Ice Fishing on the Cheap Side of the Spectrum

Ice fishing can get to be a very expensive sport, but it does not have to be. When you start looking at the ads and catalogs and in the stores at ice fishing equipment, what you see mostly is the latest and most expensive equipment. Look at some of the things that the really avid ice fishers buy. A cheap shanty will run $200 or more, a heater for that shanty another $60 to $100, a power auger $400 and up, a sonar locater $600 or $700, and if you really want to find the fish, add a camera and that unit would be $1,000 to $1,200. We are already up to $2,000 to $2,500 and we still don’t have rods, reels, line, lures, skimmer, tip-ups or ice cleats. These are things that are needed. However, much of the other things are not needed.

Many years ago when I started ice fishing, all of this equipment was not available. That was many years ago. I am not saying that we should return to those times, but I do think that for the beginning ice fisher things can be a little cheaper. Back when I started, we made much of our own equipment, and there is still some that can be made. Our original rods did not have a reel on them, they were just a round piece of wood about 2 feet long with a tip-top at one end and a couple of pegs or nails to wind the line on. Once you set the hook, you bought the fish out hand-over-hand.

I no longer use that method, but still make my own rods. I simply get a handle from an old casting rod with the collet for holding the rod in and cut a piece off the tip end of an old rod and put it in the collet. My favorite reel used to be an old level wind casting reel with the level wind removed. These have become collectors’ items, so they are hard to find and expensive to use. I now use either inexpensive spinning or spin casting reels. However, you can buy rod and reel combinations for $15 or less so if you are not like me and love to tinker and make things, it is still not that expensive.

Do you really need a shanty? If you are just beginning to ice fish, or if you are now and have been an occasional fisher, you probably don’t. You can limit yourself to going out on nice days and brave the weather. Back when I made most everything, I had fashioned a sled that was just about the right height to sit on comfortably. I put stake pockets on each corner and had four poles tied to the sled. When the wind got too bad I simply put the four poles in the stake pockets and wrapped a tarp around three sides of my sled. That sled served me very well for years.

Ice augers have also changed since I began ice fishing. I did not even have an auger when I started. I opened all of my holes with a spud or ice chisel. That was not easy and I soon obtained an auger. I still use a spud, but only to reopen holes that have already been drilled. The auger I use costs about $40 and will last forever if you just replace the cutting blades once in a while. If you are a person who can go out fishing during the week, you would not really need an auger. Just go to areas where there are a lot of weekend fishers and reopen their holes with a spud.

You may want tip-ups and this is another item you can also make, and I used to. However, decent tip-ups can be bought for under $10, so I no longer make my own. Other things like skimmers can be purchased for under $10 so those too I now purchase, but they could be made if you wanted to. All you need for a depth finder is a weight to put on the end of your line and drop it in the water until it hits bottom and you will know how deep the water is. I use my rod as a measuring stick and pull the line up hand-over-hand. Since my rod measures three feet from tip to end of handle, I just keep track of how many lengths of the rod I retrieve.

Now all that is left to purchase is your line, lures and bobber. I prefer the on-rod bobber because the in-water ones freeze from time to time and are not as sensitive as the rod end bobbers. Line can be purchased anywhere from $4 or $5 and up. For lures, you can purchase several jigs and various other ice lures. It’s all a matter of personal preference. When you go out, you will need to stop at the bait shop and purchase some spikes, and if you are going to use tip-ups buy some minnows.

There is one other thing that I always suggest to people who ask, and that is to spend $20 to $25 and purchase a pair of ice cleats. These become especially important when there is no snow covering the ice. Cleats are a great safety item and worth the money. Another thing you will probably want is a sled to pull your equipment out on the ice. A 5-gallon bucket to sit on and to take your catch home in is almost a necessity.

So for the beginner or the occasional ice fisher, we can get on the ice a lot cheaper than the die hards. There is nothing wrong with the expensive equipment if you are going to get a large amount of use out of it. However, if you are short on cash or just like to make your own equipment (as I do), there are many things that can be done without spending a fortune. Many articles tell you that the only way to catch fish through the ice is to drill dozens of holes. You won’t be able to do that with a hand auger unless you are a lot more ambitious than I am. I have caught a lot of fish just out of three to five holes.

If you don’t want to make any equipment and want to get started, look at some of the sporting goods companies online. I found one company that offers an ice auger, a tip-up, a rod and reel with line, a rod holder, skimmer, several jigs, bobbers and depth finder for around $80. Add the cleats and you are in for about $100. That is less than half the cost of a cheap shanty and a quarter the cost of a power auger.

No matter how much you have to spend or what your preferences are, if you want to get into ice fishing or get back to it, there is a way. Go on out and enjoy.