Ice fishing’s greatest asset

Bill Graves, Special to The County
1 year ago

Advances in ice fishing equipment made monumental leaps over the last 50 years in technology, durability, ease of use and, best of all, less work for the angler. Tip-ups are built higher, stronger, and with more visibility, and the reels are larger with better drag systems. Heavy-duty polymer tote sleds were developed to haul lots of gear smoothly over the snow and ice by hand or hitched to an ATV or snowmobile. Fishing lines, hooks, and jigs all got better, electronic fish finders and flasher units gained prominence and commercially built fishing shanties boasted the comfort and convenience of small houses.

Many winter anglers will agree however, that perhaps the greatest asset to their sport has been the snowmobile. 

Aside from its ability to haul people and tow loads of gear over terrain where travel without snowshoes is impossible, anglers gain easy access to even the farthest locations. As with any complicated mechanical machine, it’s not without drawbacks — initial cost, need of a trailer and mechanical maintenance, to list a few. And of course, a bit of snow cover is required for smooth operation; due to unusual global warming, many Aroostook lakes and ponds had a safe layer of ice in December, but no appreciable snow cover.

It’s been claimed that “With age comes Wisdom.” While I agree with the basic concept, I’ve learned that at-hand experience tends to teach us a good deal as well. Plus, I’ve met a lot of people who don’t seem or act any smarter than when I knew them a couple of decades ago. 

Sixty years ago I had to use an ice chisel, or “spud” as they were called, and an ax to open a hole in the lake. Then I got my first manual ice auger — a bit more time saving but still not much fun, but youth and muscle prevailed.

Eventually we graduated to using a chain saw for ice thickness of a foot or less, and finally the blessing of our first gas-powered ice auger arrived. For me that mechanical auger surpasses even the snowmobile for ice fishing convenience. A lot of sportsmen agree, and over the last couple of years auger technology has rocketed into futuristic levels with some amazing battery operated models.

There is no need to haul gas cans with the smell and possible spills in vehicles or fishing hut, no tune-ups and no mechanical failures to jeopardize outings. Even with those benefits, I was skeptical at first and waited, watching friends buy and use this modern marvel. I just didn’t feel battery power was going to be efficient or strong enough for multiple holes through two or three feet of blue ice on late-season outings. 

I was wrong.

New lithium ion batteries weigh less than half of their old-style lead core models. They can fully recharge in roughly two hours and can auger between 60 and 100 holes through 24 inches of ice. The variation in numbers is based on using a 6-, 8- or 12-inch wide drill, and there’s far less noise than any gas operated units. Most models feature a reverse mode that helps clear ice and slush from the hole or free the auger on the rare event that the blades jam in the ice.

Some of them have ergonomic wide handles with a “deadman’s” pressure switch shutoff, built in LED lights for drilling in dark conditions, and a composite polymer cutting head with centering ring and point. Strikemaster, ION, and Jiffy lead the pack in brand popularity. With these there’s no dealing with gas, less noise, no exhaust fumes, lower maintenance cost, no start cord to pull or break and the battery powered models are far lighter and very comparable in price. 

Any sportsmen just getting into ice fishing or even longtime enthusiasts who already own a gas-operated auger should take a serious look at the electric motor models. The benefits are numerous, and not one of the more than a dozen new owners I’ve spoken with over the last couple of years had any regrets. Not all were ready to agree with me that battery-operated ice augers were the “best” thing to ever happen to ice fishing, but all agreed they belonged in the top three. 

Check out one of these modern marvels for yourself, I’m betting you’ll be impressed now and for many winters to come.