To be incredibly obvious, one of the unique things about ice-fishing is, well, the ice. An angler stands on the ice, and the fish are literally below your feet. To get to those fish, you have to have some specialized gear to make a hole.
I once watched three new ice anglers set out to make holes using a tire iron, axe and post-hole diggers. After an hour of furious, but futile effort, they still had not one hole in the ice. For any job, using the right tool makes it a lot easier. Fortunately, there are a lot of tools that can be used to make holes in the ice.
Most anglers will start in the ice-fishing game without spending a lot of money on ice augers. An ice chisel or “spud bar” is the cheapest tool that can be used to make holes in the ice. In addition, spud bars are the best tool for checking ice thickness. For safety alone, I recommend every ice angler invest in a commercially-made spud bar or turn on the welder to make their own.
However, stepping up to a hand auger makes hole-drilling a lot easier. Hand augers also are relatively inexpensive, but understand the saying “you get what you pay for” often applies to fishing gear. Spend what you can afford.
When buying a hand auger, make sure to get one with replaceable blades. You want those blades to be razor-sharp and you will want to be able to replace them easily when they dull.
Hand augers come in a variety of sizes. Some anglers will go as small as a 4-inch diameter hand auger, but 6-inch hand augers are much more popular. Keep in mind that the larger the diameter the more effort required to drill holes.
For hand augers, I would not recommend going any larger than 6-inch diameter unless you only plan to drill a handful of holes.
If you see the need to drill more holes, there are several power auger options. All of those will cost a few hundred dollars, but they will drill a lot of holes with a lot less effort.
Which power auger is best depends on the angler, their budget, and needs. There are several reputable brands on the market that will do the job. Options now include electric models, including augers that can be powered by a cordless electric drill that you may already own. Other power augers are fueled by propane or gasoline. Again, with sharp blades they will all drill a lot of ice.
Most anglers will jump to a larger diameter hole with a power auger. Eight-inch holes are most popular, and 10-inchers are the largest legally-allowed on public waters in Nebraska.
Be sure to consider the type of blades on power augers. Cutting blades shave ice and rely on being razor-sharp.
Chipping blades also must be sharp but chip ice as much as they cut. Some Nebraska waters, especially those in the Sandhills, can have sand and soil frozen in the ice and that can dull auger blades. Chipper blades tend to work better in those conditions.
Dress warm, be safe and have fun on the ice this winter. For information on ice-fishing safety, watch a video at outdoornebraska.gov/howtofish.
Anglers can learn the basics of ice-fishing or pick up a few new tips from experienced anglers at virtual Discover Ice-Fishing clinics on Jan. 16 and 19. Game and Parks Commission and the Nebraska Fish and Game Association will host the classroom clinics via Zoom. Register to attend one or both sessions by going to the calendar event entries at calendar.outdoornebraska.gov.