A cold-weather apparel program blends warmth, comfort and safety for ice-fishing enthusiasts.
Not long ago, ice fishing was the realm of guys with icy beards in bulbous G.I. “bunny” boots who looked more arctic adventurer than angler. Part Shackleton expedition, part Grumpy Old Men.
And while these grizzled characters still stomp hard water with steely eyes and old-timer secrets, the popularity of ice fishing has exploded, drawing all ages and abilities to pike on tip-ups, twilight walleyes, panfish pandemonium, the reward of fantastic table fare, and the opportunity to create new memories.
From high-quality ice fishing rod and reel combos, lifelike soft plastic baits, GPS-enabled fish-finders, lightweight shelters, snow-ready rides, to high-tech clothing, we’re light years ahead of grandpa’s charcoal-filled coffee can and five-gallon bucket of jig sticks. And thanks to these innovations, it’s easier than ever to locate and catch fish, while staying warm, dry, comfortable and safe in the process.
“It’s become a whole lot easier to stay warm and comfortable on the ice with clothing designed specifically for ice fishing. I wear three layers that I can peel off or add as necessary. It’s like having my own thermostat,” says Frabill ice pro, Brian “Bro” Brosdahl.
Of these three layers, Brosdahl says the most critical is a moisture-wicking base layer. Not your grandpa’s long johns, rather new fabric technology like ScentLok Nexus Arctic Weight base layers, which draw sweat and moisture away from the body, allowing your skin to breathe, while keeping you insulated, dry and warm.
A middle layer of wool or fleece provides additional warmth and wind protection. Fleece wader liners or fleece pajama bottoms and a hoodie or heavy flannel/wool shirt fit the bill nicely. A mid-layer jacket with 3M Thinsulate like that found in the Frabill i5 Series Jacket or something with PrimaLoft is another option.
“Underneath my Frabill i-Bibs, I wear my base layer and a hooded sweatshirt. That keeps me plenty warm if I’m fishing an active hole or scouting. When the ice is thin or questionable — or I’m on the snowmobile — or fishing stationary in bitter conditions — I’m wearing the Frabill i-Float jacket on top of everything,” says Brosdahl.
These days, nearly all ice fishing jackets and shells are made of a combination of GoreTex, Thinsulate, Oxford nylon or a heavy Denier nylon. Frabill’s i-Float jacket stands out. It’s waterproof, windproof, designed for real-world abuse, features ample pockets for storing jig boxes, tools, etc., and is USCG-approved as a personal flotation device, an important safety consideration, especially during early and late ice.
To that end, Frabill’s i-Float jacket features mesh self-drainage openings for emergency water evacuation, 3M Scotchlite reflective material, USCG orange accents and lining, durable Cordura on heavy wear points (shoulders and elbows), and ice picks with sewn-in holsters.
Frabill’s i-Bibs are an ice fishing must-have. Not only do they keep you warm and dry — they provide padding in all the right places — like knees and seat — perfect for long stretches of fishing without a shelter, kneeling to read electronics and landing fish.
Like the Frabill i-Float jacket, i-Bibs were designed with self-rescue in mind, should an angler break through the ice. The bibs feature mesh self-drainage openings, 3M Scotchlite reflective material, and ice pick holsters. Combined with base and middle layers, they provide great freedom of movement and create the total ice fishing apparel system.
“When submerged, jackets and bibs fill up with water,” says avid ice angler and Frabill apparel designer, Chris Leonard. “This requires the strength to pull yourself up, plus the additional weight of water trapped in your suit. With this dangerous challenge in mind, Frabill I-Series includes drainage mesh at the bottom of jackets, bibs, and sleeve cuffs. This system allows the water to rapidly exit the suit as you are pulling yourself back up onto the ice, drastically reducing the additional water weight.”
Not only was the Frabill i-Float suit designed to shed water, its design actually integrates ice picks.
New BUFF® ThermoNet™ Balaclava provides maximum protection hor severely harsh days on the ice.
“Just as critical as wearing the right apparel is having a level head and knowing what do if you break through. The most important ice safety equipment is a good set of ice picks. Picks give you the traction to pull yourself back up on top of the ice. Frabill includes a free set of ice picks with every i-Float jacket and pick holsters in every jacket and bib to ensure that they are out of your way when fishing, but right where you need them in an emergency,” adds Leonard.
When it comes to keeping your feet warm, avoid cotton at all costs. It absorbs perspiration and leads to clammy, cold and frozen feet. A small investment in polypropylene moisture-wicking liner socks pays huge dividends. Slip these on underneath a heavy sock with the highest wool content you can find, like ScentLok’s Thermal Boot Sock.
Seems everyone has a different idea about the perfect ice fishing boot. This much is certain, if there’s melting snow and slush, rubber boots like Norfin’s Yukon or Muck Arctic Ice will keep you from a world of hurt. Last year’s watery conditions made it painfully obvious that not having a pair of tall, insulated rubber boots can be a deal breaker.
However, for normal snow conditions, Pac-style boots from LaCrosse, Kamik and Sorel are all solid bets. Do your research and find those with the highest thermal ratings, typically a combination of Thinsulate and felt or wool liners. If you want the flagship in boot liners, consider Wiggy’s Lamilite-filled SunWalkers — the real deal.
And don’t forget to treat the leather uppers of your Pac boots with a product like Sno-Seal or mink oil for added water resistance. A pair of easy-on, easy-off ice cleats (aka “creepers”) is also a must-have for added traction and accident prevention.
Frabill Tackle Pack/Hand Muff: Hands are another matter entirely. There are many options when it comes to gloves and mittens, including some designed specifically for ice fishing such as Frabill’s All-Purpose Task Glove. But, at some point your hands are going to be exposed to the elements. Really cold elements. A great option for combating frozen digits is the Frabill Tackle Pack/Hand Muff which has an adjustable belt and a built-in hand muff section with hand warmer pockets to really heat things up. Keep your tackle right in your lap, stay glove free, tip jigs and tie knots like a boss.
Designed for cold weather fly fishing, and featuring full-finger construction and silicone laminate on the palms for a sticky grip, the BUFF® Sport Series MX 2 Gloves Bug Slinger makes for tremendous ice fishing handwear.
Dressing for ice fishing safety, warmth, and comfort is easier and more affordable than ever. Whether you’re a newbie or old hat to the sport, there are lots of options to make your time on the ice more enjoyable. But do yourself a favor: Start with a USCG-approved flotation suit like Frabill’s i-Float. It could just save your life.
This article is courtesy of Traditions Media