Ice fishing gear doesn’t have to be complicated, but when it comes to shortening the learning curve and maximizing your efficiency there are some huge game-changing items that will turn ice fishing from cold and boring isolation into an exciting adventure you can’t wait to do again. What are the four best ice fishing gear upgrades?
The 4 Best Ice Fishing Gear Upgrades
Very few people enjoying being cold and miserable. It is one of the fastest ways to ruin outdoor fun especially for young anglers or new people to the sport. Enter ice fishing, you know the “fun” that literally involves sitting outside in the cold on a block of ice doing nothing but dumping heat out from your body while you stare aimlessly down into a hole (a recipe for quick trips and retention issues). Luckily there are a few essential gear upgrades that will last multiple years and keep you nice and comfortable out on the ol’ block.
1. Ice Fishing Float Suit
Ice fishing combines several factors that in a different context sound more like a recipe for death than a recipe for fun (cold, wet, and a dash of possible drowning). However, the advent of the ice fishing float suit went ahead and put a cozy fire in your heart and peace of mind under your hat. These suits are offered by many companies, but they all function the same by keeping you warm for everyday use, and if you fall through the ice, you will float. They feature pockets and liners with insulation that really does keep your furnace blazing. They come in two pieces (jacket and bibs or pants) and there are days when I am just too hot to even wear the jacket. This suit has changed the game for me allowing me to fish longer and in any weather mother nature can dish out all while providing the peace of mind that if I fall through, I won’t be plunging to the bottom. I have used a StrikeMaster suit (both bibs and jacket) for the past three seasons and won’t fish without them. I have had no issues with the quality or integrity of their material. The cost of these suits is usually around two or three hundred dollars for each item and around five to six hundred dollars total. I am sure that seems expensive, but I think my life is worth a heck of a lot more than $600, and I’m sure your life is too.
2. Ice Fishing Lithium Auger
Everyone has had, used, or seen the hand crank ice augers at one point in their life. I own one and have used it for several years, but it now collects dust in my basement because two years ago I upgraded to the Strike Master Lithium Ice Auger. Since it came onto the market, there have been several other brands that have come out with an alternative energy source to gas. I am sure that the Ion auger and others would be just fine, but my personal experience is with StrikeMaster. Regardless of the power source of your auger, it sure beats hand-cranking through 16 inches of ice. Sweat and cold can be a nasty combination, but with power ice augers you can save your sweat for the sled. There are still some things to consider before you head out onto the ice with one of these sweet sassy drills. Currently, there are gas, propane, power tool drill attachment, and lithium battery-powered ice augers on the market.
Pros to Lithium Battery Ice Augers versus Gas Power Ice Augers
Ease of use (push button operation)
No noxious fumes or smells
No mixing of fuels
Needs to be recharged around 100 drilled holes. So long trips of multiple days may require charging capability or spare batteries.
Cost – Generally more expensive than older technology
3. Ice Fishing Sonar Electronics
If you want to get some mixed answers, go ask your favorite internet forum hole if electronics are helping or ruining fishing. Spoiler alert you are going to hear some interesting perspectives. However, I can speak from personal experience that learning to ice fish was fun without electronics, but frustrating and rarely worth the effort unless I was fishing with other people. Throw in some electronics and I will never go back to fishing without them given the choice. The difference is crazy, and the production and efficiency in your time management grow exponentially. There are a ton of options on the market today, but there are three categories you will want to throw your money into depending on your budget. All three of these options will succeed in helping you locate and catch more fish, but with most things in life, the more bells and whistles you add the higher the cost.
Option 1 ($)
Flasher Ice Fishing Electronics
Humminbird ICE 35
Flashers are the most basic in both function and price (higher models offer more function) and bolster the old gold standard for speed of sonar return. In the early days of 2D Sonar for ice, the relay time was still faster for the flasher giving you a more real-time window at how the fish below was reacting to your presentation. Each year technology brings the 2D and 3D sonar returns closer and closer to the response time of the flasher. Besides the return speed, there are also other pros and cons to consider for these budget-friendly options.
Easy to use (once you learn how to read sonar flashers)
Can only see real-time (no history of events)
Field of view limited by the cone angle
Option 2 ($$)
CHIRP or Down Imaging Ice Fishing Electronics
Humminbird Helix 5 or 7
These graphs are the same fishing electronics you have mounted on your boat or kayak and you can even take those same graphs off, plug in a different ice transducer, and head out onto the hard water without buying a new graph. These combo units are excellent for the budget-minded year-round northern angler who wants to remain versatile, have more than a basic flasher, and minimize the amount of gear taking up precious space in the garage. Even if you do want to have a separate unit for ice fishing, these graphs are my top choice for function versus price. Many units are full of features that can be used both on the water or on your ATV or snowmobile, and they are half the price of the latest and greatest tech. These units usually feature a slightly slower signal return than the flasher models, but the difference is very small which really puts the focus on the extra benefits these types of electronics provide.
Features multiple screens with both flasher mode and down imaging sonar mode
Sonar/down imaging mode relays both real-time and history
Lake maps integrated
Combination use providing year-round function with the addition of a few accessories.
May have slower signal return speed than other types of models
It may be out of some people’s price range
Option 3 ($$$)
The cream of the crop is by far the new technology that Garmin released a season or two ago featuring live imaging 3D sonar. This technology lets you see in real-time what your bait is doing and what is going on around it. Not only can you see the action, but the field of view is also giant (100 horizontal feet!). On a small pond, this technology would potentially allow you to see the entire fishable area and where exactly the fish were hiding. The videos pouring in all over the internet are truly incredible. They also now have this same technology for open water applications on boats. It really is the next level. However, the price tag may be a bit more than the average angler wants to spend.
Field of View
Real-time in 3D
Combination use with year-round functionality
Accessories may be needed like a transducer mount
4. Ice Fishing Thermal Shelter
Another essential upgrade for anyone looking to increase their comfort and time on the ice is a thermal shelter. Ice shelters can be of two types; hub and flip-over. Whichever style better suits your fishing needs, it is very important to spend the extra money on the thermal version of these shelters. Some companies offer non-insulated ice shanties or shelters and they do not have the all-season functionality of a thermal-lined shelter. Thermal lining is often measured in hundreds of denier fabric and the larger the number the more insulated and ultimately warmer the shelter.
For example, a 900-denier fabric shelter will be warmer than a 200-denier fabric shelter. The thermal shelters will also cost a bit more than non-insulated shelters but will easily last many years with proper care. As far as brands go, typically Otter is considered top of the line, but Clam, Frabill, and Eskimo all make competitive products. Some big factors to consider when purchasing either style hub will be total fishable area, number of anglers, total weight, and height inside the shelter after it is set up (can you stand up in it if you desire?). All of these factors will have varying importance based on your preferences, but make sure to consider them before you buy.
Hub Style Ice Fishing Shelters
The hub style shelters are the kind that look and function as a pop-up tent with stakes that screw into the ice.
Typically cheaper than flip-overs
Usually offers larger interior space for bigger groups or families.
More time consuming to set up
Require a separate sled or to be carried your back for transport
Less mobile once setup
Flip-Over Ice Fishing Shelters
The flip-over styles are great for convenience and mobile anglers who want to easily move from spot to spot on the ice. Flip-over shelters feature a built-in sled and the shelter pops up or flips over the seated anglers in the sled. All your gear fits in the sled, so when you are ready to move you simply flip the top back over, and off you go.
Very mobile setup for anglers who like to move around
Easy to set up
Easy to carry gear
Heavier than just a pop-up shelter
Limited vehicle portability (does not fit in the back of all vehicles for transport to and from ice)
Ice fishing can still be a ton of fun with just a bucket, hand auger, and a pole. However, if you are ready to create a new season of memory-making adventures for you or your family now is the time to consider these upgrades. All the gear mentioned should last several years with proper care and can really streamline your production and enjoyment. No matter which gear you decide to upgrade, get outside and start making new memories out on the ice!