Tricked Out Ice Fishing Houses

Tricked Out Ice Fishing Houses

More and more anglers are enjoying the comfort and multimedia benefits of rigging their wheeled fish houses, such as this one by Custom Cottages.

Among a truckload of techie ice gear today, you still can't beat the 5-gallon bucket. You load it full of anything and everything—a few rods, bottle of Mountain Dew, scoop of minnows, a pile of panfish—and winter absolutely can't break it. It's got one beauty of a handle, too. And flip it over and take a seat.

I laughed several winters ago while watching some of the ice belt's most ardent panfish anglers compete in the North American Ice Fishing Circuit Championship. Here were dozens of anglers who had access to the top tricked-out ice gear in existence. Yet, shuffling from angler to angler and hole to hole, I spotted more 5-gallon buckets than flashers and Fish Traps. What's more, thanks to an impressive array of nuts, bolts, and brackets, many anglers had garage-rigged their sonar right to their bucket.

Where there's a need, there's always a way among ice fishers. Check Thorne Brothers' annual Ice Fishing Houses Modification Event. Each fall, the Minneapolis-based tackle retailer hosts a funky sort of preseason get-together that showcases some amazing portable shelter customizations. You can't believe all the multimedia mods—speakers, iPods, and other electronics paraphernalia, as well as sonar, lighting systems, underwater cameras, and GPS. Throw in a few rod holders, cup holders, and tackle and rigging stations. The only thing missing might be a recliner and remote control.


Teeter-totter style rod holders, such as the Catch Cover Multi-Flex, provide exceptional light bite detection.


Radical Rod Holders


Ice anglers are an inventive bunch. In recent years, we've managed to engineer some of the coolest gear in the entire fishing industry. Beyond the occasional flasher mounted on the beer keg, I'm thinking of products like the original Rock 'N Reel. I don't recall the name of the friendly Minnesota gentleman who invented this extraordinary rod holder nearly 15 years ago. I just remember that on the ice we all called him T-Bone.

T-Bone's Rock 'N Reel, whose design has been repeatedly mimicked, relied on the rod and reel's fulcrum, or balance point, to operate like a teeter-totter. Add an eyelash of extra weight to either side, and the device automatically tips up or down. The design apparently came into existence one night in response to a tough, super-technical walleye bite on Lake Minnetonka—a highly congested fishery near Minneapolis.

Cradled in the Rock 'N Reel holder, the faintest down or rise bite disrupts the rod's delicate balance, causing the tip to dip down or slowly levitate. It doesn't lock the rod into the holder, rather allows it to rest on a notched arm, usually balanced on the front reel stem. Each combo has its own balance point. The design is such that even jarring strikes never knock the rod off the holder. The resistance of a pulling fish pins the rod to the arm. A lightly set drag allows fish to peel line and self-set the hook. It's by far, the finest ice-rod holder I've ever used.


Original Rock 'N Reels were often custom built depending on how well you knew T-Bone, and featured multiple configurations that could be mounted inside portable shelters, on buckets, or as stand-alone versions for open ice. One of the freestanding versions (which I still use) bears this statement:

"Rock 'N Reel by T-Bone—Since 1999, the best way to ice the most finicky walleye. Built to last a lifetime and help you succeed! Not every one has one, but those who do, eat more walleye."

For deadsticking walleyes and other species, the design remains a light-bite detecting machine. Perhaps you can still find one on eBay, but these days, try alternatives like the Multi-Flex series rod holders from Catch Cover (catchcover.com). Offered both for portable (frame-mounted) or permanent wall mounting in a larger ice shelter, Multi-Flex holders sport snake-like adjustable arms that allow for numerous rod positions, while the free-pivoting rod cradle provides a similar balanced strike-indicator system.


For those who fish rattle reels, Catch Cover's Rattle Snake Reels have adjustable arms and a super loud rattle chamber. For motorheads, Expedition's Hot Reel rattle reel looks like a sporty automotive racing wheel with tire, rim, and valve stem, which serves as the trip-trigger. Not just for looks, the Hot Reel can be mounted permanently on a wall of a fish house, on a strut of a pop-up shelter, or you can use it as a free-standing unit on the ice (expedition-outdoors.com).

Pro Snake Camera Mounts are amazingly versatile options for rigging mini underwater cameras or Go-Pro style P.O.V. cams.

Tactical Camera Displays

Passing time in your ice shelter, it's easy to let your mind wander. Glancing at multiple LCD sonar, camera, and GPS screens, plus your rod tip and the hole all at once, it's not so hard to imagine a military style "Heads Up Display" sitting before you— fish bogeys and other radar-detected objects lying directly in your line of sight.

This past winter was my first using Aqua-Vu Micro underwater cameras. The portability and versatility of these systems allowed for easy rigging inside my Frabill Predator. Screwed onto an Aqua-Vu Pro-Snake Camera Mount with a standard threaded camcorder style base, the Micro and highly adjustable bracket clamp easily onto shelter frames. You can position it in an array of tactical positions. What eventually worked best for me was to clamp the mount onto one of the upper horizontal frames so the Micro monitor hung at eye level. The camera cable could then be stationed at any depth and easily manipulated by fingers or a panning device such as a Mo-Pod.

In addition to a sonar unit placed near a separate fishing hole, the Micro allowed for instantaneous viewing without sacrificing shelter space or convenience. Noteworthy, too, are dual sonar-viewing systems from MarCum Technologies, which offers its combo LX-9 unit and Vexilar, with their flasher-camera Fish Scout system.

Multi-viewing couples a mini underwater camera with a sonar, yielding multiple and simultaneous underwater perspectives.

Multi-Viewing

For realism, screen history, and other factors, I prefer LCD sonar over flashers on ice, and this past winter I used a Humminbird 597ci HD Combo. In addition to flasher and real-time sonar modes, the 597 features built-in GPS LakeMaster mapping for tracking your location on most lakes. It's a tremendous multi-functional ice unit, and one that provides diminutive yet critical screen details.

Ice industry innovator Brian "Bro" Brosdahl, who's fished Humminbird and Aqua-Vu for many years, this past season devised a system he calls multi-viewing. Using the same Pro-Snake bracket mentioned above, he mounts an Aqua-Vu Micro Plus DVR camera to the side handle of his Humminbird carrying case. When not in use, the Pro-Snake and Micro fold up and store inside the sonar bag. To view underwater, he pivots the arm and flips the monitor open.

"I like to multi-view to get the fullest understanding of what's happening down there," he says. "I use the sonar's cone angle as an early warning system showing me when fish move into the area. In shallow water, I down-view with the camera and watch each fish's reaction to my bait. In deeper water, I quickly switch to side-viewing to scan the entire area, or even up-view in dense vegetation. There are times when I don't need to use the camera, but it's always there yet never in the way."

The other benefit of multi-viewing, Bro explains, is the ability to grab the Micro cam and set out in search of fish. "The Micro has a little screw-in mount that allows quickly detaching and separating the two units. I can grab the cam—which has its own built-in power source—and go into rogue fish-finding mode on the ice. For that, the Micro is irreplaceable."

Shelter storage shuttles from Clam, Frabill, and Otter help organize and protect combos, tackle, and electronics.

The Bug-Out Bag

Grab-and-go also applies to interchanging units between shelters, ATVs, and full size trucks. Jim Edlund, another Central Minnesota ice junkie, coined the term "bug-out bag" to describe his system of transferring a sonar unit (or camera) between multiple platforms, including open water. Mounting different brackets from Humminbird and RAM Mounts on his snowmobile, truck, portable, and boat, he uses his Humminbird 597ci unit no matter where he's fishing or his mode of transportation.

The 597 features a quick-disconnect mounting system, allowing for instant swapping of units between different bases. In his truck and snowmobile, he pre-rigs the appropriate mounting bracket and adds a Humminbird cigarette lighter power adapter and a spare transducer, so all he has to do is disconnect and grab the monitor unit, and then click it into another mount.

A similar system of switching your sonar quickly between vehicles and shelters can be done with other units, including Lowrance, Vexilar, and MarCum. Edlund, however, says the quick interchangeability of his 597 is what sets his "bug-out" system apart.

The same program also applies to underwater cameras, such as Aqua-Vu's Micro, which sports the same female threaded base as a camcorder or GoPro. Using a Pro-Snake or similar mount, it's quick and easy to mount a Micro or a point-of-view (POV) cam to film the action—either above or below the ice. For shelter rigging, the Pro-Snake is the most economical option. For rigging cams in a permanent shelter, ATV, snowmobile, or truck, RAM Mounts offers options with threaded male ends and various bases, including suction cup for windshields or U-Bolt for ATV handlebars. Check rammount.com for options.

So far, I haven't seen a 5-gallon bucket mount on the market, other than the occasional homemade jobber. Nor have many companies been brave enough to try to improve on the classic ice fishing tote. If it ain't broke, why fix it?

Permanent shelter rigging offers abundant options, including wall-mounted sonar, underwater cameras, and entire big-screen TV/sound systems.

More Sweet Shelter Mods

The classic "ice boat" design sports a flip-over style tent and swivel seats. My current favorite is Frabill's Predator. From there, rigging your sled is all about matching the way you fish.

Clam's Jason Mitchell X shelters have an integrated baitwell, sled lights for illuminating the fishing area and charging lures, plus a power port for charging cell phones or running a GPS. Finally, an emergency tool kit facilitates minor repairs.

Other accessory mods improve vision, convenience, and fishability. Clam and HT Enterprises offer several LED lighting options, such as models that clip to the inner frame of your shelter. Clam offers a light and fan combo for air circulation. Frabill also makes a super bright Shelter Light Bar that clips to any shelter frame and runs on 6 AA batteries, as well as the Min-O-Life Bait Station sporting a rectangular low-profile design that fits snugly inside any shelter and provides aeration for hours. Meanwhile, for climate control, Mr. Heater still keeps fingers toasty without melting your boots.

Also available from Clam, Frabill, and Otter are various shelter organizers, hang hooks, and cargo nets. Frabill offers specialized Recon and Trekker Max gear shuttles for organizing and storing bait buckets, rods, tackle, and electronics. Otter's Sportsman's Caddy attaches to an Otter sled-rail and has built-in cup holders, bait tray, and tackle and electronics storage.

*In-Fisherman Field Editor Cory Schmidt contributes to all In-Fisherman publications and reports on tackle and equipment trends on ice and open water.

Action Lures, Clam, Northland

â–  Action Lures
actionluresllc.com - Tipup Live Bait Spinner Rigs come packaged with three spinner blades — Colorado, willowleaf, and an intermediate shape. Built on 20-pound braid, the rig has a bead stack, a glow bead, a quick-change clevise for blade changes, and a stop for adjusting blade and bead location. Comes with a #6 or #8 treble hook.
â–  Clam
clamoutdoors.com - Clam partnered with Bigtooth Tackle to offer rigs, including the new Zero Rig, which features a sliding treble-hook design and cradle for supporting big baitfish. Also available are the Bigtooth Rig, with a Y-yoke design sporting Holo colored blades and two #2 trebles, and Baby Bigtooth designed for smaller baits, with a weight and spinner mounted in-line above a #8 or #12 treble hook.
â–  Northland
northlandtackle.com - Predator Rigs feature Surflon stainless-steel wire with Baitfish-Image attractor blades and Blood Red VMC treble hooks. Available in single-hook and double-hook, Y-yoke harness design. Fluorocarbon Pike Rig is built on 15-pound Bionic Fluorocarbon leader material with a Baitfish-Image blade dangling above a VMC treble hook.

Action Lures

actionluresllc.com - Diamond Head Darters have faceted sparkling crystal-glass heads, available in 11 colors and 6 sizes from 1/64 to 1/4 ounce, with glow eyes. Dressed Tube Bait and Fuzz Grub models also are available.

Bentley Fishing

bentleyfishing.com - Hand-crafted for the professional ice-fishing circuit, the Fishing Stinger jig is touted as the company's most advanced crappie ice jig. With new sizes and colors, Marmoosha Stingers combine lifelike appearance, Swarovski crystal at the front of the jig, and a unique weight-to-size ratio. These tungsten jigs get down to fish quickly, and crystals reflect light in all directions. Available in 1/50-, 1/25-, and 2/25-ounce, and outfitted with premium Gamakatsu hooks.

Berkley

johnsonfishing.com - Gulp! introduces Waxies (75-packs) and Euro Larvae (150-packs), effective and durable alternatives to livebait. Available in both neon and natural colors, and lifelike details — berkley-fishing.com. Johnson Sprite spoon has a thin body for a darting and fluttering action, and is available in six sizes from 1/16 to 1 ounce in both natural and bright colors. The Splinter spoon, in five sizes from 1/12 to 3/4 ounce, has an assymetrical flat profile for a darting action and it's compact so it gets deep quickly. The SlimFish flutters on the drop and has the profile of a fish, and its elongated body makes it a natural for tipping with a minnow head. Johnson ThinFisher bladebait now comes in a 1/2-ounce version to accompany the popular 3/16- and 1/4-ounce sizes. The sonic rattle chamber emits a distinctive sound. It has three line attachment holes to change the intensity of the lure's action.

Clam

clamoutdoors.com - Clam Pro Tackle enters the ice lure market with the help of ice-fishing guru Dave Genz and introduces seven jigs in its Tungsten Drop Series, which can outrace leadhead jigs down to the fish. The Drop comes in five sizes and six colors, and the hook is positioned at a 45-degree angle for optimum hookups. Dingle Drop comes in two sizes (#12 or #14 hook) and is enhanced with a jewel hanging from a chain. Half Ant Drop offers a slow fall rate for finicky fish. The Swarovski gem mounted on the top of the Half Ant imitates a fish eye that sparkles with each jigging motion. The Epoxy, Ant, and Maggot are offered in six colors and multiple sizes. The Duckbill Drop has a prominent arching shape and set-back eyelet. The protruding bill forces the jig forward with each pop of the rod. The flat triangular front of the Blade Spoon, in 1/16-, 1/8-, and 1/4-ounce sizes, gives it a random fluttering action on the fall. The Blade Jig has the same body as the Blade Spoon, but it's molded onto a single hook, and makes a good deadstick option. The 1/8-ounce Speed Spoon is a jigging spoon with a chain holding a matching trailer hook adorned with a colored epoxy attractor. They come in single-hook and treble-hook models. The Bomb Spoon, in four sizes from 1/16 to 1/4 ounce, is compact and gets down fast, and the hook features an epoxy bead. In the hardbait realm, the Psycho Shad shad-shaped jigging minnow drops with a sepentine swimming motion. Rip it, let it drop, and repeat. Comes in three sizes suitable for panfish to larger predators. Clam partnered with Maki Plastics, maker of well-known ice-fishing mini softbaits, to offer five ultra-pliable baits — Maki, Spiki, Draggi, Jamei, and Polli. Selections range from simple stick shapes to more intricate designs featuring multiple appendages and tails.

Clam

clamoutdoors.com - Clam Pro Tackle enters the ice lure market with the help of ice-fishing guru Dave Genz and introduces seven jigs in its Tungsten Drop Series, which can outrace leadhead jigs down to the fish. The Drop comes in five sizes and six colors, and the hook is positioned at a 45-degree angle for optimum hookups. Dingle Drop comes in two sizes (#12 or #14 hook) and is enhanced with a jewel hanging from a chain. Half Ant Drop offers a slow fall rate for finicky fish. The Swarovski gem mounted on the top of the Half Ant imitates a fish eye that sparkles with each jigging motion. The Epoxy, Ant, and Maggot are offered in six colors and multiple sizes. The Duckbill Drop has a prominent arching shape and set-back eyelet. The protruding bill forces the jig forward with each pop of the rod. The flat triangular front of the Blade Spoon, in 1/16-, 1/8-, and 1/4-ounce sizes, gives it a random fluttering action on the fall. The Blade Jig has the same body as the Blade Spoon, but it's molded onto a single hook, and makes a good deadstick option. The 1/8-ounce Speed Spoon is a jigging spoon with a chain holding a matching trailer hook adorned with a colored epoxy attractor. They come in single-hook and treble-hook models. The Bomb Spoon, in four sizes from 1/16 to 1/4 ounce, is compact and gets down fast, and the hook features an epoxy bead. In the hardbait realm, the Psycho Shad shad-shaped jigging minnow drops with a sepentine swimming motion. Rip it, let it drop, and repeat. Comes in three sizes suitable for panfish to larger predators. Clam partnered with Maki Plastics, maker of well-known ice-fishing mini softbaits, to offer five ultra-pliable baits — Maki, Spiki, Draggi, Jamei, and Polli. Selections range from simple stick shapes to more intricate designs featuring multiple appendages and tails.

Custom Jigs and Spins

customjigs.com - Improving on one of the most productive ice spoons, Pro Series Slender Spoons come in new color patterns and sticky sharp VMC Spark Point treble hooks. Available in 1/8- and 1/4-ounce sizes, they have quick wobble and slow flutter on the fall.

Dynamic Lures

dynamiclures.com - The HD Ice is a hollow-bodied lure that produces a subtle rattle and vibrating action when jigged vertically. At 2 inches in length and 1/5-ounce and eight colors, it shimmers on the fall and attracts attention as it darts erratically to the side on the upswing.

Echo Pro Tungsten

ecoprotungsten.com - This company's exclusive line of tungsten products now includes Tear Drop Tungsten Ice Jigs. They're available in 0.8-, 1.6-, and 2.2-gram models with #12, #10, and #8 hooks, in 10 colors.

Expedition

expedition-outdoors.com - Expedition offers six new tungsten jigs, in multiple sizes and colors, including Power Glow, which gives 1 hour of glow. Fatso Grub with its rotund body sinks fast to reach deep fish quickly and excels for busting through vegetation. It's available in three weights from 1/64 to 1/10 ounce and three hook sizes, #8, #10, and #12. The BB Grub is a weight-forward design with a grub body and horizontal profile, also in three sizes (1/64, 1/50, and 1/32 ounce) and three hook sizes (#8, #10, and #12). The Plow Grub and Alien have aggressive darting motions due to their wide heads. The Alien even more so, with the line-tie positioned on a flat head. Available with #10 and #12 hooks, with weights ranging from 1/50 to 1/16 ounce. Rounding out the lineup are the Banana Grub and Slim Grub, both in a range of colors, hook sizes, and weights. Jigs are hand-painted, including Power glow colors, and baked with an epoxy finish.

Frabill

planomolding.com - Frabill teamed with Plano to design a new ice-fishing tackle bag. The impact-resistant, waterproof molded base of the Frabill Softbag withstands harsh conditions on the ice and keeps water out. A large mesh pocket on its back panel allows easy access to frequently used items. Inside, one 3650 box and three 3601 Plano ProLatch StowAway utility boxes keep gear organized. Built-in elastic straps help to secure it to a sled or ATV.

HT Enterprises

icefish.com - Expanding on their lineup of Marmooska Tungsten jigs, Dropper Jigs contain an added reflective crystal dangling from a dropper chain to attract fish. The slightly offset head and light-wire, small-barbed hook improves hook-sets. Made of tungsten, they easily bust through ice shavings in the hole, and sink quickly. Available in premium gold or silver colors and three hook sizes. For a vertically hanging jig option with a crescent body shape, try the Marmooska Tungsten Shad Jig. The attractive power of a fish eye is well known. Perch seem to have an obsession with eyeballs and HT's Marmooska Tungsten Eyeball Jigs play to this weakness. They glow in the dark, and their extra-heavy design delivers them rapidly to bottom-hugging fish. Available in multiple colors and with hook sizes of #8, #10, #12 and #14.

Jammin Jigs

jamminjigs.com - A 35-piece Perch & Panfish Kit contains their top-selling jigs in distinctive neon colors that are unavailable for individual purchase. Includes seven each of Neon Football jigs, a heavy bodied, quick sinking jig; Neon Shaded Teardrops for greater visual attraction in a vertical presentation; Neon Darter Jigs for a high action lure that kicks out to the side of the hole; and Standard and Neon Flathead Jigs for a horizontal presentation.

Koppers

livetargetlures.com - Kopper's LiveTarget Golden Shiner rattlebait is now available in silver/green color pattern, which replicates a golden shiner in clear to slightly stained water. It sinks quickly and rattles hard. Six ultra-realistic color patterns and 1/4-, 1/2-, and 3/4-ounce sizes.

Lindy

lindyfishingtackle.com - Lindy introduces the 360 Jig, designed to rotate and spin on a central wire axle. With a small diagonal wing on each side of the jig's body, the speed of the body's rotation is controlled by the jigging motion. As the jig spins on a bead at the base of the axle, the lure emits sound and vibration. Four sizes from 1/16 to 3/8 ounce and 12 colors. Lindy Toads are multiplying and gaining weight in 2014, based upon their new tungsten construction. Tungsten Toads hang horizontally in the water, and with a flat top they show better on electronics. Available with size #14, #12, and #10 hooks and 10 color patterns.

Northland

northlandtackle.com - Tungsten Fire-Ball UV Jigs have a UV finish, and the compact design positions the weight of the jig at the tip of the hook shank for more hooking power. New Impulse Stone Fly, Tadpole, and Mini Roundworm have Impulse scent attractant. Stonefly has a long torso, dual antennas, segmented body, and legs. Tadpole has an undulating fin-like tail, while the Mini Roundworm is a mini soft stickbait with egg sac for wacky-hooking. Macho Whistler has a whistling prop blade and beads in front of a slab cut spoon. The blade spins on the upstroke and changes pitch as the spoon flashes on the fall and centers itself under the ice hole. Buck-Shot UV Spoon incorporates a UV enhanced, optically brightened finish with a clicking rattle, while the Buck-Shot Glider Spoon features wings that cause it to dart and glide, along with a rattle.

Northland

northlandtackle.com - Tungsten Fire-Ball UV Jigs have a UV finish, and the compact design positions the weight of the jig at the tip of the hook shank for more hooking power. New Impulse Stone Fly, Tadpole, and Mini Roundworm have Impulse scent attractant. Stonefly has a long torso, dual antennas, segmented body, and legs. Tadpole has an undulating fin-like tail, while the Mini Roundworm is a mini soft stickbait with egg sac for wacky-hooking. Macho Whistler has a whistling prop blade and beads in front of a slab cut spoon. The blade spins on the upstroke and changes pitch as the spoon flashes on the fall and centers itself under the ice hole. Buck-Shot UV Spoon incorporates a UV enhanced, optically brightened finish with a clicking rattle, while the Buck-Shot Glider Spoon features wings that cause it to dart and glide, along with a rattle.

Northland

northlandtackle.com - Northland's pocket-sized Jig Wallet is convenient for for keeping jigs and small ice lures organized and at the ready. The soft-sided storage has a zip closure and inside mesh pockets, along with a removable foam insert to hold jigs and lures. Includes mini needlenose pliers.

Trigger X

triggerx.com - Trigger X hits the ice scene with seven miniature creature baits. The series includes the Trigger X Nymph, an aquatic insect and crustacean imitator. It has multiple lifelike appendages. Glow models emit light for 15 minutes on a single charge. The Flap Tail Grub is a 1-inch beavertail that displaces a lot of water and presents a large profile when viewed from below. Modify it by splitting or trimming the flat paddletail to mimic a wounded minnow. The Trigger X Minnow, Spike Worm, and Wax Tail resemble some of panfish's favorite foods. At 1 to 1.5 inches in length, they have dynamic action with even the slightest twitch of the rod tip. For an even tinier morsel, try the Trigger X Larvae. Choose between the 1/4- or 1/2-inch size to imitate eurolarvae in a wide variety of colors. To go wacky, try the Mustache Worm, which has a small round body for hook placement and two slender appendages extending from the body.

VMC

vmchooks.com - VMC has re-energized proven spoon designs with new colors, finishes, and patterns. The Flash Champ Spoon is brass with beveled edges and flat sides for flash, and comes in 3/4- to 11⁄2-inch sizes. The Rattle Spoon packs a big racket into a small package, in multiple sizes and natural, holographic, Ultra Glow, and UV color patterns. Thinner flutter spoon options include the Tingler Spoon and Tumbler Spoon. The wedge-shaped Tingler has a wide wobbling action. The Tumbler's torpedo-shaped body has a quick bend toward the end of the bait, causing it to tumble on the fall.
VMC also introduces five new ice jigs. The Larvae Jig and Wax Tail Jig incorporate Trigger X bodies onto jigs with sturdy VMC horizontal Power Gap Hooks. The Minnow Jig resembles something artfully crafted in a fly-tying vise. It has an elongated body accented with flash fibers at the tail-end and a large holographic eye at the head. The Tear Drop and Pug Bug jigs round out the new lineup.

Get Your Fish On.

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