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OUTDOORS: Modern toys for ice anglers

| January 28, 2021 12:00 AM

The other day I was checking out my ice fishing gear in preparation for another ice fishing outing. My fishing success on my last trip was hampered by the above average January temperatures which made the thin ice cap on many local lakes even less safe.

I didn’t want to venture far from shore on thin ice. The recent night temperatures in the low teens, was welcomed by ice fishermen like me. I like a minimum of 6-8 inches of good solid ice.

Many lakes have subtle currents and springs, so ice depth can vary on any lake. I like to swim, but not in January dressed in heavy winter clothing. So, I am very cautious.

As I was checking my fishing gear, I noticed a newer piece of equipment, the Jawjacker. Now you might ask, what the heck is a Jawjacker?

The Jawjacker is a relatively new mechanical ice fishing device with a spring-loaded trigger that will automatically release your bent rod tip, setting your hook when a fish bites.

Montana angling laws allows fishermen to fish with two lines. So, most anglers will drill two holes in the ice and fish with two lines set several feet apart.

But an angler can easily only hold and tend one rod, so a bite on your second rod will more likely catch a fish if you use a Jawjacker. This will increase your overall fishing success.

Also, in my ice fishing sled is my Vexilar fish finder, several fishing rods, ice auger, ice skimmer, under-water camera, tackle boxes, folding chair and propane heater.

If you want to go really deluxe, your ice fishing sled will have an attached canvas/plastic ice fishing shelter that pops up easily, giving you an on-ice shelter from the cold.

Newer shelters are insulated, so with your stove on, you can ice fish in your shirt sleeves.

If you ice fish in the Upper Midwest or Eastern Montana, where winter temperatures get sub-zero for weeks, the ice can get 2-4 feet thick. In these areas, winter anglers drive their cars and trucks on frozen lakes.

When you can drive on a frozen lake, local fishermen use what they call “ice palaces” for fishing. Ice palaces are nothing more than a winterized recreation trailer with wheels that jack up.

Ice palaces, like any other RV can be driven down the highway at highway speeds. Upon arrival at the lake of your choice, simply drive down the boat ramp onto the frozen lake.

Then use your truck, usually with four-wheel drive, to haul your ice palace to your favorite fishing hole and detach your RV or ice palace. Ice palaces have a cranking device that raises the RV wheels up into the RV.

With the wheels cranked up, your RV or ice palace floor will be resting flat on the lake ice. The well-appointed ice palace will be equipped with an electric generator and propane.

Going inside, your ice palace will look like any other RV with comfortable chairs, table, sink, propane cook stove, propane heater, bathroom, bunks, electric lights and TV. The only difference is that your ice palace will have several round holes in the floor. Remove the floor covering over the holes and you will see the lake ice.

Then simply drill a hole in the lake ice, throw the ice shavings outside and start fishing. You can ice fish in your shirt sleeves. Using a Jawjacker, you can even catch fish while you nap or watch a football game on the TV.

Whoever said ice fishing was only for rugged outdoorsman?

Do all these modern conveniences make you a better fisherman? The answer is sometimes yes!

When I first moved to the Flathead in 1977, I heard about the good winter fishing on Lake Mary Ronan. My friends at work said the kokanee were biting in 30 feet of water.

So, on the next Saturday, I, along with my wife, two sons and friend, Dick Walker, headed to Lake Mary Ronan.

We had never fished this lake, so we drove around to the far side of the lake, ventured onto the ice and drilled test holes until we found 30 feet of depth.

We baited our lures and started fishing near the bottom in 30 feet of water. Fishing was slow. We probably caught about one fish every 15 minutes, just fast enough to keep us in that spot.

Then I got an idea. Why not set up my new electronic fish finder! I set up the fish finder transducer in my ice hole. Immediately, the fish finder showed a school of fish at 15 feet of depth. Then a second school came through at 15 feet.

I cranked up my lure from the 30 foot depth to 15 feet. Bang, I immediately caught a nice kokanee. I dropped by baited hook back down to 15 feet and immediately caught a second fish.

So, all my fishing crew brought their lures up to 15 feet. Long story short, we couldn’t keep the kokanee off our lines.

Back then, the kokanee limit was 20 fish. Within the hour we had our limit of 100 kokanee, plus one lonely rainbow. I had a five-gallon bucket that was overflowing with fish.

That ended a great day of fishing that was successful because of my new fish finder.

So, with a thicker layer of good lake ice and some modern equipment, it’s time to get out and enjoy a little ice fishing.

Good luck!