The solution? Layering.
“It’s become a whole lot easier to stay warm and comfortable on the ice with clothing designed specifically for ice fishing. I wear three layers that I can peel off or add as necessary. It’s like having my own thermostat,” says Grand Rapids, Minnesota, guide Brian “Bro” Brosdahl.
Of these three layers, Brosdahl says the most critical is a moisture-wicking base layer. Not your grandpa’s long johns, new fabric technology like Cabela’s Thermal Zone Polartec Power Dry and Under Armour’s ColdGear draws sweat and moisture away from the body, allowing your skin to breathe, while keeping you insulated, dry and warm.
A middle layer of wool or fleece provides additional warmth and wind protection. Cabela’s Mid-Layer Fleece, Cabela’s Outfitter’s Wooltimate WindShear or fleece wader liners are good choices. Personally, I’ve found that a fleece-lined hoodie is also as comfortable as it is warm.
“Underneath my Frabill bibs I wear my base layer and a hooded sweatshirt. If I’m fishing an active hole or scouting that keeps me plenty warm. On the snowmobile, fishing stationary or in really bitter situations, I wear the Frabill I-4 jacket. It’s lightweight but super warm,” says Brosdahl.
Today, nearly all ice fishing jackets and shells are made of a combination of GoreTex, Thinsulate, Oxford nylon or a heavy Denier nylon. A myriad of choices from Frabill, Clam Outdoors, Striker, Under Armour and Cabela’s Guidewear are all designed with tons of pockets and other accessories specifically for ice anglers.
A new crop of apparel like the USCG-approved Mustang Survival Catalyst Jacket also offers flotation, an important safety consideration for ice anglers who fish early and late ice. Likewise, all of Frabill’s new suits come with ice picks, a self rescue label, and are designed with interior vents that prevent filling with water, should you accidentally fall through the ice.
Ice fishing bibs are a must-have. They not only keep you warm and dry but 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.
When it comes to keeping your feet warm, avoid cotton at all costs. It absorbs perspiration and leads to clammy, cold and frozen feet. A small investment in polypropylene moisture-wicking liner socks pays huge dividends. Slip these on underneath a heavy sock with the highest wool content you can find.
Seems everyone has a different idea about the perfect ice fishing boot. This much is certain, if there’s melting snow and slush, rubber boots like 100% waterproof 2000-gram Cabela’s Dura-Trax II Pro boots or a pair of Muck boots will keep you from a world of hurt. Last year’s ice and snow conditions made it painfully obvious that not having a pair of tall, insulated rubber boots can be a deal breaker. Personally, I’ve had good luck with the Cabela’s kicks for ultra-wet, but cold conditions.
However, for normal snow conditions, Pac-style boots from LaCrosse, Kamik, Cabela’s and Sorel are all solid bets. Do your research and find those with highest thermal ratings, typically a combination of Thinsulate and felt or wool liners. I’m on my seventh or eighth season wearing an older version of these. LaCrosse Alpha Kings I wear them day in, day out during the winter—from going to the grocery store to snow blowing to ice fishing. Of course, one of the keys to boot longevity is treating the leather uppers of your Pac boots with a product like Sno-Seal or Mink Oil for added water resistance.
However, the liners did wear out after a few years. I researched boot liners and eventually discovered Lamilite-insulated liners hand-sewn at an Alaska-based company called Wiggy’s. They also make sleeping bags and other cold-weather gear for the U.S. military and arctic expeditions, which says a lot. They definitely earn their name – “SunWalkers.” Highly recommended.
Lastly, a pair of easy-on, easy-off ice cleats is also a must-have for added traction and accident prevention. Hard to go wrong with Kahtoola’s solid construction – another product built-to-last.
Now add a thermos of hot coffee and hit the ice! A winter wonderland of ice fishing awaits!