January 12, 2023
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Not so long ago, ice-bearded anglers stomped the hardwater in clothing more suited to arctic military maneuvers.
Part Shackleton expedition, part Grumpy Old Men, these guys humped 5-gallon buckets of primitive, hand-over-hand jig sticks and wooden tip-ups through knee-deep snow, their steely eyes squinting toward shore. They triangulated rock piles and reefs from shore landmarks and with a stopwatch. Secret spots were shared via scribbles on bar napkins.
My, much has changed over the past couple decades.
High-quality ice-fishing rod-and-reel combos, lifelike micro-plastics, state-of-the-art GPS-enabled and forward-viewing fish-finders, high-tech clothing, lightweight shelters and snow-ready rides have made it easier than ever to locate and catch fish, while staying warm, dry, comfortable and safe.
Dress For Success
Nothing can end a day on the ice faster than being under-dressed for the elements.
The solution? Layering.
A middle layer of wool or fleece provides additional warmth and wind protection. Clam Outdoors Sub Zero base layer top and bottom, Blocker Outdoors layering garments, Cabela’s Outfitter’s Wooltimate WindShear or Simms base layers are all good choices. I’ve worn the same Cabela’s layering apparel for over 10 years, and it still keeps me warm. And yes, I have washed it once or twice.
Ice Fishing Suits
Today, nearly all ice fishing jackets and shells are made of a combination of Gore-Tex, Thinsulate, and a heavy nylon. Hollofil, PrimaLoft, and other high-tech insulation materials provide an even greater amount of warmth. Some models even come with pockets that accept hand-warmer-style pads or run off small, lithium batteries.
But don’t forget entirely about wool. It has its place. Virgin wool jackets and bibs from reputable, American-based apparel-makers like Johnson Woolen Mills and Filson still repel water and provide a ton of warmth. Expensive, yes, but something that is rugged and will last a lifetime. I still have a pair of Woolrich wool overalls that I wore for years before everything went high-tech. Quiet, too, so they still see action come late-season deer hunting and Canadian ice lake trout trips.
Choices from AFTCO, Blackfish, Blocker Outdoors, Clam Outdoors, DSG, Eskimo, Ice Runner, Norfin, Simms, Striker, and StrikeMaster are all designed with tons of pockets and other accessories specifically for ice anglers. And just about all the new ice fishing jackets and bibs on the market offer flotation, an important safety consideration for ice anglers who fish early and late ice.
Not only do bibs keep you warm and dry, they also provide padding in all the right places—like knees and seat—perfect for long stretches of fishing without a shelter, kneeling to read electronics and landing fish. Combined with base and middle layers, they provide great freedom of movement and create the total ice fishing apparel system.
In terms of affordability, Ice Runner’s Flotation Suit comes in at just $220 for jacket and bibs combined. My fishing buddy “Big Mike” fishes in a 3XL Ice Runner Suit and says it keeps him comfortable in temps down to -30. Available in youth sizes all the way to 4XL.
Although I wore Frabill suits for the past 15 years (their original black & gray Storm Suit was the probably the best ice outfit ever made), I’ve given my Frabill gear to buddies and decided to buy the Simms Challenger Jacket and Bibs for this ice season; after all, I’ve worn the same pair of Simms fly fishing waders for 15 years without any leaks.
The coldest I’ve had the Simms suit out in so far is -20, but it performed admirably. I was also out one day in foot-deep slush and the button and Velcro ankle guards on the inside of the bibs kept water from getting anywhere. The only downfall to the SIMMS suit is it doesn’t offer flotation, but that’s an easy fix: Simply wear a PFD during early- and late-ice. I wear the Minnesota-made Onyx camo manual inflatable PFD for open-water, waterfowl, and ice.
If you’re looking for one suit for duck hunting, late-season whitetail, ice fishing, and use as a rain suit, I’d look at Striker’s Climate jacket and bibs in Veil Stryk Transition camo with built-in flotation. Expensive, but eliminates the need for four separate suits. I’ve heard good things about the suit from experienced ice-heads like Mille Lacs Lake guide, Brad Hawthorne.
A Warm and Dry Sock System
When it comes to keeping your feet warm, avoid cotton at all costs. It absorbs perspiration and leads to frozen feet. A small investment in polypropylene moisture-wicking liner socks pays huge dividends. Slip these on underneath a heavy sock with the highest Merino wool content you can find. Over the past couple years I’ve been wearing Darn Tough hunting socks, which are 80% Merino wool, made in Vermont, USA, a feature a lifetime guarantee. Wiggy’s, manufacturer of the best sleeping bags on the planet, also makes a great bootie-style sock made of Lamilite that can be worm without a liner sock.
Top Ice Fishing Boots
Although everyone has an opinion on the perfect ice fishing boot, if there’s melting snow and slush, heavily insulated rubber boots are the deal. I’ve been wearing 100% waterproof 2000-gram Cabela’s Dura-Trax II Pro boots for years and they only cost $110. Great for slush up past the ankles and almost too warm, even in sub-zero conditions; great for waterfowl and late-season deer hunting, too.
Many anglers on the professional ice circuits have turned to the Norfin Klondike 2 for their waterproofing and warmth, as well as the boots’ built-in cleats. Korkers also makes a great ice fishing boot with removable soles for different applications, including cleats for ice and felt for cold-water wading. Haven’t tried either boot but they come on recommendation from hardcore ice anglers I trust.
And nothing beats the warmth and water resistance of G.I. “Mickey Mouse” or “Bunny Boots” if you can find existing surplus in your size. Heavy, yes. But built for the coldest, arctic conditions imaginable; they’re rated for -60. And waterproof, too.
Warm, Agile Hands
I’m constantly trying new gloves, but most are deficient in one way or another. I don’t know if it’s because most are made overseas, but the sizes are never accurate. And honestly, most are junk.
figure class="story-image no-margin-top no-margin-bottom">Fish Monkey gloves were designed by ice anglers for ice anglers.
After trying some of the latest and greatest, I’m back to two different glove systems for ice.
First, for ice fishing travel on ATVs, snowmobiles, or hole-hopping, it’s hard to beat a pair of old “choppers” with Grabber Mega Hand Warmers inside. Better still, find a little bit larger pair of choppers and wear a pair of fingerless wool gloves inside. When you’re ready to fish, simply slip off the choppers and drop a line. Get cold, just stick your hands back in the choppers with warmers. And the nice thing about wool is when it gets wet it still keeps you warm.
In terms of modern ice fishing gloves, I’ve finally found a pair that really keeps me warm and dry. Endorsed by Northern Minnesota veteran ice fishing guide, Brian “Bro” Brosdahl, they’re good to -30 Fahrenheit, probably even colder. Bro lent me a pair on the ice last year and I became an instant convert.
Made by a company called Fish Monkey, Yeti Premium Ice Fishing Gloves feature extensive waterproofing, are touchscreen capable, and, like I said, rated to -30 degrees. They also feature extended wrist gaiters to keep water, snow, and slush out. Definitely worth the investment of $89.95. I’ve spent more on delivery pizza for me and the kids.
When it comes to hats, there are a lot of products suitable for ice fishing. I like to carry a wool, pull-over facemask for traveling on wheelers, sleds, or my Snowdog. I’ve been using the same one for over 20 years and couldn’t tell you where I got it. Think it probably belonged to my dad.
I’ve heard good things about this micro-fleece facemask from Striker. Lighter than wool, I might just have to try one out.
In terms of lids, I’ve always worn simple, cheap, wool-and-fleece-based stocking caps. This one from Northland Tackle is warm and what I’ve been wearing lately. However, my sister gave me a Maine, USA-handcrafted coyote fur hat for my birthday that I plan to wear during sub-zero temps. It’s too warm for any fishing situation above 20 degrees or so, though. Looks like something Alaskan trappers would wear and has a lifetime guarantee. Definitely a hat that you’ll own forever—and a great conversation starter, like it or not.
Hope these ice fishing apparel picks help you stay warm this winter. Ice fishing is a heck of a lot more fun when you’re warm and dry. And with all of the products on the market, there’s a lot to wade through. The stuff mentioned works, give it a shot!