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Cool Ice Fishing Toys That Work

Sunday, January 19, 2014
Wichita, Kan. — There’s little doubt I love my outdoors toys. My family has called the UPS van “the decoy truck,” and my fly fishing bag has more flies than some landfills.

A few hours of ice fishing with my buddy, Andy Fanter, left me with a desire to get into the sport, and some serious cases of gadget envy.

Fanter has been a serious ice fisherman for most of his life and has logged about a dozen trips this winter, though they’ve probably come to an end after last weekend’s warmer weather. He has caught, and mostly released, an estimated 600 fish on those trips — proof his cool toys work. A keeper crappie within five minutes of when he handed me a specialized outfit Thursday morning only increased my interest.

Here’s my wish list for next winter:

∎ Ice rods and reels — Bigger isn’t better with ice fishing, I learned. Fanter uses 24-inch rods about as thick as dry spaghetti and as sensitive as a broken toe. The shortness gets the angler closer to the hole, and keeps the rod tip close to better feel and see the light strikes of fish.

Fanter’s rods also have spring bobbers, which are basically like another eye on the rod that’s about as stiff as a human hair with a tiny ball on the end. Even my ancient eyes could see biting fish with those babies.

While tiny spinning reels, the size of a spool of thread, work, his new inline reels really caught my eye. With the line coming off the top of the spool, like a fly reel, they’re less prone to locking up in ice. Every turn of the handle raises or lowers the lure exactly one foot to help me know how deep I’m fishing.

My only disappointment of the special ice rods and reels was their price, because I’m gullible enough to often equate high prices with higher catches. Even good quality stuff like Fanter’s only runs about $60 - or about 1/10th the price of a really good fly rod. I guess when I don’t catch ice fish next year, I can blame the cheap equipment.

∎ Ice fishing locator — Electronics usually scare me, but this little box was pretty cool. Compared to a portable fish finder you’d take out in a boat, the ice-fishing models only read a narrow column of water a few feet, rather than yards, across. That helps provide some cool details.

Thursday, I watched lures on my line dropping down, by watching the locator’s dial, until they were amid the schools of fish. Several times the images of fish rising from schools to look at lures could be seen.

Fanter said several times last week, it showed him fish where he’d never think of trying, such as five feet below the surface in 30 feet of water.

At a few hundred dollars, such things aren’t cheap, but they would surely help find the fish. And the pretty flashing lights might hold my attention while I’m waiting for a bite.

∎ Lures — Ice-fishing jigs and spoons can be tiny, but more colorful than a new box of crayons. Some names are as flashy as the lures. What could be better than a box of things with names like Swedish pimples, macho whistlers or chartreuse/blue glow spots? And since Fanter swears color and lure styles can make a huge difference when ice fishing, I could spend hours shopping online for a variety when I should be doing something else in the summer.

∎ Ice augers — Most Kansas ice fishermen head to the lake with an eight -inch auger to make holes through which they can pull fish. Fanter has several sizes, and picks the auger to match the size of the fish (which means I could usually get by with a glorified corkscrew) and says smaller augers work easier when the ice is really thick, such as the foot-thick frozen flooring at Marion.

Maybe I ought to buy a couple. Most of the time I could use an eight-inch auger to cut the holes through which I could pour my dreams and money. In case I ever find a lake with some crappiesaurus rexs, I might get something like a 16-inch auger. I just have to make sure that bigger auger fits Fanter’s hands much better than mine.

∎ Non-slip boot attachments — These are a stretchable rubber frame that slips over the sole of a boot, with dense metal springs laced in between for traction. That’s a big deal for a guy who still carries the lump on the back of his head from a slip on ice as a child, and who still manages to take the occasional winter tumble.

When not ice fishing, I could even wear them to keep me from slipping and sliding at other places where I often fall, though I do worry the springs might scratch the flooring in our house.

Of course these are new things I want, versus things I need, to go ice fishing. Thursday morning a guy showed up with just a regular short crappie rod, no locator, only one auger, maybe a dozen lures and nothing special on his boots.

He caught more fish than me, but not nearly as many as Fanter.

But you know, if I had all of these cool toys long enough, I’m sure I would learn how to catch more fish. Even if I didn’t, at least I’d look like I knew what I was doing — when I really so seldom do.

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