Ice fishing is a cold weather activity and your hands are involved in every operation, including cutting holes, setting up equipment, and hopefully handling fish. High quality gloves, mitts, and hand warmers are essential to keep at it for any length of time.
Long before power or even hand-powered augers were available, holes for winter fishing by net or line were punched through the ice with spuds or pointed bars. Spuds are horizontal cutting edges (like an axe head), either welded to a metal rod or bolted to a wooden handle. These are brought down vertically, chipping the ice until you are through to the water. This is heavy manual labour and usually the hole is much wider at the ice surface than at the water. An axe will work if the ice is fairly thin but because the handle is at a right angle to the swing, on thicker ice the handle will hit before the head. Whatever ice-cutting tool is used, one should employ a loop of cord at the top and around the wrist to prevent losing the tool when it slips out of one’s grip.
Hand-powered augers, one hand on top and one hand turning the off-set in the handle, which spins the cutting edge, work surprisingly well if they are kept sharp. Keep the guard in place when the unit is not in use. These will cut an 8 or 10-inch hole in just a few minutes, but it can tiresome if you want to keep drilling new holes in different spots.
Gas-powered augers in the $400 to $600 range are very dependable and if maintained, will work well. The one-foot extension is a must for the thick Yukon ice. A typical ice angler may cut 20-40 holes in one outing, searching for the fish, so these units although sometimes a little heavy, are up to the task. The requirement for mixed gas is common and for some folks the pre-mixing does not appeal to them. These gas-powered units can also be vulnerable to water in the gas (condensation), which keeps them from running smoothly if they run at all.
New to the market in the power-auger-scene are propane powered units and lithium-ion battery-powered units. Both of these newer designs are in the higher end price range and are spoken highly of in user comments.
The very convenient propane unit uses one-pound tanks we usually use for lamps and portable stoves. They are quick to change and are lighter in weight than many gas models.
Propane can be a little sluggish flow-wise in extreme cold but these standard tanks can be stored somewhere warmer than the outdoors, such as inside your ice-fishing tent or even inside you coat when you think a tank change will be necessary.
The lithium-ion battery-powered model is relatively new to the market but appears to be living up to it’s advertising. They promise 1,000 inches of drilled ice on a single charge and will fully re-charge in less than 2 hours. Also the “reverse” feature will drive the loose ice in the hole down into the water.