much less sit in it. More time saved.

Finding The Fish And Making The Holes

Finding the fish for me used to be a lot of guess work based on previous experience, summer fishing, or obvious structure. Now I use a Hummingbird GPS/chartplotter/flasher unit that takes lake map chips. I can look at the map, go right to a likely looking area, fine tune my location by drilling and checking holes, and save the spot if I do well all with one piece of electronics. 

Making a hole in the ice is a big key to success. I used to have a.couple good options. A traditional style hand auger that cut well enough and a traditional two stroke gas auger. My how things have changed. Now my hand auger is a very good unit from Nils USA that cuts smooth and very quickly with the offset handle. But new for this year, I also bought a cordless drill and an adapter for said Nils auger. This is a lightweight solution to get a lot of holes with minimum work, especially when the ice is only thick enough to walk on.

My power waiver is a Jiffy Pro4 fitted with a 6 inch auger. This set up is lightning fast. But the biggest advantage is no more gasoline. No mixing, no carrying a gas can, no leaky fuel caps, no gas smell on your hands. One pound propane tanks are easy to carry, cheap, and readily available anywhere. 

Once the holes are drilled, I put my Humminbird Ice 55 to work. The digital depth read out makes it easy to quickly determine depth, and the large display is easy to read when looking for fish. Plus it's mounted on a Sonic Ice Hopper, so it's ridiculously easy to carry hole to hole.

Tackle and Organizing It

At one time, I carried a few jigs, a few spoons and other baits in a small utility box. Add a bucket of minnows and a cup of waxes or spikes and a couple rods and tip ups and off I went. Now I have a lot more gear but I've learned how to make it take up not much space.

Rods and Reels

I used to use spinning reels on all my rods. And those rods were relatively long, usually 28 to 30 inches. But here's the thing: those combos take up a lot of room and they are heavy. Not to mention line twist. The solution for me? Schooley type reels. 

I use the original schooley and a new reel this year, the Sidewinder Pro from Sportsmen's Direct. This style of reel is compact, ultralight weight, and imparts no line twist.

The rods I use have also shrunk down to 20 inches and under. What does this all mean? I can carry more combos with me on the ice. I can fit up to 15 rods in my case, which is a double scoped rifle hard case. This means I have presentations ready to go for a wide variety of situations. No wasting time tying on the ice.


Jigs have come a long way. I still use my old lead jigs, but tungsten sees most of the time in the water. These jigs are far heavier for their size which means a couple things. One, the bait gets down faster. Two, it's easier to feel your bait, making it easier to detect bites. And three, it allows you to fish smaller jigs far easier.

Organizing my jigs has also come a long way. Rather than letting them rattle around loose in a box, New style boxes hold each individual bait securely. I then put these boxes in a small zip up bag that fits right in my bucket. This keeps Tue boxes from rattling around as much and cracking.


Plastics are a revolution for panfish. They can imitate nearly anything in a lifelike manner, you can quickly change colors, profiles, and even scents. Plus, they.are very durable. 

I keep my plastics organized in a bookworm, again from Sportsmen's Direct. This system organizes the plastics stored in little zip top bags in larger zip top bags that Velcro into a fabric binder. I keep them sorted by like color, but the organization is up to you. This takes up almost no room at all.

Live bait storage has evolved as well. Gone are the chew tins and fragile plastic cups. I now use bait pucks which are hard plastic, insulated, and have secure screw on lids.
Ice Fishing is a sport that is rapidly changing and it is helpful to stay with the's amazing how much has changed in just a few years. Tight lines, and bring on the ice!


Friday, October 30, 2015

Friday, September 25, 2015

Being A Spectator At My Own Game


                  I just recently spent the last weekend in one of the most beautiful places in Wisconsin. Sturgeon Bay Wisconsin just held the final Bassmaster event of their 2015 season. I was lucky enough to get the chance to not only watch the best bass anglers in action, but I also got the chance to talk fishing with them as well. It was so cool to just hang out and talk with the guys that I have looked up to my whole life.


                Once the excitement settled I realized that my heros are just normal guys that share the love for fishing. They are no different than you and I. This is where I saw how much we as Icefishing competitors had in common. Watching them load there boats early in the morning was no different than how we line up on the ice. High fives and “good luck out there today buddy” were all I saw. Even though we are competing at the highest level we are all still friends. I also noticed that some of the guys team up to help each other get bites. I’ve seen that on our circuit as well, guys teaming up to help “eliminate bad water”.  The coolest part was I was able to watch all of this happen just a few feet away, my heros, the best of the best, just doing what they love for a living.


                My hopes is that one day we can get a crowd as big as the Bassmasters into tournament icefishing. Most people don’t realize how much they could learn on the ice if they just fallowed a few teams around, just one day on the ice would blow some people’s minds. The best of the best show up, and more times than not would be more than happy to answer a question or two while they are fishing.

               One thing that really caught my attention while I was in Sturgeon Bay was the amount of kids that showed up. It was truly amazing how many young kids were there running around asking for autographs. These kids with huge smiles on their faces running up to the anglers just begging to get a shirt signed or get their picture taken with these guys. Most of them didn’t even know who the angler was, they just saw how cool it was to meet someone famous. I really hope one day we can get icefishing to that level, and I believe we are on the right track.

The way I see it we are all working towards the same goals, and that is to preform to our greatest abilities and to always be helping out the next generation. We all as anglers know if we don’t get the youth involved our sport will fade to nothing. Next time you see that there is a fishing event in your area take some time to go learn something, and if you have kids or know someone who has kids bring them along, they will love it.

Friday, September 18, 2015

YETI Coolers

YETI Coolers set to heat things up on the ice this season.

Wayne Gstohl and Jeff Kelm, North American Ice Fishing Circuit Team 1520, have brought YETI Coolers on board for the 2016 tournament season to help protect their catch from the cold. YETI coolers are best known for their ability to handle a large amount of explosives, 500lb men and of course grizzly bears, but this winter a test will be conducted in the form of an ice fishing tournament.

"On super cold days, no matter how well you manage a bucket of water to hold your catch, you get bits and pieces of tails and fins that freeze to the side, pulling off. Pull off enough tails and you may lose enough weight to lose a tournament." -Jeff Kelm

"These YETI Coolers can hold ice for days, even in the warmest climates, we're going to use them to keep our fish FROM freezing for 6 hours on game day in terribly cold conditions."- Wayne Gstohl

Team 1520 will have two YETI Roadie 20 coolers to help carry fish, batteries for drills and snacks during the tournament season. Contact Jeff or Wayne for more information about YETI Coolers or visit

#WildlyStronger #YETICoolers #BuiltForTheWild

Monday, August 10, 2015

HWA Partners with industry Innovators! is again partnered with some of the coolest gear available from some of the most innovative companies across the industry. Check out the following videos to see some of our staff favorites! 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Take a few minutes to check out this video we shot of us practicing using the AKARA palm rods! Purchase palm rods at

Monday, June 15, 2015

First ice

Covering thousands of square feet of water eight inches at a time where only weeks ago you covered the same thousands of feet with just a touch of a throttle? That is the joy of first ice!

First ice is a great time to fish, just keep in mind some very basic safety advice.

Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return, bring a spud bar with you to check for ice thickness in front of you and wearing a PFD is not a bad idea, at the very least have a throw rope in your sled or on your person. It may not be you that falls in and its a great tool to have in case you unfortunately need it.

There are few times in a year that fish are as accessible and hungry as first ice, and nearly all species at once can provide a great experience for a first time ice fisherman or kids.

There are many reasons for first ice being such an active time for fish and fisherman.

Shallow weeds are still green in the first 3-4 weeks of first ice which bodes well for panfish as they seek shelter from the very aggressive gamefish. The green weeds also mean available oxygen, just the same as you and I get it from the air, fish filter it through the water. Green weeds provide that oxygen
and as the weeds die off fish will seek deeper water where oxygen levels are higher, inlets to the lakes where oxygen rich water pours in or they will slow their metabolism down to the point of almost lifelessness.

In the same shallow water predators like Northern Pike are actively feeding on baitfish, making a set of tip ups a great way to catch them.

The panfish that reside in the shallow weeds are still hungry too, and presentation can be a bit larger than normally thought of when ice fishing. #10 jigs or larger are a great way to attract big gills and slab crappies wanting to add weight for the winter. Its a great time to try some small jigging spoons for panfish. Tip them with your favorite grubs and it may surprise you how much action such a large presentation can provide.

Maybe one of the best things about fishing first ice is the amount of untouched water. Many folks are still thinking about hunting, or the holidays and if you afford yourself some time in the early season there is a great chance you can have an entire lake to yourself. Fish have not been pressured since the boats left weeks ago and they are hungry.

You will want to learn to be mobile at this time of year. The weed growth will cause the fish to be spread out much like they would be in late fall, but with the ice being relatively “thin” it is still comfortable to drill many holes with a hand auger.

Of course the make up of the lake its self will have a lot to do with where the fish are and what they eat but as a rule of thumb first ice is a great time to fish. Please be careful and enjoy!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Stay Hungry

I have always been a competitive person, just ask my brother. I don't know that I have always had something to prove to others, I do think I have always had a lot to prove to myself. I never did well with most sports, I definitely didn't do well in school, but I thrived on the race track when I was racing cars, not always winning, but always right there.

More recently I found competitive ice fishing, and now that's an addiction, it really is. I feed off the anticipation, the game planning and preparation. I have not always found the same success on the ice as I did on the track, but maybe that's the drive I need.

I can't wait for Wednesday, the day Wayne and I take off to South Dakota for the next chance at collecting the coveted "Wood", the trophy they give out for first, second or third in the North American Ice Fishing Circuit (NAIFC) events. That will be the next chance to push myself. Look, I know it's just a silly ice fishing tournament, it's not saving the world, I get it, but it's my track now, that's my arena. Everyone has one, be it at work, in the gym or where ever you push yourself to be better, that's the ice for me.

So like the photo depicts, I'm hungry. I'm hungry for success, I'm hungry to prove to myself I can do it, I'm hungry to show you too, that i can do it. Sure it's fun, it has to be or it's not worth it, but it's a battle ground on game day, and I am ready to fight. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Thunderbird Lodge Partners with!

Please welcome our newest partner to the community, Thunderbird Lodge in Mitchell, South Dakota!

The Thunderbird has been gracious enough to offer 15% off your stay at the lodge for tournament anglers that mention the North American Ice Fishing Circuit when they book. Be sure to check out all the lodge has to offer including on-site laundry for drying clothes and a sauna and hot tub for warming up after a full day fishing in the elements!

Find the Thunderbird Lodge on Facebook here ----> Thunderbird Lodge

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Mental Element of Competition

No matter what level you compete on, from friendly bets to national tournaments, competitive ice fishing has a mental element. This element can be your best friend or worst enemy. From confidence to game planning, we must use our brains.

Going into a tournament, we all should be doing some homework. The mental game is already starting. As I study lake maps and read reports, my confidence is already building or failing. Confidence is a key element in fishing. It effects everything from effort to lure and bait selection. This past weekend, I fished a tournament on a lake that I have fun fished often for the last few seasons. In the past, we had no issues finding or catching crappie. Our confidence was so high, that we didn't even target crappie during our limited pre fishing time. Turns out the pattern changed. It took us too long to find fish. Or confidence killed us. Mental problems!

Planning is another essential. This year at the national championship, we had a clear plan on day one. When it didn't work as planned, we were desperate on day 2, and that translated to working negative fish, not catching them, but not adapting. That lead to a very poor finish. Mental issues.

So what is one to do? Learn from mistakes, for one. But more important, have a selective memory. Remember the party's of your mistakes that you need to learn from, but forget about the past poor results. Every tournament is a new day. Confidence, it can be your best friend! What we do all starts in your head, so we must controlor brains and use the mental aspect of the sport to our best advantage.

Preparing For a Tournament or Fishing Trip

When the first ice hits I starting marking on the calendar my trips and tournaments. I usually get down to the prep work as soon as possible. There is a huge list that usually starts with making a budget - gas, food, lodging, entry fees, mapping, more fishing supplies? That's all in consideration when making a budget, but what about the little things? The budget is something that can be saved up over time, but getting help from sponsors can help minimize the dollar amount you need to invest yourself.

I often get asked the question, "How much stuff do you really need to bring to go fishing?"  Mother nature can be a real bear, anything can and will break, so I bring extra everything. I'll have normal things like extra clothes, extra fishing equipment, and extra batteries for electronics, but the most useful item is a tool kit. My tool kit consists of wrenches, sockets, screwdrivers, allen wrenches, I also carry a Flambeau tackle box full of nuts and bolts of many different sizes. We take along
augers, ATVs, and snowmobiles, lots of mechanical items that can fail. You never know when something catastrophic may happen.

When we get down to the final few days before leaving I find myself getting excited and spending lots of time on the Internet searching for any advice on the lake; I'm primarily looking for fishing information. Writing on forums is one way to communicate with the local fisherman who may give little tips or hot spots. I don't like to beg for info; I just simply tell them that I will be coming to the lake for a trip, you may be surprised at how welcoming most fisherman can be. The ultimate goal is to eliminate useless water before I even get there. Calling the local bait shops and DNR can be a big help too. You can conveniently go right on the DNR website and find just about anything from stocking info, water clarity and even a topographic lake map. Its amazing how much you can learn about a new body of water just by sitting on the couch.

My biggest tip I can give you is use the time you have before you leave wisely. One bad experience can be saved by being prepared. My favorite saying goes like this, 'Be prepared for the worst but expect the best'.

Good Luck, Stay Safe, and Tight Lines