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Gary Howey

” IN 2017

Ice Fishing Then and Now By Gary Howey

Entered by Gary Howey

Former tournament angler, hunting and fishing guide. Inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing "Hall of Fame" in 2017. Active member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW), Past Executive Director (AGLOW). Howey has been an outdoor communicator since 1980 with his award winning syndicated "Of the Outdoors" columns appearing in magazine, newspapers, and tabloids throughout he upper Midwest and nationally.

December 31, 2017

   The sport of ice fishing has really changed a lot from when I started ice fishing as a kid back in Watertown, South Dakota.

  Our clothing we wore outside in the winter, whether it was to go ice fishing or scoop a few walks to earn spending money was basic. It consisted of blue jeans, long johns, tee shirt, sweatshirt, two pair of socks, covered by a plastic bread sack, the only pair of shoes we owned, overshoes, a parka, a pair of Jersey gloves and a stocking cap.

  Today, there are dozens of ice fishing suits, such as the Clam line of outerwear, in numerous accent colors in sizes to fit men, women and kid.  The Clam bibs and parkas allow you to face some of the most extreme conditions that  we ice fisherman may have to endure, utilizing cutting-edge engineering with segmented flotation assist material to help you float should you fall through the ice.

  On our first ice-fishing trip, we borrowed a spud bar (a heavy sharpened steel rod) that you banged on the ice until you got a hole punched through the ice.  The hole would start out about two-foot wide and ended up the size of the rod as it slipped from our cold hands and went to the bottom of Lake Pelican.

  Later on, I moved up to a hand auger and it worked fine for a few holes and by that time, you had no more energy to drill another hole and decided to fish the two or three holes you managed to dig.

  Now I have a Jiffy Model 46 Propane 8″ auger, which is great as there is no mixing gas and oil, so you avoid the smell and odor on your clothes and tackle.  They start quickly and have enough power to tear through any depth of Ice.

  Back in the “old” days, our sled was a Flexible Flyer with a peach crate wired to it where we threw in our gear, not much, but it hauled what little tackle we had and gave one of us a place to sit down and rest.

  Now, there are numerous companies manufacturing ice fishing sleds, one, two and three man sleds with a bench seat or with comfortable swivel seats as well as pop up icehouses that can hold your entire fishing crew.  Some come with light covers while others have a tough denier thermal insulated covers. Some include a place to store a small 12-volt 9-amp battery out of the way; the battery used to run your sleds LED lighting and fish locator.  They also have rod holders and other accessories that will make your ice fishing experience more enjoyable as well as more productive.

  Tackle, back when I was a kid consisted of a short piece of a broom handle with a couple of nails in it to hold our line, a bobber, hook and our bait were minnows. The bobbers we had were generally so large that a hooked fish would die from exhaustion trying to move the large bobbers and when and if you did get a bite, you pulled your line in with the “old” hand over hand method.

Ice fishing gear has changed with early equipment being one-size-fits-all to today’s species-specific spinning reel rigs (left), spooler reels (right) with lures in numerous sizes from the mini lures used for panfish to the larger spoons for pike and colors ranging from flashy to fluorescent.

  In modern times, now we use species-specific rods that come in numerous lengths and actions, some with spinning reels while others have spooler reels like the Clam Genz 200 Ice Spooler Reel. 

  The line we had back then was Dacron, the black heavy line used for all types of fishing; today manufacturers such as Berkley have lines for all seasons, made from different compounds and different types of ice fishing conditions. These include Berkley Trilene Cold Weather, Micro-Ice Mono, FireLine Micro Ice Fusion, FireLine Fused Micro Ice Crystal and Trilene Fluorocarbon Ice Line.

   Depth finders back then consisted of a nut attached onto our lines or perhaps a small spark plug that allowed us to judge the depth of the water and at what depth we should set our bobber so that our baits suspended just off the bottom as that is where we thought hard-water fish would be located in the winter.

   Today we have ice-fishing electronics including flashers, LCD units, underwater cameras and combination units with both locators and underwater cameras.

  Serious ice anglers equip themselves with many of the above; I have several Vexilar locators and one that has the locator and camera combination.

  Vexilar also has a unit, which can turn your cell phone into a Fish Phone, allowing you to see what is under the ice on your cell phone.

  Modern electronics has taught us a lot, including that not all hard-water fish spend all winter on the bottom, as fish under the ice, will move throughout the depths to feed.

  Today, almost any company that makes fishing lures has a line of ice fishing baits, with small baits for panfish, larger ones for walleyes and bass  with larger spoons with treble hooks and double hooked rigs on short leaders for the toothy critters, the northern pike.

  Clam Outdoors, Northland, Lindy and others tackle companies all have ice-fishing baits made from numerous materials, including tungsten, which gives you a smaller bait with the additional weight to get it down quickly to where the fish are located.

  Bobbers now days are small or even minute made from balsa wood with a slipknot above it, allowing you to change the depth you want to fish. While others made from foam allow you to down size your bobber so only a tiny piece of it floats on the water; this lets the angler detect the slightest bait movement and bites.

  The different baits offered by these companies come in a diversity of different colors some with flat paint, some sparkly, multi-colored while others are florescent. 

  Then there are different sizes baits for numerous different species, which include those names like the ant, maggot, dingle, spoons, blade spoons, dingle drop and hundreds of others names.

  Every year these companies keep manufacturing warmer clothing, lighter more efficient augers, better baits, well equipped sleds and shelters, all of these help hard water anglers to enjoy ice fishing, ne of the fastest growing winter outdoor activities.

    My Team and I want to wish you and your families a Happy and Healthy New Year!





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