In this article originally penned for the Ice Team website, Keith Kavajecz shares a bit of himself and explains what makes him so passionate about ice fishing.
One of the cool aspects about ice fishing is that it is an easy sport to get into. A person can get involved with very little gear – can walk to fishing spots – and can grow their arsenal of tackle and gear at a pace that is comfortable for their pocket book. Never let a lack of a few pieces of equipment dampen your passion for this great sport.
Let me tell you about my first ice fishing experience. As many people know, I married into a great family – the Parsons clan. My wife’s brother, Gary Parsons, grew up ice fishing on Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin. Gary and his father, Don Parsons, ventured out on the big lake nearly every day in search of walleye, sauger, white bass – or whatever else was biting. Although Winnebago was their home water, they weren’t afraid to travel to a good bite, including many trips to Devils Lake for unbelievable limits of perch.
Now enter Keith… When I was in my early 20’s, I was dating my future wife Lynn. I loved to hunt and fish, but I was also in college so fishing and hunting were simmering on the back burner. Any chance I could I would try to get out fishing – but girls, beer and partying were definitely higher priority. One thing was for certain – the men in the Parson’s clan didn’t think too much of this long haired college kid who came home on weekends with their sister/daughter – closing down bars each night and sleeping in late each morning.
Time travel back to one of the first times Lynn and I were scheduled to visit the Parson’s cabin on Lake Winnebago for Christmas break. I was excited. The weather was cold, there was a good layer of ice out on ‘Bago, and I knew the Parson’s had a lot of gear to make ice fishing pleasant. Shanties, snowmobiles, gas augers, tons or rods and tackle. Ice fishing here I come!
We arrived at the cabin and I got up early that first morning to get out on the ice. Problem was, no one seems motivated to go. The wind was howling and the temps were hovering around zero and obviously this tempered the enthusiasm to get out on the ice. OK – well hopefully tomorrow would bring better conditions. Not only did tomorrow come and go, but so did several days of my vacation with no apparent trip on the ice in sight.
Finally I couldn’t take it anymore. “If you guys don’t want to go – can I?” There was some feet shuffling and some hems and ha’s, but yup I could go. OK, I thought, which snowmobile would pull out the shanty and how do I start the auger?
At this moment, I realized the true depth of their distaste of me – or maybe I realized that somehow I needed to pass a test to be fully accepted into their fishing inner circle. I wasn’t given one of the nice snowmobiles, holes would not be power drilled, nor was a nice enclosed shanty (with built in heater) in my near future. Instead, a bucket, a spud (chisel), and one jig stick would be my equipment list. There would be no fancy spoons or even jigs – instead a simple hook and split shot would have to suffice.
What they didn’t understand was that to me – hey fishing is fishing. Even though it was my first time on the ice – I was more than willing to get out there and brave the cold to potentially get my “Next Bite”. I didn’t have a fancy Gore-Tex suit and I don’t even think they measured foot warmth in Grams yet. I had good socks and a pair of Pac boots and lots of layers of clothing.
So off on foot I went (I thought I even heard a few chuckles as the door closed behind me). I weaved my way through the rough ice close to shore and stopped about a quarter mile or so out to where the ice was smooth and looked thin enough to punch through with the spud. There was no GPS with contour maps, there wasn’t even a depth finder to see how deep it was or if fish were swimming by. It didn’t take too many swipes to chisel out a rough 8 inch hole in the 12 inches of ice. I took a seat, back to the wind (which also happened to mean my back was to the cabin) and I settled in for some fishing.
Surprisingly I was met with more enthusiasm that I ever expected. How many did I catch? What was the hot technique? How deep was it? I, of course, have since come to learn that these are just the standard questions any angler would ask when trying to get information about fishing. When it comes down to it, we all wish we could fish more. Even if the conditions are tough, in the back of our minds, we wish we were out there anyway, braving the conditions, figuring out the bite – catching some fish…
Proud as a peacock I announced “one white bass and one small perch”…. the enthusiasm faded. They all figured the only way I would sit out in those conditions for that long would be if I was catching fish, and catching them at a rate fast enough to warrant subjecting myself to a full blast of mother nature. Even though the enthusiasm faded, both Gary and Don told me several years later it was at that point they realized – I loved fishing and that maybe I wasn’t so bad after all.
Fast forward to today – obviously my fishing has come a long way – and so has my gear and equipment. I’ve been ice fishing for over 30 years and through those year have seen (as with other forms of fishing) that ice fishing just keeps evolving. Recently something has happened to really help out ice fisherman of all skill levels. That is that Clam has become a kind of one-stop shopping center for ice gear and their Ice Team is a one-stop information center for any subject relating to hard water fishing.
For example – Clam has ice shelters all the way from inexpensive one man’s (like the Scout) to easy to put up Hub shelters (like the Big Foot) economy 2 man shelters (like the Fish Trap Nanook) to the high end shacks with thermo skins, huge colored tubs, and lighting (like the X2). So when a person wants to shop shelters Clam provides all the different price points and feature options.
Recently Clam introduced the Pro Tackle series. This is a very robust set of tackle designed by some of the top ice anglers in the company. I was lucky enough to be included in a round table of anglers where we went over features and specific attributes for each bait. Then we took them out on the water and made sure they not only functioned as we hoped – but the fish gave their final approval too. Conveniently virtually almost every style of lure from jigs (tungsten and lead) to spoons are covered in the line-up. There are conventional designs and some new items never seen before (check out the Dingle Drop).
Last, when it comes to clothing – no one comes close to the selection (and quality) of the Ice Armor apparel. Again anglers are given a full range of choices when it comes to Suits or gloves or boots. Many of categories have different price points and functionality levels. For example there are the iconic blue suits called Edge Suits. A versatile suit that is water proof, wind proof, has padded knees. The Edge is a great suit for guys that like to layer because they have to drill lots of holes or move around a lot. Want a little more insulation, take a look at the Extreme suit, or if you are like me and just like to be ultra warm, nothing beats the Ultra suit. I think the Ultra Suit is the best suit I’ve ever owned. I wear it not only for ice fishing but also for early spring and late fall fishing out in the boat. Now new this year is the Lift Suit which provides some floatation in case an angler ends up in the unfortunate position of being in the water.
Chisels, lights, buckets, rod holders, chairs, tackle storage, rod storage – Clam covers them all. Not to mention all of the varieties of rods – many designed by legendary ice anglers like Genz and Mitchell. And now even augers – both gas and conversion kits for electric drills.
So whether you’re an ice fishing veteran – or a kid wanting to get out on the ice, start with whatever you’ve got – a bucket, spud and jig stick. As time goes on, evolve to a shanty, auger and graphite rod. Just remember – don’t let your lack of equipment curb your passion for this great winter sport! Bite On!