Minneapolis, MN – Maybe it’s no wonder folks living south of the Mason-Dixon line view ice fishing as slightly senseless; the sport Jim Harrison once called “moronic.” Who in their right mind, after all, would stare through a hole in the ice for eight hours straight? Or drive a full-size truck onto a frozen lake? Or risk frostbite for a fish bite?
The answer, according to data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is well over 2 million people — that’s who. In 2006, outdoors folks spent about $105-million on ice fishing tackle and equipment, a figure that had ballooned to $178-million by 2011 and is expected to easily exceed $200-million when 2016 data is unveiled. That’s nearly a 100-percent expansion in sales of ice fishing gear in a single decade.
So why all the excitement for a sport that’s conducted in the cold? For one, becoming a first-time ice angler is simple and relatively affordable, even for families. And even while innovation among other segments of the sportfishing industry, in some cases, has plateaued, creativity in new ice fishing tackle and equipment continues soaring to new levels of awesome.
Stroll the jam-packed aisles at events such as the St. Paul or Milwaukee ice fishing shows and you meet as many young anglers as you do hardwater veterans. Each and every one of these folks flock to the show floor for the same simple reason: to see the new stuff — amazing lures, rods, electronics, apparel, shelters and other equipment that promises to make their time on the ice more exciting, comfortable and efficient.
To celebrate the approaching, eminent ice fishing season, we’ve handpicked some of the most promising, innovative new products for 2017-18.
At the recent Dakota Ice Institute — a Sioux Falls, South Dakota based gathering of hard-water fish-heads — Aqua-Vu rapidly sold out of their latest, ultramodern underwater camera, the micro 5.0 Revolution. This new handheld tech-tool adds exponential convenience to the act of underwater surveillance, instantly deploying and retrieving camera and cable with an integrated cable reel system. The company has now restocked retail stores in plenty of time for first ice, and even offers a free wearable Pro-Viewing Camera Case and car battery charger as a bonus.
Both models of this phone-sized underwater camera feature as standard equipment the handy Revolution Camera Reel System, an enhanced high-resolution 5-inch LCD and patented micro camera with infrared lighting. The micro 5.0 Revolution Pro adds built-in DVR recording plus on-screen digital temperature, camera direction and zoom.
Short Sticks and Ice Line
Located in the heart of the ice belt, Park Falls, Wisconsin based St. Croix Rods has been building what many anglers consider to be the best ice sticks on earth for decades. Among numerous ice rod innovations, St. Croix engineered and patented the now industry-standard spring bobber—a super-finesse strike indicator integrated right into the tip of the rod.
New for this season, St. Croix’s Legend Black ice rods incorporate an elite assembly of accoutrements, starting with a precision tapered, solid carbon rod blank. Each of four rod models — 24- or 30-inches and ultralight to medium—sport an adjustable, interchangeable strike indicator system, ergonomic Sea Guide PNPS reel seat and feather-light Pac Bay minima guides.
Flowing effortlessly through said guides is likely one of the new ice-centric fluorocarbon lines. AbrazX Ice from fluorocarbon line inventor Seaguar has apparently now advanced to perfectly user-friendly, made specifically for spooling on small spinning reels. “Most anglers know about the abrasion resistance of fluorocarbon,” says pro ice angler Dr. Jason Halfen. “But a lot of folks have resisted using it because of stiffness issues.
“All that’s changed. Seaguar’s linesmiths have crafted a low-memory, micro-diameter fluoro line that lays nice and flat on your reel. AbrazX’s soft supple construction resists line-twist and enhances natural bait action; the same qualities that ease knot tying and bolster line strength. Anglers will also love that AbrazX sinks fast and stretches minimally, enhancing bite detection—all with the confidence of underwater invisibility and twice the abrasion resistance. This is the new age of fluorocarbon; maybe the most ideal ice fishing line ever.”
Tournament Winning Tackle
Meanwhile, parallel to the world of competitive bass fishing, everyday ice anglers are finally paying attention to the tackle favored by hardwater tournament fishers. “Fiskas Wolfram Jigs and Little Atom Microplastics have dominated the ice tournament circuit forever,” proclaims national and world champion ice angler Tony Boshold. “Fiskas brought tungsten ice lures to the North American scene in 2001. These guys craft the most complete line of innovative tungsten ice jigs; all with super detailed and durable paint finishes. Fiskas jig hooks are sticky-sharp, too— key for tournament anglers who need to sting and secure every fish that bites.”
Hot for this winter, says Boshold, are new UV Series Jigs — five new ultraviolet-coated patterns proven to shine the brightest under the ice and attract attention from more perch, sunfish and crappies. “Pairing a Fiskas Wolfram UV Jig with a Little Atom glow Wedgee is as money as you can get—the most trusted baits among tournament and veteran ice anglers today.”
From panfish to under-ice predators, LiveTarget Lures ignited an uprising in trophy walleye action starting a decade ago. The lifelike lure company’s Golden Shiner Rattlebait produced hordes of giant fish on Manitoba’s Lake Winnipeg—a trend that’s morphed into LiveTarget’s Yearling Rattlebait 65. The undeniably unique lure creates the illusion of a school of baitfish within a single lure, showing fish an absolutely appetizing target—live minnows not required.
Innovative Ice Shelters
Apart from innovative ice lures, not a whole lot has changed in flip-over style ice shelters in recent years. One exception: Frabill’s SideStep entry designs have redefined the ice shelter experience by simplifying in-and-out access and removing the need to step precariously over gear and ice holes. The vertical front wall of SideStep shelters also provides expanded room for long-sweeping hooksets and reduces the risk of heater damage, optimizing fishing space. Frabill offers seven SideStep shelter models, including the guide-tested Bro SideStep Flip-Over Shelter — an amply sized yet light and efficient 2-angler tent. Minor though significant engineering alterations have truly enhanced the ice fishing experience by adding noticeable interior real estate while increasing comfort and safety—all of which yield more fish on the ice.
Ice anglers continue to fall into one of two categories: those who feel perpetually cold and those who never stop fishing to think about the elements. BUFF USA, a leading edge technical apparel company crafts comfortable, stylish cold-weather gear. “Keeping your head warm is the key to whole-body temperature regulation,” says BUFF USA Sports Marketing Specialist, Casey Rollig. “For ice fishing and other active winter sports, naturally breathable Merino wool is an exceptional material.”
A new player in ice apparel, BUFF’s Heavyweight Merino Wool Hat merges incredible comfort and warmth with moisture-wicking and odor resistant properties. “No one realizes how soft and comfortable Merino wool is until they’ve put one of these hats on their skull. The hat stays warm even when wet, breathes and dries quickly.” For those used to bulky, uncomfortable ice apparel, BUFF transforms the winter-fishing experience. Known for its technical sun and cold weather protection, BUFF offers hats, masks, balaclavas, gloves, head- and neckwarmers and more—all in some of the coolest, statement-making patterns available.
Frabill’s I-Float remains the only flotation-assisting ice fishing suit on the market to be recognized by the U.S. Coast Guard as a USCG Certified Personal Flotation Device. (That’s a big deal.) I-Float combines Frabill’s signature ergonomic design and durable construction with essential security features like mesh self-drainage openings for emergency water evacuation, and high visibility USCG Orange lining and garment accents for better detection when out in the elements. Just another way Frabill keeps your safety in mind so you can keep fish on yours.
Still think ice fishing is moronic? Uncomfortable? Unproductive? Think again. From Maine to Montana, no fewer than 2-million frozen-water anglers excitedly await the next phase of their fishing season. Time to find out what all the hype over hardwater is about.