On the move
Forget the traditional ice hut. To catch more fish this winter, get mobile instead
Some of my fondest memories of growing up are from out on the ice. Every winter, my father would pull our hut out to a well-known spot for lake trout and set up shop for the season. The hut saw some good days, but overall the fishing was sporadic, with the lakers moving in and out of the area. And on some days, they wouldn’t move in at all.
As I grew up, my friends and I started venturing out and exploring on our own, and I quickly realized how limiting the family hut was. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade those childhood days in the hut for anything, but I soon found much more success by hunting for fish rather than waiting for them to come to me.
Since those early days of venturing beyond the hut, a lot has changed, but one thing remains true for my friends and me—our run-and-gun style of ice fishing continues to help us put more and bigger fish on the ice every year. Whether you head out on foot or use a snowmobile or ATV to enjoy the ice season, here are a few simple but important tips to help you also haul more fish through the hardwater.
Some anglers feel they’re at a disadvantage when walking because they’re not covering enough ice, but on many smaller bodies of water, that’s simply not an issue. And there are many times, especially at first ice, when I leave the snowmobile behind out of safety concerns. Whatever the case, the key to being an effective ice angler when you head out on foot is to stay organized and bring just the right gear for the task at hand.
First and foremost, a quality ice suit is essential for the run-and-gun angler. Now, I’m not talking about a heavy-duty outfit that will keep you warm in -50°C weather. Instead, all you need is a nice, light suit that won’t make you sweat to death when walking long distances. Moisture is your enemy when you’re trying to stay warm, so look for a suit that’s 100 per cent waterproof and breathable.
Next on the list are snowshoes. I didn’t start using them until a few years ago, and they’ve been a game changer ever since. The amount of energy they save me, even in snow as little as eight inches deep, is astounding. I wear a light pair of aluminum snowshoes and take them off once I arrive at the spot I plan to fish.
Another essential accessory is a set of quality ice cleats. Bare ice is not only a safety hazard, but the effort it takes to keep your balance and not slip will tire you out just as much as walking through deep snow. Cleats will keep you safe and leave you with the energy and confidence you need to keep moving all day.
We anglers are drawn to the latest technologies and tackle, giving us the terrible habit of accumulating more gear than we’ll ever use. Need proof? Take a look in your own tackle trays. Out of the dozens of lures you carry, how many do you actually use? Five or six? Me too.
For this reason, I’ve been trimming back and bringing only what I need for a specific outing, keeping the load as light as possible. Instead of packing two or three full trays of tackle, for example, I’ve found it much more beneficial to only take a few select lures in a four-by-six-inch tray. It’s small enough that I can even keep it in my jacket pocket. The same holds true when it comes to gear such as rods, flags and electronics—I only take what I know I’ll use.
To further help minimize the gear I take along when I head out on foot, I don’t pull a toboggan or portable shelter of any kind. I find they’re a huge burden when walking, especially in any amount of snow. If you were to pull a portable by hand, however, you’d want a lightweight sleigh with low, resistant runners and an extra-long tow rope. As for me, I pack everything in a small ergonomic backpack when I’m on foot, leaving my arms free to sling the auger over my shoulder.
When it comes to snowmobiles and ATVs, getting set up to run-and-gun takes a slightly different approach. While still focusing on keeping your gear organized and to a minimum, you also want to rig your machine to make setting up and tearing down as quick and easy as possible. How you trick out your ATV or snowmobile all depends on the style of fishing you’ll be doing. If you use a lot of trails to access back lakes, for example, you’ll require a more narrow set-up than if you were strictly running the lakes. Whatever terrain you travel, however, there are a few common things you can do to make the journey more efficient.
One of the best upgrades I’ve made to my snowmobile is adding a custom rack at the back to carry my one-man flip-over hut. For years, I towed my gear-filled portable hut, and I can’t think of a better way to torture and shorten the lifespan of all your equipment. Every bump and chunk of ice you run over does everything from rattling the paint off your jigs to denting your heater to jarring your electronics. Keeping your hut on the back of your sled avoids this, and it prevents your gear from getting covered in slush and the sled itself from getting bogged down.
Another easy but must-have upgrade for your snowmobile or ATV is a GPS unit. If you have a later-model sled or ATV with an electric start, it’s as simple as running positive and negative leads from your 12-volt battery to the dash and installing a mount for the unit.
If you already have a graph on your boat, use it on your snowmobile, too. And to save a lot of time on the ice looking for that perfect breakline or hump, spend a day in the fall to mark everything out from your boat instead. At the bare minimum, install a mount for your smartphone and download some mapping software, such as the Navionics app.
The final upgrade you should have for your machine is a good, durable auger mount. If you have an ATV, there are plenty of quality auger-specific mounts available; heavy-duty firearm mounts from Plano or Kolpin (below) also work well.
As for snowmobiles, the options are a bit more limited due to the lack of mounting locations. The best auger carrier I’ve found so far is from Digger Anchor. Simple in design, it keeps your auger secure and easily accessible when you arrive at your fishing spot. It’s also very easy to mount on almost any sled.
When it comes to organizing and tricking out your portable ice hut, the options are endless. With all the aftermarket accessories now available, in fact, any portables can be specifically tailored to how you fish. For the run-and-gun angler, flip-over-style huts are king, as they take less time to set up than other huts, and they can double as storage containers to transport your gear.
I like to set up my shack so that everything is at the ready and at arm’s reach when I get inside and pull down the canvas tip. Then all I have to do is pull out my rod from an easily accessible case, turn on my flasher, click on the heater that’s permanently mounted to the back of the hut and start fishing. And when I’m finished, the takedown is just as simple. Do all this and you, too, can focus on what really matters—catching fish.
Contributor Leavon Peleikis grew up ice fishing on the lakes of Muskoka, Ontario.