November 01, 2013

The month of November is a busy one for outdoorsmen and -women. It’s the season of transitioning from open water fisheries to first ice. Equipment must be not only switched out, but what won’t be used for a while put away right as well the gear to be utilized soon properly prepped before storage.

Add to all the swapping out is the desire to be in the woods with bow or gun in hand rather than in the garage and getting organized. But changing over equipment correctly is a must. Unless you don’t mind throwing gear away and starting over every season.

I didn’t think you did.

It’s not that the taking out and putting away of gear is hard, or even extremely time consuming for that matter. Because when first ice, as well spring once again rolls in, everything will be tip-top shape and ready when you are. So not to worry, you’ll be back in the woods before you know it.

First of all, I must admit, I don’t really ever “store” my Lund Pro-V for the winter. That’s because I use it right up until the lakes have frozen over, and then am back at it the moment the ice thaws. Heck, there’s even the chance during a mild winter near my home in Michigan I may launch it in one of the major rivers or on the Great Lakes when the severe weather breaks.

Early fall is when I actually start the storage process; by adding fresh gas stabilizer to the tank, making sure the gasoline with the additive mixed in runs totally through both my 250-hp Verado and my 9.9 kicker Mercury outboards.

Having stabilized gas within the motor’s system keeps all gaskets and whatnot from drying out and cracking over the winter months. Also, I top off the tank and add the proper amount of stabilizer each and every time I use it after the initial mixing into a full tank in fall so as to ward off any open space in the gas tank, which is a source for condensation to collect during the drastic daily air temperature changes this time of year.

Towards the end of the fall season, I get my Mercury outboards tuned up by Matteson Marine in Shelbyville, Michigan. Technically, there’s never really much Matteson’s mechanics have to do but drain and refill the lower unit and crankcase oils (both are 4-stroke motors) and change out sparkplugs.

This is also the time I will check the motor’s props for any damage that may have occurred. If there’s even one ‘ding’, chip or bent blade, I’ll pop it off and get it reconditioned by a certified prop mechanic. Fall, by far, is the best time to get all this done as business tends to be slower this time of year.

Knowing his Lowrance Sonar’s battery was charged and Otter shanty fabric free from holes and tear, Mark Martin was ready for first ice the moment he set foot on the lake.

I also have the trailer bearings repacked with fresh grease. This insures there is no water in with them, which can freeze, expand and crack housings. And I make sure the tires have the proper air pressure within them, including the spare.

Once in my pole barn, I’ll unhook all wires to my Optima batteries, with the exception of the on-board charger’s cables, and then plug in the charger. This ensures the batteries are never draining while being stored, and, that a trickle charge is always at the ready when the power drops. Optima batteries have never let me down—ever—and have started my outboards and powered my MotorGuide trolling motors and Lowrance electronics without fail.

For those of you that own batteries that need extra maintenance, you’ll want to make sure your battery’s chambers are filled with the right amount of water (see your owner’s manual for proper amount). Just remember to use distilled water if they need topping off.

Another procedure I go through is to make sure all the storage compartments and livewells on my Lund are propped open, so as to allow airflow and keep mildew at bay. I’ll also do the same with any of my Plano tackle totes, so that the hooks on my lures stay rust free.

Any rods I won’t be using are stored vertically in Berkley rod racks, rather than leaning against the wall, which can bend them out of shape forever. I also make sure that any of my ABU Garcia reels that I won’t be ice fishing with have had their drags loosened so that the washers within don’t get warped out of shape.

Ready For That

One, Giant First Step

The first piece of ice-fishing equipment I make sure is in working order is my Otter portable ice shanty.

To tell you the truth, there is not really much to do here except to erect the unit and make sure mice haven’t chewed through the fabric of the walls while in storage. Although Otter shanties have a tougher outer “skin’ than many shanties on the market, a mouse can create havoc, especially if any damage hasn’t been discovered until the last minute, or worse yet, when you open it up while on the ice.

I’ll then lube the shanty’s extension arms with silicone spray, and make sure the unit’s tow bar is oiled in all the right places.

Next, I’ll prep my ice rods and reels; the most important step making sure the latter is spooled with fresh line. Berkley makes several lines specially formulated for ice fishing – Trilene Cold Weather and Trilene Micro Ice. Both stay soft in bitter cold temperatures and won’t absorb water. Berkley’s FireLine Micro Ice Fused Crystal and Original offer the utmost in ice-fishing superline sensitivity.

As soon as I spool fresh line onto my ice-fishing reels, I’ll then spritz on a generous portion of Blakemore’s Real Magic. This stuff is one of ice fishing’s best kept secrets. What it does is keep water from sticking to your line as you real in, thus wards off freeze ups in the spool. I also like to spray it liberally onto the guides of my ice rods so as to keep ice from forming on them, too.

One thing that’s often overlooked is the sharpness of the blade on augers and spuds. Even with my ultra-fast cutting StrikeMaster power and hand augers, I make sure the blades are razor sharp. Unknown to many is that light layers of rust can form on blades that were not oiled before storage in spring and dull even the once sharpest of metals. If the blades are dull, I’ll take them off and send them into the company for sharpening. StrikeMaster is very quick at getting them ice-slivering sharp and back in the mail to me.

One of my most important pieces of first-ice equipment in a high-quality spud, such as Frabill’s Ice Chisel; I use it for testing ice for thickness as I walk out. But even these heavy-duty tools can get dulled if they were mishandled. All it takes is a hand file to bring back the quick chunking tip back to tip-top shape, if needed.

This is also the time of year I make sure the batteries on my sonar and GPS is up to snuff. I hook up the charger now, just to make sure the battery is topped off. Now is when I upload (onto an SD card) any GPS positions I may have saved onto my boat’s Lowrance HDS-12 Gen 2Touch during the summer and download them onto my Elite-5 Ice Machine. Now I can walk right to some of my best spots in minutes without having to search for them for hours like in the past before GPS coupled with Navionics mapping programs.

Sure Footed

If you want to take advantage of the first-ice bite without missing a beat, then by all means make sure your equipment is ready to go.

It starts with putting away equipment you won’t be using properly, and then making sure everything in working order before stepping foot on the waterway.

Mark Martin is a touring walleye tournament professional who lives in Michigan’s SW Lower Peninsula, and an instructor with the Ice-Fishing Vacation/School. For more information about any of the equipment mentioned in this article, as well the Ice-Fishing Vacation School, go to his website at