This isn't one of those articles giving props to piles of mainstream, traditional ice fishing tackle. For that, you might simply step in to your local outdoor store and buy an ice auger, shelter or lure from any of the established brands. Or run a Google search on the aforementioned items; there's no shortage of advice from which to form an opinion.
That said, try searching for alternative ice gear, or secret ice fishing tools or hardwater fishing hacks. Good luck.
Somewhat of a non-conformist himself, ice pro Brian "Bro" Brosdahl probably says it best: "Some of the most valuable ice gear I use every day sort of gets taken for granted," asserts Bro, who routinely zigs when crowds zag.
"It's like those key role players on a football team; the gear that really deserves credit for a great day on the ice mostly goes unacknowledged. Worse, some of these tools are totally ignored and unused by anglers. Truth is, there's a whole bunch of pretty cool equipment you've probably never seen before that will absolutely enhance your time on hardwater. Some of it deserves the daily MVP award, though you might totally take it for granted."
Wearable ice accessories greatly increase mobility, comfort and fishing efficiency.
#1 - WEAR YOUR UNDERWATER GLASSES
Hidden among haystacks of traditional ice gear is an alternative trend toward wearable tackle and gear storage, as opposed to stuff you're forced to drag around like a third wheel. "I wouldn't call it a trend exactly," Bro interjects. "I mean, it's mostly the tournament anglers on national circuits like the NAIFC who are literally wearing their underwater cameras and their tackle around their torsos."
Couple winter's back, NAIFC National Champs and three-peat Team of the Year winners Brandon Newby and Ryan Wilson helped the underwater camera inventors at Aqua-Vu design a wearable case compatible with its Micro viewing systems. "The motivation for designing the Micro-Mobile Pro-Vu Case," says Newby, "was one of necessity, and of our need to find untouched fish. For us, a portable Aqua-Vu Micro camera lies at the heart of finding fish and structure — whether we're prefishing a tournament or hitting new water."
Designed to fit any size angler, the Pro-Vu Case sports dual adjustable straps, positioning the camera screen across the angler's upper torso. The softcase itself features a large zippered camera compartment with a built-in protective cover, plus extra storage for a cell phone, keys and small tackle necessities. "We can drill holes, jig or rig lines and always keep the camera at the ready. The hands-free design of the case even lets us fish and underwater view at the same time. For us, it's an absolute must-have piece of equipment."
#2 — ACCESSORIZE YOUR ICE SUIT
Continuing the wearable tackle trend, Frabill offers a similar apparel accessory. "Don't know about you, but I like to fish in stealth mode," notes Bro. "Carrying a small, all-star selection of jigs, plastics and other necessities in a single wearable case is a luxury. The fact I can use it as a hand warmer — priceless. Probably not one in ten anglers knows what I'm talking about," he laughs.
Fitted to be worm around the waist, Frabill's Tackle Pack / Hand Muff is the only wearable tackle bag doubling as an easy-access hand warmer. "Fact is, a lot of us fish without gloves — especially during a frenzied bite," notes Bro. "The Tackle Pack fits right across my food shelf (Bro-speak for love handles). Not only can I quickly access a fresh jig or plastic tail without getting up and digging into a pile of gear, but I can also throw a couple hand warmers inside the insulated hand muff for an instant warm up. Eliminates downtime. Definitely puts a bunch more fish on the ice for me, every day.
"We've long said our ice suits serve as our wearable shelters. I just take it one step further."
A Panfish Toothpick safely extracts hooks without harming fish or damaging jigs.
#3 — PERFORM PANFISH DENTISTRY
Technically, the next nouveau tool can also be worn, or just as easily tossed into one of the four-dozen pockets sewn into your ice suit. A Panfish Toothpick is pretty much what it sounds like: a slick little device that safely, easily extracts a fish's last meal from betwixt its bony jaws. The Toothpick pops free even those troublesome hooks lodged way back in the larynx. The name of the game is preserving your expensive premium hooks, tungsten jigs and other valuable lures. Performing the procedure with minimal stress on fish is a beautiful benefit.
"Grabbing an impaled jig with a forceps or pliers scratches and flakes lure paint and can bend or break your fine wire FISKAS Wolfram Jigs," notes Jamie Olson, ace angler and proprietor of Your Bobber's Down, Inc., an online retailer of elite-grade fishing tackle and hard-to-find accessories.
Both the Panfish Toothpick and new larger, T2 Toothpick feature a specialized V-slot. Apply quick direct pressure on the hook bend, backing the barb out and cleanly removing the lure. A ton of top-level anglers now use the Toothpick, says Olson, many of them having now removed pliers and hemostats from their lanyards altogether.
#4 — THE LONG & SHORT OF IT
Despite the fact most ice fishers choose 25- to 30-inch ice sticks, huge advantages highlight both longer and much shorter rods. Case in point, St. Croix Rods' 48-inch Legend Black ice rod, considered crazy tall for an ice wand. Among anglers who prefer to stand while fishing, to keep the rodtip close to the water surface for bite detection and to prevent line freeze, a longer rod can be an exceptionally valuable tool. Moreover, for flip-and-dip style shallow water fishing, an angler can simply keep a two- to four-foot length of line hanging from the rodtip, allowing for instant and rapid-fire fishing through multiple holes fast. Finally, a longer rod provides superior shock absorption, vital for battling large, fast-surging fish such as pike, lake trout and big walleyes. Tournament ice anglers consider palm rods to be the single most sensitive ice tools in their arsenal.
Frabill Black Ops 18" UL
At the other end of the spectrum are palm rods, curious 12- to 18-inch all-in-one rod/reel combos capable of fishing the tiniest lead or tungsten jigs with utmost finesse. Particularly for shallow water panfish, European-born palm rods serve as superior bite detectors, most of them, like the Jonttu Sport Special, armed with adjustable, super-responsive strike indicators. Top anglers consider a palm rod to be an extension of their fishing arm, spooled with wispy 1-, 2- and 3-pound test tied to jigs weighing under 1/64-ounce.
#5 — SNELL IT
Staying with the scaled-down panfish theme, one of the biggest off-the-radar movements waiting in the wings are so-called through-head tungsten jigs. Another Eastern European contrivance, many of these elite designs lack a true line tie. Instead, they feature a small hole bored through the metal itself. A specialized, though simple, knot known as a snell or Marka knot secures these amazing jigs to your line, maintaining a perpetual horizontal posture — no repositioning of the knot required. Note: You can also use this knot with standard line-tie jigs for the same horizontal benefits. Finally, because the knot itself is recessed onto the hook shank, retying isn't required nearly so often — and the snelled line itself can be used to secure soft plastic baits in place.
Alternative ice angling is little more than rethinking convention, taking the next step beyond "normal." Time to embrace new or off-the-radar tools and techniques . . . before they become yesterday's news.
By Ted Pilgrim