With the hard water finally set in, anglers everywhere are converging on its frozen surface to drill their way through to the fish below. Show up without an ice auger, however, and your chances of success are virtually nil.
Manual auger or power auger? Both styles have their merits.
In today's high-tech world of ice fishing, augers come in every shape, style and size imaginable, leading to bouts of confusion for those that are new to the sport.
Let this guide help you figure out your needs and wants, leading you to an informed and correct decision when purchasing your first auger.
Manual, Gas or Electric?
There are three types of augers available to the ice fisherman -- manual, gas and electric. Each has it's own pro's and con's, although deciding on your style of fishing, fitness level, expense account and ice thickness will make the task of narrowing it down as easy as 1-2-3.
A manual auger, or hand auger, is basic in design and the most commonly used auger today. In order to drill holes, you have to use your own body strength (mainly shoulders and arms) to get the job done, which can often be a chore for those with limited strength or fitness level. Once the ice gets thick (over 12 or 16-inches) the harder the work will become, which can pose a problem if you like to move around a lot and drill numerous holes. That being said, the hand augers of today are much easier to work than those of yesteryear, with the new blade designs and ergonomic handles making the job less strenuous.
If the lakes or ponds you fish have relatively thin ice, or if you only make it out a few times a year, a manual auger is certainly the way to go. It is also a great choice for the budget-minded angler, as they can be purchased for under $75 in most cases, which is a fraction of the price for a good quality gas or electric auger.
The simple design of a hand auger also equates to less parts that can break down when out on the ice. This is a problem that can rear its ugly head with the other varieties, with their motor, pistons and choke.
Manual augers are also lightweight, allowing ease of carrying when walking out to your hotspots. This is especially useful when you can't drive out to your holes, or if you don't own a four-wheeler or snowmobile to cart your equipment around with.
Being extremely quiet and environmentally friendly is another great plus of the manual auger.
For quick and effortless drilling, nothing compares to a gas-powered auger. No matter how thick the ice, an auger of this type will work it's way down like a knife through butter, leaving you sweat and ache-free. For those that spend a lot of time on the hard stuff, or deal with two-foot plus thick ice, a gas auger is certainly the right choice.
Gas augers can be prone to not co-operating occasionally (think gas lawnmowers!), but, for the most part, they are very reliable and efficient. (For those anglers concerned about mechanical failure when out on the ice, bringing along a hand auger as a backup can be a smart move.)
Gas-powered augers allow you to cut through ice quickly with little effort, even when drilling larger holes.
Gas augers can be heavy, so it is imperative to have a quad or snow machine to tow it out to your starting point. Strong muscles are your other option if you intend to carry or pull it along in your portable.
An advantage to owning a gas auger is hole dimension. As hole size increases with manual augers, the harder it will become to drill. This isn't the case when using gas; so bigger holes can be utilized to make your fishing easier.
Two-stroke gas augers have been a mainstay for years, but four-stroke are becoming more common on the ice. Two-stroke augers generate more sound, need gas and oil to be mixed to the exact ratio, and do not run as clean as the four. Four-strokes, on the other hand, do not require the hassle of premixing. Cost does become a factor, as the price of a new four-stroke is greater than the two-strokes. And any gas auger is fairly pricey in comparison to a basic hand auger.
Gas augers will last for many years if the proper maintenance procedures are followed, giving you an endless supply of holes.
The electric auger provides the power of a four-stroke model, in a lighter and more environmentally friendly product. These units are extremely quiet and produce no fumes or oil-residue.
A downside to electrics is the reliance on battery power. As the charge goes down, the overall power of the unit will also decrease. You run the risk of wearing batteries completely out, meaning your day will come to an early end. The hassle of charging batteries, and remembering to do this prior to each trip, also becomes a factor. Carrying an extra set of batteries is always a smart decision when owning an auger of this type.
What Size Hole?
Deciding on what size hole your auger is capable of drilling is dependent on a number of different scenarios. For gas or electric augers, choosing the largest you can afford is usually your best bet. Ten-inch is the most common size and will tackle every situation or species you may target.
For manual augers, it can become a bit more complicated. As I've already stated, the larger the hole you are drilling with a manual, the more effort you will need to exert while drilling. When dealing with thin ice, there really isn't a difference between drilling a six-inch hole and an eight-inch hole. Take those same augers' and attempt to drill through two-feet of ice, and the difference will be astounding. (You may get through the ice with an eight-inch auger, but your body will certainly pay the price!)
A 4-1/2-inch hand auger is perfect for chasing panfish during early ice.
Auger hole size is also dependent on the species you chase. For those that spend the majority of time tempting panfish, a 4 1/2 or 6-inch auger is tops in my book. If your goal is to chase panfish and walleye, then a 6 or 8-inch will certainly shine. I would never choose anything larger than an eight-inch manual auger, as the work simply becomes too hard and overwhelming.
I still rely on a 4 1/2 or 6-inch manual for the majority of my ice fishing. This is used during first and last ice, or if I am traveling a great distance on foot. For all other applications, my 10-inch gas auger comes along for the ride. The two companions have never let me down once.
Ice fishing is a wonderful sport that everyone can enjoy. Deciding on the right kind of auger will make your outing that much more enjoyable and rewarding. Choose wisely, and have fun on the ice this year.
Ten Tips for Improved Auger Performance
- Always dry your auger blades after returning home from the ice. Be extremely careful, as the blades are razor sharp.
- Apply a thin coat of oil to the metal blades to help prevent rust.
- Keeping the blade guard on will increase the life of your blades, while also limiting the chance of accidental cuts.
- Carry a spare set of auger blades with you at all times. Don't forget the necessary tools needed to change the blades.
- Use the manufacturer's recommended oil and gas for your power auger.
- Do not attempt to sharpen blades if you are unsure of the proper way to do them. Allow a professional to do the work, or replace the blades entirely.
- Do not bang your auger on the ice. Allow the blades to do the work, while applying minimal pressure when drilling holes.
- Carry a spare set of spark plugs and a tool for replacing them.
- Purchase an extension handle for your manual auger when dealing with very thick ice.
- Always idle your power auger for a minute or two before cutting your holes.