In an “Outside” column a few years ago I described myself as an “old-school ice fisherman”—a guy who dug holes with a spade, checked the depth with a weight attached to an alligator clip, and he fished from a deck. chair on ice
No underwater cameras, Vexilar fish finders, power drills or heated shelters for me. I liked my fishing uncomplicated.
Things started to change when I did a story last winter about Joe Hartoon and DJ Goines, who actually camped out on the ice overnight.
Fish finders, electric ice bars, underwater TVs – these guys had all the bells and whistles. I had to admit it looked pretty good.
This winter, I decided I needed to do more research. I joined John Knapp and DJ Goines on Lake Mitchell to see what ice fishing was like in the 21st century.
Let’s start with digging holes. In the past half dozen years, the electric auger has overtaken the gas auger as a favorite among anglers.
John attached his DeWalt power drill to the shaft of his auger, turned it on, and his 8-inch bit bored through a foot of ice in about five seconds.
John noted that, “Your electric drill needs at least a 20 volt battery and it needs to be brushless. On a single charge, I can cut 25-40 holes depending on the thickness of the ice. The blade will probably never need to be sharpened.” added.
After digging several holes, John unrolled his MarCum TV camera and dropped it down the hole. Many anglers set up a camera in one hole and sit watching the screen while fishing out the other.
John noted that “Fish are curious. They swim up to the screen to check it out. One time a bass came up and inhaled the camera. Then it spat it out. Another time a big northern charged towards it. The I pulled out quickly. I didn’t want them to cut the line or open her mouth to get my camera back.”
John noted that on a lake like Mitchell, he can see about 10 feet and gets about 5-6 hours on a single battery charge.
As John moved around digging holes, he kept looking at his phone. Working from a Navionics app, he was able to see the contours of the lake floor as he walked.
John said, “I have it set to shade all areas over 11 feet deep and since most weed growth stops at about 10 feet, this app helps me locate the edges of the weeds and the falls.” I noticed that the screen was dotted with colored dots, indicating points he marked from previous trips.
Outside the DJ’s ice tent, I noticed a platform holding an arched rod over a hole.
According to DJ, it was a “Celsius Jaw Jacker Automatic Hook Setter and Rod Holder”.
When a pike or walleye grabs the jaw below the ice, this triggers the Jaw Jacker release and the rod pops up setting the hook.
“It’s so much fun to watch that cane jump,” said DJ. “When you pick it up, you can feel the full force of this fighting fish because it’s right under your feet.”
“Let me show you what we cook for the night,” DJ continued as he handed me a small plastic box called Blue Tipz.
“Let’s add these to our suggestions for the night,” JP said. “When we get a flag, we see the blue light on our tip and a signal is sent to our phone. Here, I’ll show you,” he continued, my phone is in the tent over there. Watch what happens when I rip the sensor.” As he did, a loud voice called out from the tent, “Tip Up.” “We don’t even have to look outside to know we’ve got a fish,” DJ added.
I noticed a hard plastic case sitting on the DJ sled that was big enough to hold a baritone sax.
He opened it to reveal several ice bars all equipped and each with its own foam splitter. Ice bait boxes lined the sides.
The box, made by Flambeau Outdoors, was the most luxurious tackle box I had ever seen and a huge improvement on my mess of baits housed in my gear boxes that sat with my ice rods in the bottom of my sled.
I learned a lot in the afternoon with DJ and John. And it cost me some money. I now have an ION power drill, the first new drill I have ever purchased.
After using it these past few weeks, I don’t care if I never have to drill a hole again.
Looks like this old school ice fisherman is on his way to becoming a 21st century fisherman.