It’s almost Thanksgiving, and we are still a long ways off from the hardwater season here in northern Michigan. Like many other ice fishing fanatics, I can’t wait to get back out onto the ice, but just because we may not have fishable ice for a while doesn’t mean that there aren’t things we can do to get ready to hit the ice when we do get it. Preparation for the ice fishing season to me is much more than just drooling over the ice fishing catalogs and tackle and the local tackle shop. It may be a bit different for those that don’t run a busy ice guide service like I do here at Sport Fish Michigan, but the basic plan is still the same. I put together a checklist that can rundown so that I don’t forget anything.
One of the first things that I like to make sure that I do is to check all shanties. By this, I mean that I pull out the Otter Outdoors flip-over style shanties as well as the new Otter Outdoors pop-up style shanty. On a nice dry day, I will set up each shanty, inspecting it for any damage from storage or the previous season. It’s much easier to apply patches or make repairs when the weather is more mild and dry than when the wind is whipping and the snow flying. And oftentimes, most patches need warmer weather for the best adhering anyways. While the shanties are up, I also inspect them for anywhere that may become an issue during the season. Spots that get a lot of wear and tear or pressure points are likely spots to have fabric failures, and it’s far easier to attend to this type of preventative maintenance now rather than later. I look at the ice anchors as well, to make sure that they aren’t bent or dull. And I also check the lines that tie to the anchors, looking for weaknesses or frays.
Before putting away my Strikemaster ice augers in the spring for storage, I always make sure that I “summarize” them by adding a fuel stabilizer to the fuel tank. I then run the motor for a few minutes to make sure that the stabilizer is all through-out the system. Now in the fall, when I check them, I run them for a few minutes, making sure they start easily. A few hard starts now makes for easy starts on the ice. If the blades need to be sharpened or replaced, I do that now when my fingers aren’t frozen from the cold. I also look at the spark plugs to make sure they aren’t fouled or dirty. A good spark plug can make all of the difference on a cold winter’s day. Of course, if the auger isn’t working, I can take it into the repair shop now when I have time on my hands and can afford to wait. There’s nothing like an ice auger failure when you’re out on the ice. For us here at Sport Fish Michigan, we love our Strikemaster augers for their reliability and cutting ability, but because we have customers on the ice every day of the season counting on us, we always have a backup on hand for each guide trip. Just in case!
Now is also the time to recharge all of the batteries that may get used. Batteries for portable ice electronics are great at keeping a charge, but I still like to top it off. I always put away my batteries with a full charge (which is also recommended by the manufacturers), but sometimes a battery does go bad, and replacing a dead battery now will prevent a load of frustration later. And for those that use battery powered ice augers, it’s the same thing as far as charging them to make sure that they work properly.
All of our Sport Fish Michigan ice guide customers get a heated shanty to fish from, and on my fall checklist is to check the heaters. I fire each one up to make sure that it works properly. I also make sure that I have plenty of propane cylinders to get me started.
Vehicles are a huge part of our operation, as each guide customer is transported to and from their shanty when it is safe and applicable to drive a vehicle of some sort on the ice. For us, we use a few different vehicles. For most of our guide trips, Sport Fish Michigan transports its customers in a 6 person Polaris Ranger Crew. This makes ferrying our customers out to the shanties and back a breeze. Sometimes, however, the snow is deep enough that we have to use snowmobiles to transport our guests. Before the ice season, I make sure that all of the maintenance on our snowmobiles and the Polaris are all up to date.
The fun part of getting ready for the hardwater season is playing with tackle. I go through my tackle looking for hooks that need to be replaced or sharpened as well as lures or jigs that were put away improperly. In the heat of battle out on the ice, it’s easy to toss a jig or lure into the wrong place. By at least starting the season all organized, I can reasonably hope that I will cut down on the time it takes to hunt down that lure that is going to be “the ticket.” Sport Fish Michigan targets a large variety of species under the ice, and we have tons of lures, jigs, jigheads, plastics, live bait rigs and whatnot to keep track of. A rig that we use for jigging lake trout is probably not the same one that we use to catch perch or steelhead through the ice.
One thing that I am very persnickety about is the line that is on each reel. This is a component that is all too often overlooked by many anglers. The line is our only connection to a fish, and is one that I am not willing to sacrifice or compromise on. I replace any line that looks like it has seen better days, or where there may be an issue. Whether it is a tip-up spool or a rod/reel combo, I make sure to inspect each one. My Sport Fish Michigan guide customers are counting on me to have everything in working order. There are enough things that we can’t control on a guide trip, but having good line is one thing that I can control.
Chasing fish under the ice is hard enough as it is, but with a few easy items on a checklist, at least some of the frustration can be headed off. An afternoon dedicated to making sure everything is in top working order in the fall can lead to who knows how much less frustration when out on the ice and things stop working properly. I’m just as excited about getting out onto the ice as the next ice fanatic, and Sport Fish Michigan has lots of guided ice trips on the books already, and with some pre-season work, we will have everything rigged and ready when the ice forms.