Ice Fishing in the 21st Century

Advancements in ice-fishing equipment help anglers become more productive on the ice.

ice fisherman with crappie
When other fishing options are limited, ice fishing can be great fun and helps anglers beat the “winter blues.”

The evolution of equipment and tactics that have made ice fishing more productive, comfortable, and engaging have definitely contributed to the popularity of the sport in recent years. Anglers all over the Northeast are becoming more mobile on the ice and are catching more fish in the process.

Protection from the Elements

In the past, anglers chose a specific location and spent the entire day there. Equipment was heavy and took time to set up. However, as equipment became lighter and more portable, anglers adopted a “run and gun” approach to ice fishing, where they chase the fish rather than wait for the fish to come to them.

ice fisherman with pull harness and sled
A pull harness and sled can allow a fisherman to stay mobile on the ice.

Flip-over ice shelters were at the forefront of this movement toward ice-fishing mobility. Shelters weighing less than 50 pounds allow ice anglers to move quickly and easily across the ice while staying warm and dry, out of the elements. These shacks are so small and compact that many can be lifted into the back of an SUV by one person. Anglers have been customizing theirs with cup holders, rod holders, and other accessories to suit their specific needs.

Ice-fishing suits have become an extension of the shack—protecting anglers from the elements and keeping them comfortable on the ice. A good ice suit provides dryness and warmth, but still allows for a full range of motion. Gone are the days of bulky, awkward ice-fishing suits – many now have removable liners and layers of insulation so the angler can choose, based on the conditions, what they need for that specific day on the ice.

Windrider BOREAS Floating Ice Fishing Suit
Windrider BOREAS Floating Ice Fishing Suit

Safety has become another point of emphasis for ice-fishing companies. Suits are being developed with float technology – internal buoyancy systems that assist with flotation in the event that the ice breaks beneath you.

Reimagining the Tip-Up

Tip-ups are a traditional ice-fishing technique that means anglers can cover wide areas, while jigging provides a more conventional fishing experience with rod and reel in hand. Both of these methods have their benefits and drawbacks, but through ingenuity, many tackle companies have developed tip-ups that incorporate a rod and reel rather than hand-over-hand fighting of fish. Tools such as the Clam Arctic Warrior, Jaw Jacker, and iFishPro Tip-Up allow you to set up rods all over the ice just as ice anglers using traditional tip-ups. When a fish hits, rather than the hand-over-hand retrieval of a tip-up, the angler fights the fish using a rod and reel. This method appeals to many different anglers and helps highlight the benefits of both styles of ice fishing.

Clam Arctic Warrior
Tools like the Clam Arctic Warrior fish stationary baits, like a tip-up, but allow anglers to fight the fish on rod and reel.

Using a rod and reel rather than a tip-up gives you much more flexibility and control. I like using these tools because I can use multiple setups depending on the local regulations. Not only am I using these setups to specifically catch fish, but they are also locator tools. If a specific rod seems to be going off a lot, I focus my efforts on that area of the ice. Because a jigging rod is attached to these tip-ups, I can quickly pick it up and give it a little bit of motion and life, enticing a fish to bite that may have been curious but not ready to commit to a motionless presentation. These tools are so easy to use that it means I am more flexible and mobile on the ice. Hand-spooling a tip-up and moving it around is often time-consuming and makes for cold hands. Using a rod and reel, I can quickly get my presentation to the strike zone without getting my hands wet and frozen. Often with a tip-up, you cannot see what is going on below the ice or predict when a fish is going to bite. Using live shiners on a jig below a rod gives you a visual point of reference when ice fishing. As fish come into your setup, the live minnow begins to swim erratically in an attempt to escape, causing your rod tip to bounce around but there’s not enough movement to trigger a “flag”. Watching your rod tips across the ice will give you insight into where your next flag will come from and what is going on below the ice. This is valuable information that you would get with a traditional tip-up.

Jaw Jacker
Jaw Jacker

When using a tip-up, anglers often use a traditional setup such as a split shot and a hook. One way many anglers have continued to revolutionize tip-up fishing is with the use of jigs, which eliminates the need for split shots. In my experience, less hardware often yields better results. Split shots, swivels, and other terminal tackle can lead to an unnatural presentation. Jigs come in various sizes and colors, which allow anglers to change styles and presentations depending on the bite for that specific day. On days with snow on the ice and in deep water, a glow jig can help draw fish to your presentation and easily see your bait. On clearer days with less snow cover on the ice, a metallic finish may shimmer and catch the attention of a nearby fish.

iFishPro Tip-Up
iFishPro Tip-Up

Ice-fishing rods and reels have become more and more technologically advanced as well. Just a few decades ago, ice rods and reels were about as simple as they could get. Now, anglers have many options for both rods and reels. Rods come in lengths all the way up to 42 inches and some are even larger. They have been designed for specific techniques and target species. Reels have also come a long way over the years. Drag systems have become more sophisticated and small reels have been outfitted with high-quality ball-bearing systems. Even inline reels have seen improvements in recent years. They have been beneficial to ice anglers because they reduce the amount of line twist off the spool, which is specifically important to ice anglers because of the extremely light jigs often used. The downside was that most of these reels were a 1-to-1 retrieval system, meaning that one turn of the reel turned the spool just once. In today’s ice-fishing world, many inline reels have been fitted with ball-bearing systems and free spooling so that users can get down to the strike zone more quickly and have a much faster retrieval rate while fishing. These rods and reels may seem small but plenty of thought and ingenuity go into their production.

Electronics

The most popular and widely used electronic device on the ice is a flasher. It has a round-dial display that shows an angler the whole water column below, including the fishing lure as well as fish, structure, and weeds below the ice. This tool is useful because it provides real-time data and reaction to your jigging motion.

Vexilar FLX-28 with yellow perch on ice
An ice-fishing flasher like this Vexilar FLX-28 can help an angler have great success jigging up finicky panfish.

Unlike other types of sonar, a flasher has a very detailed display that shows very precise target separation. This allows you to watch the target get closer and closer to your jig; you feel the fish bite almost simultaneously as the target reaches your jig on the screen.

Just as in open-water fishing, “live” or real-time sonars are becoming more popular. Electronics have been developed that can see what is going on, not only directly underneath but also in the surrounding area. This means anglers can search around the ice and drill fewer holes. It also helps you fish more productive areas longer and cuts down on wasted time searching for fish.

• Learn More: Discover the Advantages of Ice Fishing Electronics

 
Many older ice anglers will tell you stories about using a spud bar to make a hole in the ice; from there, hand and gas augers became popular. These tools made the job much easier but they were heavy and required maintenance. That’s when electric augers stepped in – many of them now run on cordless drills or lithium batteries. They are extremely lightweight, cut holes easily, and with proper planning, have plenty of battery life for a day on the ice.

Ice angler with bluegill
Ice anglers use jigs and spoons of various sizes and colors to entice a fish to bite.

Ice-fishing tools, from little jigs to shelters, have continued to revolutionize the sport and grow its popularity. When many people think of ice fishing, they think of grumpy old men sitting in dated ice shanties pranking one another. And, while a day on the ice can be filled with laughter and fun, ice fishing is a serious sport to some. Innovations in technology have progressed from rudimentary tackle like “The Green Hornet” to state-of-the-art fishing rods and reels that rival many open-water combos. It’s likely that innovations in both tackle and technique will continue to get better and make the sport even more enjoyable for generations to come.

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