It's that time of the year. Time to get all that ice fishing gear ready to go. It's also time to see what latest and greatest improvements and inventions have been dreamed up by the creative minds in the ice fishing world.
Also, early ice offers some of the finest fishing of the year for those who get out there and find the hot (and hopefully safe) spots.
Mel's Trading Post
Greg Graves of Mel's Trading Post in Rhinelander said there are a couple of new augers that are generating interest.
"The Ion electric auger is something I think is going to be pretty hot this year," he said.
The manufacturer claims the Ion electric auger can drill 40 eight-inch holes through two feet of ice on a single charge. It weighs about 22 pounds.
There's a new gas auger out this year too - one that may be easier on the ears.
"Strikemaster came out with what they call a new Honda Lite,a four-cycle gas motor that I think is going to be pretty popular," Graves said. "That'll be a lot quieter."
Wondering how far that fish has run when approaching a tip-up? Now you can tell.
"Frabil came out with a new tip-up that actually has a line counter on it, so if you trip a flag and you want to see how far that fish has run on you, there'll be an actual LED read-out on the tip-ups," Graves said.
"Beaver Dam - they've got a new round tip-up they just came out with," he added.
The round Beaver Dams are wood, with foam underneath to help insulate the hole.
"I've got the cameras, I've got the flashers, but I can't say there's anything real revolutionary out this year," Graves said about electronics.
So far, prospective ice anglers have been especially interested in augers, according to Graves.
"Electronics not so much yet, but for whatever reason, this year, I've sold a lot of augers already," he said.
Of course, hard-water anglers seek warm clothes for those ice adventures.
"We've got Ice Armor and Frabil clothing lines. Both have some nice suits and then gloves and hats," Graves said.
Graves noted that some enthusiasts are looking for spots even as the ice first forms. He advises caution.
"A couple of the guys that work here were going to venture out this afternoon (Nov. 28). Obviously, you want to be very, very cautious and check ice conditions before you go out," he said.
Ice conditions really aren't safe anywhere yet, and the forecast going into the weekend didn't look good for ice conditions.
"This weekend it looks like it's going to warm up, unfortunately," Graves said.
Graves said the walleye bite should be good when that ice first gets thick enough to support anglers.
Karol Baugh of Three Lakes has come out with a new rig for ice fishing - a variation of a rig normally most popular during the latter part of the ice fishing season.
"It's a brand new kind of tip-down rig. Totally different than anything out there," he said.
Baugh says you can balance any rod and reel on his new rig, which he calls Stella Blue. Baugh lives on Stella Lake.
"It's patented and it's trademarked. And it's brand new," he said.
Baugh said Stella Blue will offer a different option for those who would prefer to fish with a rod and reel instead of pulling in line hand-over-hand such as with a tip-up.
It's a rod holder (that folds flat for packing) coupled with a "balance stick." The balance stick attaches to the rod and is adjusted until the rod balances in the holder. Baugh suggests securing it with electrical tape once the desired balance point is found.
The rig is made of pine and finished with clear polyurethane. It's 22-1/2 inches long and 7-1/4 inches wide when folded flat.
Zelazoski Wood Products in Antigo manufactures the rig. Mel's Trading Post is among those selling the new tip-down.
Straight-line reels are quickly gaining popularity, according to Pat Wingo of Captain Hooks in Lake Tomahawk. Frabil came out with theirs late last season and the idea has taken off.
"They're basically fly reels," Wingo said. "The whole idea with them is you don't get any line twist like you would with a spinning reel."
Frabil, Clam and a new company called 13 make straight-line reels.
As far as terminal tackle goes, tungsten is becoming the heavy metal of choice for many anglers.
"Everybody's got tungsten jigs out now," Wingo said. He said the tungsten is about twice the weight of lead, but he noted it sometimes doesn't hold to the hook as well as lead and can get loose over time.
Electronics are always big with the ice fishing crowd. Wingo talked about mini-cameras.
"They got that new Aqua-Vu camera - that real little hand-held one that you can put in your pocket - out last year. They've got one of those in color now. And they have one, too, where you can record the stuff," he said.
Wingo said the camera itself is about the size of a quarter.
Of course, the proper apparel is important for staying warm out on the ice. Why not be bouyant as well?
"We're the exclusive dealer for the Arctic Armor suits. They're the only suit that floats," Wingo said.
He added that they are selling quite well, and that they could be an investment that's very worthwhile.
"I've had two people now tell me ... that the suit saved their lives," Wingo said. "One was a lady that went through on Sweeny, late ice. She said it's so bouyant, you can't put your legs down. So what you have to do is roll out. You just kind of roll like a log and you come right out."
Wingo pointed out that the suits are not a substitute for life jackets. He also stressed approaching early ice fishing with caution.
"Early ice you go to where you can fish safely," he said.
For early action, think bays.
"It seems like the fish go shallow right away when we have early ice," Wingo said. "Like walleyes, especially. These bays - as soon as they ice up there's fish under them. Safe ice is the key."
Ice is always unpredictable, and can never be considered totally safe, but there are some guidelines.
DNR safety officials recommend at least four inches of clear ice before attempting to walk on, six inches before operating a snowmobile and eight to 10 inches before driving a car or light truck onto the ice. The guidelines are for clear, solid ice.
The DNR also offers the following ice safety tips:
Contact local sport shops to ask about ice conditions on the lake or river you want to fish.
Do not go out alone, carry a cell phone, and let people know where you are going and when you'll return home.
Wear proper clothing and equipment, including a float coat to help you stay afloat and to help slow body heat loss; take extra mittens or gloves so you always have a dry pair.
Wear creepers attached to boots to prevent slipping on clear ice.
Carry a spud bar to check the ice while walking to new areas.
Carry a couple of spikes and a length of light rope in an easily accessible pocket to help pull yourself - or others - out of the ice.
Do not travel in unfamiliar areas or at night.
Know if the lake has inlets, outlets or narrows that have current that can thin the ice.
Look for clear ice. Clear ice is generally stronger than ice with air bubbles in it or with snow on it.
Watch for pressure ridges or ice heaves. These can be dangerous due to thin ice or may be an obstruction you may hit with a car, truck or snowmobile.
Craig Turk may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Northwoods River News | Walker Communications, LLC 232 S. Courtney Street, Rhinelander, WI 54501 | Office (715) 365-6397 | Fax (715) 365-6361
Corporate billing office: The Lakeland Times / Lakeland Printing Inc. | P.O. Box 790, Minocqua, WI 54548 | (715) 356-5236 | Fax (715) 358-2121 Members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, Wisconsin Community Papers, Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce, Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce