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

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.



Baits

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 trend.it's amazing how much has changed in just a few years. Tight lines, and bring on the ice!

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