From the November 2012 issue

Old School vs. New School Ice Fishing

By Walt & Poppee Matan

The beauty of ice fishing is you can make it as simple or as high tech as you choose. If your gear is simple—an auger, ice rod, a few ice jigs and bait—then you are an old school ice angler. Add a gas auger, tent, sophisticated electronics, ATV and you’re a new school angler. Let’s take a look at each of these guys and what you can learn from them.

    Poppee is basically an old school guy and he’s not afraid to mix it up on the ice. I’ve seen him take out locals with a black Ratso tied to a single rod. He’s beaten legendary ice anglers, who shall remain nameless, with an orange Rat Finkee globbed up with five wax worms... and then there was the time his reel broke and he hand-lined in a seven-pound walleye.
    His equipment is pretty simple: a five gallon bucket, 26-inch quick tip Frabill Ice Hunter Rod, a small box of Custom Jigs, a pack of wax worms and that’s it. He leaves Walt to do the drilling and he picks out the best fishing hole using his mental GPS.
    Poppee hits the ice as soon as it’s safe. With minimal gear he can tread lightly on two to three inches of ice. He is a shallow water angling specialist. This is no place for tents filled with heavy gear. The best way to start is to drill a series of holes in a weedy shallow bay or a channel off the main lake. In water three to eight feet deep, Poppee will fish each hole for a few minutes and then go back to the hot holes that he found fish in. It’s pretty simple and highly productive.
    By relying on his senses he can fine-tune his jigging motion for the action the fish prefer on a particular day. By having a minimum of gear it’s easy to stand, walk to another hole and start fishing. By having a small box of jigs, it’s easy to find his favorite glow Demon, chartreuse Gill Pill or purple Rocker. If you can learn anything from Poppee it’s keep it simple and you’ll catch more fish!

    Walt has too much ice tackle and gear. Everything new has to be tried. He has so much ice tackle and gear that he has to have an ATV to haul it around, even when he goes by himself. He had to get a trailer to haul the ATV and tent. This gave him more room to fill up the back of the truck with ice tackle and gear.
    Walt’s Arctic Cat ATV is equipped with baskets for tackle and gear and a hitch to haul the Frabill tent loaded up with more tackle and gear. Walt’s must-have items include a Humminbird Ice-55/385ci combo unit, which allows him to locate potential hotspots utilizing a LakeMaster chip of the lake he is fishing. Once a likely spot is found, a dozen or more holes are drilled with the StrikeMaster gas auger, which by the way has a six-inch blade for panfish and a nine-inch blade for gamefish. The holes are checked with the Ice 55, which is a five-color flasher that allows fish to be distinguished within an inch of bottom.
    Once on the spot, Walt’s Frabill Recon tent is opened up and flipped closed, and the heater is fired up. After setting up the MarCum underwater camera, pouring some coffee, grabbing a few rods, positioning the Frabill aerated minnow bucket, turning on the Humminbird flasher, getting the camera ready for catch-photo-release, pulling out a few jig boxes, adjusting light penetration through the tent windows, removing his heavy Frabill snowsuit jacket, switching from sunglasses to cheater glasses, Walt is ready to fish. While all of this is taking place, Poppee has caught a half-bucket of slab bluegill.
    One thing that Walt can show you is that if you want to learn how to ice fish, the best teaching tool is the underwater camera. If you want to see if there are any fish down below, pan the camera around and search. If you want to see how fish react to your jig, set the camera down a hole next to where you are fishing so you can see your jig.
    If you want to see how quickly a bluegill will suck in your jig and spit it out before your rod tip moves, check it out on the camera; it will amaze you. Finally, if you want to see how your Humminbird flasher shows your jig and the fish, then drop a camera into a hole next to where you are fishing so you can see the jig and then put the flasher transducer in the hole. Next, try to watch the camera and the flasher at the same time so you can see what’s really going on.
    Basically, having all the gear doesn’t make you a better fisherman—knowing how to use it properly does!

    It may sound corny, but everyone who goes ice fishing is a winner. From all our years of experience, here is one more point we’d like to make. Whether you are an old school guy or a new school guy, don’t buy cheap equipment. You’ll catch a lot more fish with a quality ice rod as opposed to buying three or four cheapo models. You’ll drill a hole a lot easier with a high quality auger. The same goes for ice jigs, tents, electronics and even live bait. Save your money and when it’s time to buy, buy the best. Finally, don’t buy live bait from a vending machine at a gas station; get the good stuff from your local tackle shop!

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