I’ve lost or broken a ton of ice fishing gear, either dragging my sled to the lake or pulling it behind a snow machine or Can-Am way out across uneven ice. The mix of heavy and/or sharp equipment with fragile rods and electronics is simply a recipe for disaster.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Even if you’re a passive ice angler, a quick trip to the hardware store and an afternoon in the garage will make a world of difference for the durability and longevity of your gear. These modifications cost us less than $50 and took less than half an hour to complete.
Eye Bolts & Bungees
Most issues with gear damage stem from stuff jumping around in your sled. So, one of the most important things you can do is to strap that stuff down. I added eye bolts at intervals along the sides of my sled in order to run bungee cords between them to hold gear in place. These bungees also allow you to secure a tarp on top of your gear to keep the sled from filling up with snow thrown off snow machine tracks.
I bought eight eye bolts with 1 ½ inches of thread, along with matching nyloc nuts and fender washers, to install at intervals along the outside lip of both long sides of the sled. Measure the length of the sled and divide by four to find your spacing. Then, drill holes at the desired interval with a bit the same width as your eye bolts. Push the bolt through, add a fender washer to keep the hardware from pulling through the relatively weak plastic, then screw the nyloc nut down tight.
Install all your eye bolts then string bungee cords between them. Make sure the bungees are shorter than the width of the sled. I selected 24-inch cords for my 30-inch-wide sled.
It’s super handy to have several rigged rods ready to go at all times—and separated from each other to prevent the inevitable tangles. There are many ways to accomplish this task but there’s probably no better or cheaper material for rod holders than PVC.
I took a 6-foot section of pipe and cut it into 1-foot segments with a jigsaw. I drilled holes 2 inches from the ends, then six holes across the stern of my sled. Then I ran 4-inch bolts through the PVC, through the back of the sled, added washers, then tightened down nyloc nuts down just tight enough that they didn’t compress the pipe.
If these rod holders look ugly, it’s because I assembled and installed them in less than five minutes. Additional improvements could include slots in the tops of the pipe to hold reel stems securely, or a board across the back to keep all the rod holders parallel and upright.
Your auger is arguably the most important piece of gear for hardwater angling. It’s also likely the most destructive when shit goes sideways. First of all, it’s always a good call to strap on the blade protector cup whenever you’re traveling in order to keep your blades sharp and prevent them from gashing up anything within reach. If you’re towing behind a vehicle, it’s also best to keep the auger down low in the sled and strapped down with your bungees.
However, when you’re in the zone, dragging your sled and prospecting around, you’ll want to have your auger handy to punch hole after hole. It isn’t a great practice to set it (and all the slush it’s collected) on top of all your other gear. To solve for this issue, I added brackets to the bow of my sled to hold my auger for easy access.
At the hardware store I found these forked, coated brackets meant for hanging shovels or bikes on a garage wall. To attach I simply drilled holes on opposite sides of the sled down through into wood blocks that serve as backing plates. Screw the bracket into the hole, angle it correctly, then repeat on the other side.
Do-it-yourself projects and creativity and are a huge part of ice fishing culture and success. Try these mods and five more in this article to take your hardwater angling up a notch this winter.
Make sure to watch the latest episode of The Fur Hat Ice Tour as Janis Putelis and Jake Andrews attempt to spear lake sturgeon in Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin.