The Fun(damentals) of Ice-Fishing Equipment

Like George Washington, I cannot tell a lie. With that said, I’m here to tell you ice fishing is not easy.

T hen again, nothing you do in the midst of the coldest part of the year is simple. No matter what sport, the equipment used during the winter months needs to be able to withstand the use and abuse in sub-zero air temperatures. There’s no doubt, the biggest advances in fishing equipment over the past decade has been the gear created for catching fish through the ice. And most every apparatus made is more than just a gadget; they are tools for catching more fish, and, staying safe as well comfortable.


To tell you the truth, I didn’t realize just how much these new tools of the ice-fishing trade had progressed until a few years back, during the first few Ice-Fishing Vacation/Schools ( put on by a group of hand-picked professional anglers/ instructors, including myself. During the three-plus day course, we trainers break away from the large group setting and work one on one with students, helping them understand all aspects of ice fishing while using their own equipment.

In the past, at the beginning of the school, students received some of the newest equipment available as part of their schooling. It was after some students replaced their vintage gear—some of the pieces I hadn’t seen the likes of in a long time—that I realized just how much modern ice-fishing devices have advanced, and in such short period of time.

Rods and reels are lighter than ever; line more subtle yet stronger; lures morel life-like; hooks sharper; electronics more powerful; clothing warmer. And the devices to haul them, as well those to keep us organized and safe are better than ever, too.


When it comes to feeling a strike, setting the hook and reeling in fish, vintage equipment does not even come a close second to today’s ice rods, reels and line. Modern-day gear is manufactured to withstand the harsh environments of ice fishing, to boot.

Take, for example, Berkley’s new Heritage Ice Combo – five different models of rod action and length to choose from, coupled with a balanced 3-ball-bearing ultra-light reel. The combo fits well in the hand and is light in weight so as not to fatigue your arm after an all- day session on ice. I also own a few custom hand-tied ice rods, and to those I adorn an ABU Garcia Orra SX spinning reel. These reels are light in weight and have a smooth drag, which is needed for large, hard-fighting fish that make long runs.

In comparison, during my days of youth, some of my ice-fishing “rods” consisted of nothing more than a stick (literally) carved from hardwood, with Dacron line wrapped around the handle rather than spooled on a reel; not the most sensitive or light-weight rig, for sure.

Modern-day ice line has really had its makeover from those of yesteryear, as well. Nowadays, they are made from materials that have the perfect amount of stretch and stay soft in the cold. Berkley Cold Weather line, for example, is a monofilament (mono) that has the same stretch at below-freezing temperatures as regular mono does at 70 degrees Fahrenheit, which is great for live bait rigging. Their Micro Ice, on the other hand, has less stretch and is perfect for jigging. Both are colored so as to be seen easily by the angler on the ice, but are nearly invisible to fish.

Super line for ice fishing, such as Berkley’s FireLine Micro Ice Fused Crystal, is manufactured so as not to absorb water and freeze up on your reel, and its nearly- no-stretch properties make it a great line for jigging in deep water. To ward off line twist, I tie on a tiny Berkley ball-bearing swivel and use a leader of Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon, which has very low stretch and is nearly invisible in water.


When jigging, I connect my lure to my line with a small Berkley Cross-Loc snap (not snap-swivel as there’s too much hardware on the lure, which will impede its action). And by far, the best lures I use have a minnow silhouette and swimming or wobbling action, such as a Rapala Jigging Rap, or spoons such as Northland’s Tungsten Silver Spoon.

When replacing a damaged or hooks dulled beyond sharpening repair, I use Diichi hooks of the same size, which are super sharp right out of the package. When live bait fishing, whether on a deadstick or under a tip- up, I again use Diichi bait and treble hooks.


Of course I must talk about today’s electronic for ice fishing, such as sonar, GPS and underwater cameras. There’s no doubt that all the aforementioned have changed the way I ice fish. The Lowrance Elite-5 IceMachine Color Fishfinder/Chartplotter I use nowadays is an amazing machine. Improved over the sonar of yesteryear it has a larger, easier-to-read-in-sun-light screen and built-in 16-channel GPS antenna, just name a few features. The unit also has a card reader so I can install a Navionics mapping program.

Overall, sonar allows me to know if there are fish under me when I first get to a hole, and then lets me see fish moving in to the strike zone, which permits me to be ready for a strike. GPS also lets me get to a spot and back to shore without worry. With the Navionics mapping program, I can see the lay of the underwater land below me, fish precisely over structure and find new areas to fish. Underwater cameras, by far, are one of the best learning tools I use. From the 8-inch screen of my MarCum VS825SD color underwater camera, I not only spot fish eyeing my lures, but can observe how they react to different lure actions. And, I actually catch more fish because I can see the hit well before I feel it, thus set the hook before they spit it out.


What other items allow me a better day on ice? Warm clothing; from head to toe, I now stay warmer with modern-day outerwear and base layers. And fishing from within a portable shanty? Well, that goes without saying. But there’s more all than meets the eye.

Yes, it’s true, there’s even clothing made just for ice anglers, such as the entire line of Clam Corporation’s IceArmor. From headwear, handwear, footwear, base layers, bibs and parkas, IceArmor is manufactured for the ice angler at heart. All the above mentioned are water resistant, so even when kneeling on the ice, I stay dry and warm all day (and sometimes night) long.

Once in my Otter Pro Xtreme Thermaltec Shelter Resort, I can remove a few layers of IceArmor and stay toasty warm. But fishing from within this shanty is about more than just being warm: I can concentrate on the bite better from within it, it covers my silhouette, and the deep sled of the unit is perfect for hauling lots of gear.

With my Otter overhead, the wind won’t grab my line and I can detect strikes better. And on clear ice, especially when fishing in shallow water, this dark house keeps my movements from being seen by fish below. And the quilted 1200 Denier material muffles any sound I make, which also keeps me from spooking fish so easily.

As for hauling gear, my Otter shanty has a super- deep sled that has more room than even I can fill full of gear. It’s perfect for a long day’s ice fishing.


As you can see, modern-day ice-fishing equipment is not just warm-weather gear modified to be used on ice, but products made just for ice fishing. Because of this, it lasts longer and keeps me safer and dryer than ever before.

Mark Martin is an instructor with the Ice-Fishing Vacation/School (, as well a touring professional walleye tournament angler. Visit Mark’s website ( for more information on any of the aforementioned products and events.