You can already feel it in the air. Days are getting shorter and overnight temperatures are getting chilly. Water temperatures are beginning to drop in the local lakes, so surely ice up can’t be far away. Heck, ice fishing threads are even starting to pop up on Internet discussion forums...a sure sign that hard water is on the way.
All these things are also a good sign that it’s time to start thinking about getting all your hard water gear ready to go. Here’s a quick checklist of things you may want to do, in order to ensure that you and your ice fishing gear are ready as soon as the lakes are ready to be walked across.
RODS AND REELS
Now is the time to strip the old line off those reels and put on fresh line to start the season. Some folks change all their line out at once, while others change half their line out one winter and the other half of their line the following winter. Regardless of your line change interval, now is the time to do it!
Now is also the time to inspect your ice rods for damage that may have occurred while they were in storage over the summer. It’s much better to replace or repair those rods now, rather than have to deal with a broken rod during your first ice outing of the season.
I also like to take this opportunity to clean old hardened grease from the internal workings of my ice reels and replace it with a low viscosity lubricant, that doesn't stiffen up in the cold.
This is probably where I spend most of my prep time in the months before the lakes freeze. Most people store their ice shelter over the summer, so now’s the time to dig it out of the shed, lower it from the garage ceiling or take it down out of the rafters. If you remove the fabric from your shelter to store separately, now is the perfect time to re-install it. Set it up outside somewhere in the sunshine and give it a chance to breathe a bit. Inspect the fabric and look for any places that might need repair. Unfortunately, if mice decided to take up residence in your shelter over the summer, you might have a fair bit if patching to do. I also extend all the poles several times and flip the top over to ensure everything is tight and functioning smoothly. Replace or repair any bent poles and lubricate any sticky places in the sliding poles, hinges, or flipping mechanism of the shelter. Also, be sure to pay special attention to fasteners in the seats, poles, brackets and the like, and tighten as necessary. The last item I inspect is the plastic tub or base of the shelter and repair or replace as necessary.
Electronics are all about the batteries. Take care of the batteries and 90% your electronics issues will be avoided. Ideally, you have been putting the batteries for your flasher and underwater camera on the charger for a few hours per month for the past handful of months now. If you have, you should be ready to go once ice arrives. If you haven’t, now is the time to get all the batteries out, top them off for charge, and ensure they’re going to give you a decent amount of power for the winter. Nothing is more frustrating than finding out your flasher battery is no good as you start your first ice fishing trip for the season. Get those batteries charged up now, and replace any that don’t take a charge, won’t hold a charge for a reasonable period of time or won’t give you at least a few hours worth of use.
Now is also the time to open up all those jig boxes and find out exactly what being in storage all summer has done for them. The biggest thing I look for is rust. If there was even the slightest bit of moisture in you tackle containers when you put them away for the season, there will definitely be rust. With their fine wire hooks, rust can be a death sentence for many ice jigs. Rust on a hook point can also render the business end of any jig useless, so sort through and replace or re-sharpen any rust damaged jigs. Now is also a golden opportunity to restock any jigs or other lures that you may have lost over the course of the previous season. My jigs are organized so that I can tell exactly what I’m missing with a simple glance in my jig box. Any empty slots in your jig box should be refilled now, so you’re fully stocked once you’re able to hit the ice.
No need to wait until your first trip out onto the ice to dig your ice fishing outerwear out of the closet, either. Today’s modern ice fishing outerwear, such as Clam Corporation’s IceArmor, are a marvel of modern technology. They enable us to fish more comfortably in the elements than we ever have before. They do, however, require a minimal amount of care to keep them in peak operating condition. Once your outerwear is taken out of storage for the season, give it a good once-over, looking for tears, burn, rips, as well as broken zippers, snaps and buckles. Replace or repair any broken fasteners or zippers, and patch damaged spots in the fabric. Most outerwear manufacturers can provide you with patch material that will match your particular suit and ensure that the suit’s waterproofing and breathability are maintained. I also like to give my suit a good cleaning before the season starts. They can get pretty grimy after a season of handling fish, auger exhaust, oil and gas fill ups for ATV’s and snowmobiles, and the like. I like to wash mine by hand using a mild soap and cold water. If you choose to machine wash yours, I highly recommend the gentle cycle and air-drying.
Augers are often overlooked in the preseason, but some preparation in this area can help ensure your first ice trip for the season is a smooth one. Obviously, for power augers, fresh fuel is in order. Mix up a brand new batch of gas for 2-stroke drills and a fresh tank of fuel and an oil change is appropriate in 4-stroke machines. I put a fresh new spark plug in at this time, too. This is especially true if you fogged the engine as part of your summarizing process. Fogging oil can foul a plug badly, so a fresh plug is a necessity in this case. For both power and hand augers, go over the entire auger and tighten any bolts or nuts that are loose…particularly where the auger shaft attaches to the transmission (power augers only) and where the blades attach to the auger.
While you’re at the blade end, be sure to inspect the blades themselves and replace the ones that have obvious nicks in them. Also, check here for rust and replace as necessary. I typically have three sets of blades for all my power and hand augers. In preparation for the season, I replace the blades with the newest set I have in reserve. The second newest set goes into my “tool kit” for on-ice replacement…if it ever becomes necessary…and the third set gets returned to the manufacturer for re-sharpening. Once this set of blades is returned to me or exchanged for a new set, it becomes the third, or “just-in-case,” set of blades that I keep at home.
Once the auger has fresh gas and oil, good blades and everything is nice and tight, go ahead and fire it up! Open the throttle up a bit and let it spin. Now shut it off, and smell that exhaust. Breathe deeply...if that doesn't get YOU ready for hard water, you might as well have a big garage sale, because nothing will. But don’t take my word for it……
BPS Altoona Pro Staff
PS: Catch Rod at the Bass Pro Shops Altoona Ice Fishing Event Weekend Dec. 10-11, where he'll be presenting seminars and available for questions. Stay tuned for details!