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Every ice-fishing adventure begins with chopping or cutting holes. Once a dreaded chore, the recent movement toward mobility in ice fishing has brought much-needed advancements in ice-cutting technology. Many ice pros figuratively refer to drilling holes and moving to find active fish as "casting through the ice."

Holes can be chopped with a bladed chisel to the desired size, or cut with hand or power ice drills to form holes of specific diameters, usually ranging from 4 to 10 inches. Your choice should be based on ice thickness, the species you're targeting and their expected size. Many veteran ice anglers use the smallest diameter hole they can get away with for two reasons: 1) small holes are easier to cut than large holes, which makes moving to find active fish easier; 2) fish can't turn around and keep fighting once they enter a small hole, which reduces the number of fish lost "in the hole."


Standard chisels, or spuds, are a long-handled metal blade, flattened on one side and angled along the other to form a thin, sharp point. Simple and economical, standard chisels work well for testing ice thickness, but are noisy, often spook fish, and make chopping holes difficult when ice is thick.

Deluxe chisels, such as the Jiffy(r) Mille Lacs Ice Chisel feature weighted handles for increasing chopping power, and specialized cutting surfaces to increase cutting depth with each chop. Their special stepped edges allow precise chopping, and can be used to flare out the bottom of holes or shave ice. Some models also feature pinned, height adjustable handles.

Hand Augers

Well-sharpened hand augers are reasonably priced, lightweight, and therefore the choice of many anglers. However, they can be taxing to use when ice gets thick.

STANDARD hand augers, such as the StrikeMaster(r) Mora, are the most economical choice, but the blades must be regularly replaced to maintain peak cutting efficiency.

MODERN hand auger designs, such as the StrikeMaster Lazer, feature a special set of angled blades that not only reduce the amount of time necessary between blade replacements, but make hole cutting easier and faster. Some models feature off-set handles, which may take awhile to master, but allow two-handed turning power, greatly increasing the auger's cutting speed.

Power Augers

Extremely popular among today's ice angler, power augers feature a drill assembly with a motorized powerhead to turn the auger at a controlled rate.

ELECTRIC augers feature electric powerheads that run on 12-volt batteries. Due to the lack of fumes produced by electric augers, they're popular with people drilling holes in enclosed shanties.

GAS augers feature gas powerheads generally ranging from 2- to 3-1Ú2-horsepower motors and gear boxes of varying ratios. They are the choice of most serious ice anglers, as they cut through ice of any thickness efficiently, are easy to use and don't require lugging along heavy batteries to operate. The drawback is they're relatively bulky and heavy, and more difficult to transport on the ice. Some manufacturers even make muffler exhaust kits for their gas augers that allow you to drill shanty holes without fumes.

Some versatile ice anglers carry interchangeable power auger drill assemblies of varying diameter so they're ready for multiple situations. And in mid-winter, when the ice gets very thick, anglers install auger extensions that lengthen the drill assembly by 6 to 12 inches.

Regardless of whether you use an electric, gas or hand auger, you should coat the blades with a layer of household oil or petroleum jelly to prevent rusting. Even a small amount of rust can greatly reduce a blade's cutting capability.

Big Holes for Big Fish

The Ice Angler(tm) is a cutting device that attaches to a gas auger drill and automatically enlarges the base of your hole into a conical shape as you pull up on the auger. The wide-based hole helps anglers slip large fish into the hole with ease.