ICE FISHING MODIFICATIONS—CUSTOMIZE YOUR SETUP!
I love ice fishing, probably more than I love open-water fishing. I love not only the actual “fishing” part of ice fishing, but I also preparing for it. When it comes to gear mods for ice fishing, for me, it’s all about maximizing efficiency and mobility on the ice. Less time spent messing around with packing and unpacking your gear throughout the day equals more fish caught (and who doesn’t want to catch more fish?). Proper organization will also protect your equipment from damage.
SNOWMOBILE VEHICLE OF CHOICE
I am partial to snowmobiles for getting around on the ice. You get what you pay for, but pretty much any machine that is reliable and has a long track is a good platform for ice fishing. Many anglers use quads or side-by-sides on the ice, and most of the mods discussed here would also work well on these.
RIGGED FOR ICE FISHING-THE STORAGE BOX
Every snowmobile dedicated to ice fishing is improved by a storage box. I jam seldom used items such as extra cold weather clothes and hand-warmers, as well as a lithium booster pack (good for snowmobile or truck), Sno-bunge pull-strap, and survival kit in the bottom layer of mine. I have a 10 aH lithium battery wired to a small fuse panel, which powers several lights. A trap-door style floor separates the bottom layer of my storage box from the top.
On the top layer, I store my Lowrance (I will be experimenting with an HDS Live and LiveSight transducer this winter) and a Vexilar if I am taking friends lacking their own gear. My storage box is made out of plywood, which is relatively cheap and allows for easy attachments of other mods via standard wood screws. Tackle trays are secured to the interior sides via cargo mesh, reducing clutter. There is a hinged door, kitchen cabinet latches, and even red LED lighting that turns on when the door is opened (controlled by a magnet switch)!. Useful when I need to dig stuff out of the box after dark.
Focusing on weight, remember that overloading snowmobiles at the rear can be problematic, and fully loaded storage boxes can be heavy. My particular snowmobile was only rated for 35 lbs on the rear rack, so I installed tunnel stiffeners (a.k.a. blades) to beef it up. This probably would have voided the warranty, if my machine was still covered. So be aware. From a safety perspective, my steering/handling is not as tight when I have the storage box installed. Different snowmobile models will vary with regards to rear weight sensitivity, so caution is urged. My storage box is secured to the tunnel of my snowmobile via detachable straps, so that the entire box can be removed if I want to go trail riding and do not want the extra weight.
External attachments to my storage box include mounts for my auger (top), emergency shovel, and rubber mallet. The key to all of these mounts is a product called “QuickFist Clamps”. They are made of rubber and feature a locking type of strap. I came across these about 4 years ago, and they have never let me down!
Also attached to my trunk are rear-facing LED lights (for packing up my Otter flip-over after dark), spare hitch pins. Don’t be afraid to experiment with regards to external attachments – a little paint will hide any old screw holes.
I like having quick access to many different presentations. If a fish denies one offering, I want to be able to show it something different before it swims away. Lots of anglers have made their own custom rod holders out of 1.5” ABS pipe (cheap and durable), but my friend Mark Gillespie (who also loves ice fishing mods) had the idea of adding split-wire loom tubing around the opening he cut.
This cheap mod prevents scratching of rods and reels by the rough-cut edge of the ABS, and the flex of the tubing also holds rods securely in place when moving from spot to spot.
Cargo mesh has to be one of the greatest anti-clutter inventions of all time. Along the tunnel, I use cargo mesh to store water bottles, tackle trays, tip-ups and garbage picked up on the ice. So simple and cheap, yet underused!
DASH MODS: RAM MOUNTS AND MORE CARGO MESH
Access to high-quality mapping (e.g. Angler’s Edge) will change how you ice fish. You can expect your catches to go way up once you get in the run-and-gun mindset, targeting likely habitats with precision. The only thing that made me think twice about moving my Lowrance Elite Ti2 7” from my boat to my snowmobile was that I wanted to avoid drilling holes into the dash to mount it.
SOLVING THE PROBLEM
My solution consisted of two RAM Universal Electronics Mounts (UEM), one on the front of the handle bar riser and another on the back. The two UEMs are bolted tightly together, securing them to the riser without the need for drilling. My Elite Ti2 attaches to the forward facing UEM 1.5” ball using a standard length RAM arm. To the rear facing UEM, I have since added two 1” RAM mount balls. Looks a little bit funny, but this gives me lots of RAM mount flexibility (e.g., for X-Grip or drink holder attachments). More cargo mesh keeps mitts, hats and minnows in place and within easy reach right on the dash. I have also added a discrete USB port wired to the snowmobile starting battery, for charging phones and Bluetooth speakers.
OPTIONS ONLY LIMITED BY YOU
Your options for ice fishing mods are really only limited by your imagination and how much time you want to invest in the process. Do not be surprised if your initial mods require some tweaking to get “just right”. I tend to work on my mods during the lull between the conclusion of the open-water season and first-ice. Once there is enough ice to snowmobile safely, my focus shifts to productive days on the hard-water. But in between hook-sets, I often think about what I will tweak for next year!