October 23, 2017
By Matt Straw
According to the Wall Street JOURNAL, alternative energy is "the fastest growing segment of the American economy." A 2017 Business Insider headline proclaimed, "Alternative Energy Jobs are Growing Twelve Times Faster Than U.S. Economy." And it's changing the way we ice-fish.
Rejection of fossil fuels is sweeping through the ice world, not for political or environmental reasons, but because it makes sense. Americans spent $260 million on ice-fishing gear in 2012, a 10-percent increase over 2011, according to the American Sportfishing Association. Many companies noted that sales of ice gear climbed faster than tackle for open water. New companies making shelters, rods, electronics, and augers are popping up all over, creating new jobs.
The ION Electric Auger was first revealed years ago, with the goal of not being simply an alternative, but outperforming gas augers. Over the years, ION increased the efficiency of their electric augers. This year's ION X ($649.99) boosted performance 60 percent, cutting holes faster than most gas-powered units.
Efficiency is the reason. The ION X cuts 1,600 inches of ice on one charge — best among electrics and power-drill alternatives. One reason is its new cast bottom. "A cast bottom has perfect symmetry," says Grant Larsen, product development engineer. "That ensures both blades are cutting the same amount of ice. Welded units can have some distortion, meaning only one blade is engaged on the ice, which reduces efficiency. In addition, planetary gear transmissions and brushless motors cut weight and direct more power to the shaft, reducing power demand. Our new 5-amp-hour XC lithium-ion battery also has 60 percent more capacity than any previous lithium batteries."
According to the marketing department at ION, sales have increased dramatically every year since inception. The ION X weighs only 22 pounds — 8 to 12 pounds lighter than most internal-combustion augers. Reverse gearing, another key feature of the ION X, allows you to "flush the slush" back down the hole — great for in-house duty where ice shards and slush can pile up. This attractive feature is spreading through the alternative-power universe of augers.
The K-Drill ($199 to $229) also drills in reverse as all power drills do. It's one of the hottest selling items in the ice-fishing world. Anglers first purchase an 18-volt power drill with a 1/2-inch chuck. Tom Zenanko of K-Drill recommends a DeWalt 20V Max ($149) or Milwaukee M-18 Fuel ($149) brand cordless hammer drills, which have attachable handles for easy operation. "The K-Drill auger bit is designed for 500 rpms," Zenanko says. "That's the difference between our drill and buying a manual auger bit, or one designed for gas power with an adapter for a power drill.
"We offer 6- and 8-inch packages that include everything you need except the drill. It weighs about 9 pounds with the drill. Buyers have been focused on this weight factor. Thanks to a blend of technologies, you can drill a hole with one hand and kids can drill holes with a K-Drill under supervision. It has a chipper blade so it cuts through a refrozen hole like butter, without jumping.
"Redrilling a frozen hole in your ice house is easy and pleasant with no fumes," he continues. "Put the drill in reverse and flush everything down the hole. Sales off the K-Drill are up 1,000 percent since the first year and expected to rise further this year. This project was seven years in the making and we're seeing it blossom into something special."
Chris Beeksma, owner of Get Bit Guide Service in Iron River, Wisconsin, has been using a K-Drill for years. "It's awesome," he says. "I carry an extra battery but I've never needed to use it. Even with the new 8-amp batteries, the whole package weighs less than 10 pounds. I can cut through 14 inches of ice in 8 seconds and be on to the next hole. It drills a total of 500 inches per charge with a Milwaukee M-18 Fuel cordless drill."
The Clam 8-inch Auger Conversion Kit ($249.99) is new this year, featuring a gear box that doubles the torque of your power drill, producing a 2:1 gear ratio. This kit includes an 8-inch auger bit, a drill plate, aluminum frame with handles, and everything you need except the drill. The Clam Auger can drill with up to 9-inch blades. The gear box is easily attached to the Clam Drill Plate and weighs 18.65 pounds. Test results are in, and the new Kit (using a Milwaukee Fuel Drill) cuts through 600 inches of ice with an 8-inch auger and 480 inches with a 9-inch auger on a single charge.
Walleye pro and ice-fishing educator Mark Martin went all-in on alternative power with the appearance of the StrikeMaster Lithium 40v. "I go electric now," he says. "Gas is stinky, you have spills, need extra gas cans, and the fumes get to you after drilling 20 holes without stopping. You can charge electric units as you move between spots. I charge mine with the cigarette lighter on my 4-stroke snowmobile. Even when it's fully charged I keep it plugged into a charger in my pocket. Those lithium batteries are great. Propane has become popular but is doesn't flow below -20°F. And those augers weigh more.
"Electric augers drill as many holes as you want when fully charged. I've never seen a StrikeMaster run out of power when it was fully charged and the battery was in good shape, so I don't even carry an extra one." That's saying a lot, as Mark Martin's Ice Fishing Vacation Schools, now in their 29th year, require lots of holes. "Our augers have to cut holes for dozens of people sometimes, and they've never let me down. Once you experience the hassle-free nature of it — no gas or propane cans — you don't want to go back. And I appreciate how light the StrikeMaster Lithium 40v is."
One form of alternative energy is old-fashioned muscle power, and manual augers are making a comeback for several reasons. Technology has improved the efficiency of many new models. Less force is required — the best new hand augers don't require help from body weight or upper body strength. Just turn the crank. Such drilling can still be tiring when ice is thick, but more efficient blades and new convertible units make hand augers logical choices. If a cordless power drill breaks down or batteries fail, attach the manual handle and get back to fishing.
The Nils Master NILSUSA Cordless Convertible Folding Auger (4.5- and 6-inch blades) can be converted into a cordless drill auger by removing the handle and attaching a drill — no need for a conversion kit. It folds, taking up less than half the space of a conventional auger, and has a welded disk to prevent losing bits down the hole. Nils' handmade black "slick" cutting head is designed to produce less resistance when drilling with a cordless drill. Brian Casavant, national sales manager for Nils, says it cuts 700 inches of ice on a single charge and sells for $159. It's a handsome, efficient package for foot soldiers pulling a sled or portable.
Perhaps the simplest option for conversion fans is the Nils Master UR600C Cordless Convertible Auger. The chuck fitting is already in place on top of the auger bit. Just unscrew the manual handle, fit your 18-volt power drill on top and tighten it down. It comes with 4.5-, 6-, or 8-inch diameter bits for $128.95.
Another folding unit is available this season — the HT Enterprises Nero Russian Ice Auger, which folds to 25 inches. "Designed, tested, and relied on by Russian competitors in European ice tournaments, these high-performance Nero Augers rip through ice like no hand drill you've used before," says Ken Grahl of HT Enterprises. "Neros feature rugged, non-chip, ultra-sharp 60G-rated hardened steel blades that easily open old holes and even cut through sand-laced ice without dulling. Offset handles increase torque and overall cutting power." The Nero is available in 5-, 6-, and 7-inch diameters. It comes with ($89.99 to $99.99, depending on diameter) or without ($74.99 to $84.99) an Auger Kit, which includes a 22-inch auger extension and an adapter tool for hooking up a rechargeable drill. Kits have height settings of 44 and 53 inches.
The Lakco Nimrod Ice Auger Adapter ($19.99) provides one of the least expensive ways to get into a new power auger. It adapts any hand-auger blade to an 18-volt cordless drill with a 1/2-inch chuck. Derek Vekich of Lakco says he uses it with Strike Master, Eskimo, and Nils Master hand-auger bits. "Just take the handle off the hand auger," Vekich says. "Sales of the Nimrod have surprised me. After a couple years of selling about 5,000 per year, I expected it to slow down. But they keep selling. People are hunting for easier, lighter, more environmentally friendly alternatives to gas augers. We also make a Smart Handle attachment for power drills that provides more leverage."
StrikeMaster's Cordless Drill Adapter ($19.99) fits a 3/8-inch chuck. It works with any StrikeMaster Lazer LD or LSU Synthetic ($84 to $99) hand drill. With Lazer hand drills, choose between 4-, 5-, 6-, 7-, and 8-inch diameters weighing 5.5 to 8.5 pounds. The 4- and 6-inch sizes can be fitted with Synthetic Ultra-Light Blades ($47 to $49), which shred ice easily. These new StrikeMaster hand drills are designed for comfort, speed, and precision. Chrome-alloy stainless-steel blades are razor sharp for effortless drilling. Handles are adjustable from 48 to 57 inches and cushioned for comfort and ease of operation. And the auger breaks down into two pieces for easy transport and storage.
Anglers considering convertibles should check Eskimo's Silvertip 8-inch Hand Auger ($84.99). CNC-ground curved blades slice through ice effortlessly. Silvertip blades are made of high-carbon martensitic steel, the same kind used to make top-quality knife blades. The pommel handle facilitates quick, easy turns and the Eskimo blade protector extends the life of the blade. A cross-bolt takedown system prevents over tightening when you drill, an advantage over other 2-piece hand augers.
These are the some of the easiest, fastest, most efficient hand-augers ever. And we can drill dozens of 8-inch holes with 18-volt portable power drills weighing 10 to 18 pounds. Some new electric augers can cut two to three times as many holes on a single charge for a few pounds more. It appears The Wall Street Journal was right: "Alternative energy is here to stay."
*In-Fisherman Field Editor Matt Straw, Brainerd, Minnesota, is an avid ice angler who's always looking for greater efficiency and mobility.