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Ice Augers: Is It Time for [Electric] Conversion?

Ice Augers: Is It Time for [Electric] Conversion?
A typical conversion kit might have an anodized aluminum frame and plate with rubber handles and trigger. You supply the 18-volt lithium-powered drill and you're good to go. (Photo courtesy of Clam Outdoors)

ice augers
A typical conversion kit might have an anodized aluminum frame and plate with rubber handles and trigger. You supply the 18-volt lithium-powered drill and you're good to go. (Photo courtesy of Clam Outdoors)

Nothing against pistons, horsepower and the intoxicating smell of two-stroke exhaust lingering in the frosty morning air, but battery-powered electric ice augers have a number of advantages over traditional hole-drilling powerplants.

One of the fastest-growing segments of the electric-auger market revolves around "conversion" systems that replace the heavy powerhead found on gas, or even old-school electric augers, with an 18- or 20-volt cordless hand-held drill commonly found in shops, garages and homes.

It may surprise anglers unfamiliar with this kind of technology, but the wallet-sized lithium battery that powers such drills is quite capable of quickly carving a large number of portals to the underwater world.

In fact, manufacturer testing — backed up by the claims of countless guides and other hardcore winter anglers — reveals that systems like Clam Outdoors' Drill Auger Conversion Kit Combo can zip through 700 inches of ice on a single charge.

Other adapters, like Lakco Nimrod and StrikeMaster, convert any hand auger blade into a power auger with a portable drill. 

These types of lightweight and supremely portable setups are so efficient, they're giving traditional augers a run for their money, both indoors and on the open ice.

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Conversion drills offer a variety of benefits. They're lighter, quieter, arguably more reliable, and in many cases just as fast or faster than their counterparts driven by gas and propane engines.

"I'm a huge fan," said veteran guide and noted ice-fishing expert Matt Breuer. "I jumped on board the minute cordless drill systems came out and have used them ever since."

"That's virtually all I've been using the last three winters," adds compulsive ice-man and well-traveled guide Scott Seibert. "The only time I use a gas auger now is for drilling big holes through thick ice when lake trout fishing on Lake of the Woods."

Both Breuer and Seibert sing the praises of cordless conversion augers, which is notable given the number of holes they drill each season. Like many other anglers who've made the switch, both say one of the biggest benefits is weight — or rather, lack thereof.

ice augers
A conversion kit is a good alternative to getting a whole new auger. Then again, new electric augers, like this one, are improving in power each year.

"It's a huge deal," said Seibert. "A Clam conversion setup with drill and 4-amp battery weighs approximately 14 pounds, compared to 25 pounds or more for gas augers. K-Drill auger shafts, which I also use extensively, shave off even more weight."

The K-Drill weighs about 9 pounds and is ready to go with just a drill, no kit needed. 

Such lightness makes transporting the auger and drilling multiple holes easier, and ends the sore back, arms and shoulders often suffered after a day of wrestling a heavyweight gas auger in sub-zero temperatures.

"Noise reduction is another big factor," says Breuer. "I've had large groups of clients catch shallow panfish while I'm drilling around the area with an electric conversion auger. But when someone moves in and fires up a gas auger, the fish scatter."

ice augers
(Photo curtesy Ion Ice Augers)

Never having to worry about gas or oil is another advantage.

"Plus, as long as your battery has power, an electric drill always starts with the push of a button," said Seibert, who recommends high-torque, brushless drills powered by professional grade 5- or 9-amp-hour batteries such as Milwaukee Tool's M18 High Demand RedLithium 9.0. "Forget the underpowered, lightweight cheapies you see at discount stores," he warns. "You'll burn them out and be disappointed."

Granted, battery management is a concern — but not a deal-breaker. Both Seibert and Breuer say bringing an extra battery or two allows even compulsive hole-hoppers to enjoy a worry-free fishing. "Four batteries allow me to guide sunup to sundown and drill close to 200 holes during the course of the day, from early to mid-winter," said Breuer.

"Plus, you can always hook a charger and inverter to an ATV, snowmobile or pickup," Seibert notes. "Some newer trucks also have 110 outlets, which makes recharging even easier."

Keeping batteries warm, in either your pocket or fish house, also helps extend their life.

"A sharp auger blade is still your best friend, no matter what kind of power propels it," said Seibert. "Two-handed grips help reduce wrist strain, too."

Hole Placement

Seibert and Breuer agree on the benefits of conversion drills, but they subscribe to different schools of thought when it comes to hole-drilling strategies. Still, both styles lend themselves to electric augers.

"I'm a driller," Breuer said. "I punch zigzag patterns on breaklines and grid patterns on flats, so I can quickly move from hole to hole, using sonar and lures to look for fish. Light and fast electric drills make this easier than loud and heavy gas augers or the larger, slower-drilling electrics."

"I prefer surgical strikes and limited drilling," Seibert said. After studying a lake map ahead of time, he judiciously punches holes over only the most promising sweet spots.

When he can, Seibert conducts pre-season scouting missions during late fall on lakes he intends to fish after freeze-up, using sonar to scan and GPS to mark hotspots for return trips. "It's a great way to get a handle on weedbeds and structure without drilling a million holes later on," he explains.

"Cordless drills aren't just for the open ice," Breuer said. "There's no fumes or mess from gas and oil, so they're perfect inside permanent shacks and wheelhouses. Forget about marking the ice, moving the house and drilling your holes. Just drop the house flat on the ice, go inside and start drilling."

Since cordless drills offer reverse, they're also great for back-flushing holes — eliminating the need to putz around dipping slush from freshly drilled or re-opened holes.

Whatever your drilling needs, it's a safe bet that electric conversion drills merit serious consideration for anglers across the Ice Belt.

Both Seibert and Breuer predict that once you try one, you'll wonder how you ever got along without these powerful allies in the quest to catch more fish.

3 Innovations for 2018

  • StrikeMaster offers a new Cordless Drill Adapter, available in 3/8- and 1/2-inch options, that turns any professional-grade 18-volt cordless electric drill into an efficient power ice auger. 
  • ION X released a revolutionary new electric auger that drills through 1,600 inches of ice on a single charge with an 8-inch drill! You'll also get 2,880 inches with a 6-inch bit and 640 inches with a 10-inch bit, said the company. ION X ($649) also has new batteries that boost charge capacity by 66 percent over the original version. 
  • Drill Flange by StrikeMaster is made for a Cordless Drill Adapter, which serves as a safety net in case your drill's chuck loses its grip. It's 8 inches in diameter, made of lightweight polyethylene, and compatible only with the 1/2-inch Cordless Drill Adapter.

The Case for Gas

Despite a cordless power drill's many advantages, there are times a gas- or propane-powered drill could be a trip-saver. One such situation is a remote fishing adventure, where recharging batteries isn't practical or possible.

"When I head into the backcountry for an extended lake-trout trip, I keep a gas auger strapped to my gear rack as a backup in case my batteries run out and I either can't or choose not to charge them with my snowmobile or ATV," says Breuer. "I have yet to use it, but it's great insurance."

Seibert notes that gas or propane drills can also be game-changers when dealing with extremely thick ice, supersize holes, auger extensions and torturously cold temperatures.

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