Sharp Shooting - Early Season Ice Fishing
Leaves are turning colors, temperatures are dropping, and the threat of snow dabbles in the weather forecast; winter without a doubt is on its way. So what do we do as residents of the ice belt states? We prepare! Prepare for snow removal, prepare to battle the cold temperatures to come, and of course, we prepare for early season ice fishing.
Hello fellow fisherman, my name is Garrett Haglin. Everyone has their own way of preparing for the upcoming ice season, but I would like to share with you some of the key pieces of gear I utilize for a successful early season ice fishing trip.
First thing’s first: Safety. The dangers of early season ice fishing are very real, so utilize the appropriate gear to better your chances of survival should you fall through the ice. The ice suit I am wearing in the picture below is the Hardwater Suit by Striker. Besides staying warm, I chose this suit as a key safety tool when venturing out on thin ice. Like all Striker suits, the Hardwater suit floats! The Hardwater Jacket combines safety with staying warm and dry. It’s loaded with Sureflote (Flotation Assistance Technology) and surrounded with 360-degree reflective material, truly built for all conditions. This jacket also features the rugged 600D Endura shell, capable of withstanding the grittiest of conditions, underarm vents that let you regulate your temperature while you’re on the move or stationary.
Like the jacket, the Hardwater Bibs are your armor. Slip them on when the going gets tough, and keep them on through the thick and thin. Hardwater Bibs are also wrapped in a rugged 600D Endura shell that allows you to never hesitate when hooking up a sled, kneeling in slush, or fixing an ATV in the bitter cold. In my opinion, it’s the toughest suit on the market by far. Go right ahead, kneel in the slush you would normally hesitate to do with any other bibs. Go right ahead, work on a vehicle outside in the cold or cut firewood, they can handle it with ease! And of course, the Hardwater bibs are also equipped with 150g Sureflote Flotation Assistance Technology for maximum safety when on the ice.
Let’s say you’re venturing off on uncharted territory. A spot on the lake map looks like a hot spot and you want to venture off, but you’re uncertain of the condition of the ice in that location. Besides wearing the appropriate ice suit to keep you warm, dry and safe, bring an ice chisel and check the ice every few paces. Inconsistent weather temperatures and moving water by river or spring have a huge impact on ice consistency. Just because there is sufficient ice in one are, it does not mean there will be in the next!
Ice cleats go a long ways in foot travel across ice without snow for traction and can easily be applied to most boot types. I prefer the Striker Ice Boot as they keep my feet warm and dry all day long. Staying active in these boots are a breeze as they are very lightweight. Also, wearing a pair of ice picks to aid your escape from the dangerously cold water, should you fall in, can only help your situation. Rapala offers a great set of picks that I wear religiously. These are relatively inexpensive tools for safety when venturing across any amount of ice throughout the entire ice fishing season, but absolutely important during the early season.
Early season ice fishing presents many opportunities to make what I call sharp-shooting fishing excursions. When I am sharp shooting, I am traveling by foot and carrying only the gear I deem necessary to be set up for success. In one hand, I carry my Marcum LX7 mounted to a Lithium Shuttle, and in the other I carry my Milwaukee 18V cordless drill with an auger attachment. What about your rods, tackle, pliers and bait you say? Here’s where it gets interesting…
Once upon a time, Striker Brands came out with a product that quite literally transformed how I fish. Instead of pulling around a cheap sled with more gear than what was necessary, tipping over and spilling the contents more often than I had patience for, I can actively and efficiently fish with just the gear I need, all thanks to Striker’s solution to my problem called The Transporter. Get it? Transporter of gear?
The Transporter changed the way I fish as it allowed me to be more mobile and carry all the gear I need and more. The Transporter is like my home base when sharp shooting. Once the holes are punched, it’s the starting point to bringing fish of all species topside on the ice. It offers a 5-rod, 36” storage with rigid tube protection to keep my rods safe and protected. It features four spacious side compartments for all kinds of gear, plus an even larger top compartment for tip-ups, gloves, fish pliers and other important essentials like snacks, just ask my wonderful wife. Now, how the heck do I physically transport my Transporter if I am already carrying an ice drill and fish finder in my hands? Aaaaaannd BOOM! Deployable shoulder straps. Cool, right? Absolutely! The built in shoulder carrying straps are one of the life-saving features on the transporter and has made the world of difference for me on my sharp shooting ice fishing excursions. It is easy to see that convenience and ease of use were huge factors in the design process of the Transporter.
“Details, Garrett, get to the details! What actions of rods do you use for all pan fish species and predator fish? Do you have favorite lures for each species?”
Right! Details… I am a pan fish fisherman at heart during the ice season. Early ice presents great opportunities to capitalize on giant bluegills and crappies, species that tend to not get as much attention during the open water season. When fishing for giant bluegills and crappies, the two rods I have at the ready at all times are the Precision Noodle and The Bullwhip by Tuned Up Custom Rods. The Precision Noodle is the ultimate rod for bite detection and is perfect for the lightest baits. Finicky light biting bluegills? Not a problem for the noodle. Built on a solid fiberglass blank, with an extra-long Hi-Viz green tip, you will see every bite long before the fish feels you. A quick, noodle tip transitions into a strong backbone, helping you drive home the hookset, and still show the occasional northern pike who’s boss.
The Bullwhip is exactly that. It’s the most versatile Noodle rod in and out of town. Like the Precision Noodle, the Bullwhip features a solid fiberglass blank with an extra-long Hi-Viz yellow tip, perfect for visual bite detection, yet strong enough to fish larger tungsten jigs and small spoons while still having control of the bait. The quick, noodle tip transitions into a very strong backbone that makes fighting slab crappies a walk in the park.
Jumbo perch, walleye and northern pike through the ice do also hold a special place in my heart. For these species, I choose the Fusion, The Precision and The Commander, also made by Tuned Up Custom Rods. These three rods provide the sensitivity, backbone and horsepower to set the hook solid and be in total control of any species you are targeting.
Besides the fact that these rods are absolutely the most appropriate rods for putting fish of all species topside on ice, I choose these rods as they are highly customizable. Custom wrap colors, custom length, custom handle type and material, and of course custom personalization are all options offered when building your rods. In my opinion, the standard colors are really cool and eye catching, but after all, the name is Tuned Up Custom Rods, so why not customize?
Tackle is always a hot topic of discussion no matter the season and of course I have favorites. What are they biting on? What color and size? Wax worms, spikes or plastics? As pan fish is near and dear to me in the winter time, I typically keep an assortment of smaller jigs and spoons with me at all times. Often times on a cold front or dealing with downright finicky fish, smaller profile baits like the Hard-Rock Mooska Jig or the Gill-Getter Jig by Northland Fishing Tackle seem to do the trick. Jigs with a subtle action to them tipped with live bait presents an easy meal to finicky fish that choose not to work very hard for their meals.
However, in the case that fish are feeding so well to the point you can’t keep your bait down long enough, I tend to gravitate to a larger profile jig or smaller spoon tipped with plastics or spikes. The Glo-Shot Spoon or Forage Minnow Spoon are great examples of baits to be presented when the bite heats up. Northland Fishing Tackle also offers an array of ice fishing soft plastics like the Impulse T-Bone and allows me to fire down my jig back in the action quicker without having to re-bait my jig with live bait. This is especially important as the next bite could be a wall hanger!
As avid fisherman, we are well aware and accustomed to the good days and the bad days on ice. To be ice fishing in 30 plus degree weather, we appreciate it and soak up every minute of it! However, when temperatures fluctuate low enough to the point of seeking shelter in an ice house that keeps you warm, dry and out of the elements but allows you to stay mobile and on the go as much as you desire, the Otter Outdoors X-Over lineup is the way to go!
Currently, I run an XT X-Over Lodge. This unit has plenty of real-estate to share among friends but is light enough for me to load, unload and pull on my own. Besides the very convenient side doors, Otter offers several accessories to deck out your fish house, including shelter light kits, three space rear and overhead cargo nets to store gloves and jackets when not in use, and many other accessories.
Throughout this article, you will have noticed in BOLD text are a few of the key pieces of gear that aid the success of my early season ice fishing excursions. Each of these items play a key part in increasing personal safety and comfort, minimizing wasted time fumbling around with clumsy gear, ensuring I am using the right tools for the right job, maximizing mobility on the ice, and without a doubt, maximizing the amount of time spent fishing and making memories the way you hope to during your ice season.
I hope this reading proves helpful and informative as we prepare for the upcoming early ice season and I wish everyone a very safe and successful ice season! If you have questions, please feel free to connect with me via social media, I would love to chat!