Ice Jam

Gearing Up For Ice Fishing

Ice fishing season is fast approaching and hardwater warriors are busy preparing for all of the great action to come. To help you gear up for your best winter ever, veteran iceman Bernie Keefe offers these timely tips.

“It won’t be long now,” grins the affable yet hard-fishing guide, who hails from the high-country paradise of Granby, Colorado. “But there’s still time to stock up on great new gear, as well as give your existing equipment a little TLC to help everything perform flawlessly from first ice to spring breakup.”

As a full-time winter fishing guide who targets lake trout of lunker proportions in the unforgiving but fish-rich environs of the Rockies, Keefe knows a thing or two about the need to keep gear in fighting shape, or suffer the consequences. “For example,” he begins, “Chipped or cracked rod guides can damage your line, leading to catastrophic failure at the moment of truth.”


Since that moment may be when a 30-pound laker gives once last, violent head-shake before ascending to our side of the ice, Keefe does everything possible to avoid such heartaches. “Check for damage by running an ordinary Q-tip through the guides,” he says. “If the cotton catches on any irregularities, chances are the guide could abrade your line and cost you fish. Replace it, now.”

Though casting is a non-issue during the winter, Keefe nonetheless cleans, oils and otherwise pampers his reels with care bordering on obsession. “Fighting big fish is no easy job,” he says. “You want a seamless performance throughout the battle, and drags in particular have to perform without a hitch.”

Keefe also religiously spools each reel with fresh line. “Don’t risk the fish of a lifetime on last year’s line, which may be damaged or otherwise weakened,” he says.

As far as personal picks, Keefe says 10-pound-test Berkley Trilene 100 Percent Fluorocarbon is a stellar choice for super-size trout, especially when paired with a 40-inch, heavy-power Dave Genz split-handle rod from Clam Outdoors.

Since he also targets a salmonid smorgasbord including rainbow trout, Keefe also needs supple fishing line that won’t coil like a slinky when deployed with a light jigs or spoons. Fluoros, monos and braided mainlines of a bit lighter test are fine for smaller fish, though a low-vis leader can be key to tricking wary trout.

Keefe’s Vexilar flasher is his window to the underwater world, which explains why he checks the transducer cable and all wiring for signs of fraying or loose connections. “Clean and test the battery, too,” he adds.

In a similar vein, Keefe’s heating systems are scrutinized as well. “I give my Mr. Heaters a thorough cleaning, then put a fresh bottle of fuel on each and fire them up to make sure everything’s working properly,” he says. “If there are any problems, check the thermo-coupler.”


Same goes for your ice auger. “Get that old fuel out of there,” he advises. “Inspect the spark plugs and start the engine to make sure it won’t let you down on the ice. Also, either replace the drill’s blades or at least pick up a spare set. While you’re at it, an extra spark plug in your tool kit can also turn out to be a trip-saver.”

While there’s nothing quite like fishing outside in shirtsleeve weather against a rugged mountain backdrop, Keefe fields a fleet of Clam ice shelters to keep clients comfortable and effective, no matter the conditions. “Set up your huts prior to first ice,” he says. “Clean them up and repair as needed, so they’re as ready as you are when it’s time to hit the lakes.”

Also on Keefe’s pre-game checklist is taking stock of tackle. “Inventory everything,” he says. “Figure out what you need to fix, and which new lures to purchase, so you can bring your A-game to the ice the first time out,” he says. In the fix-it category, Keefe repairs or replaces bent and broken hooks, and touches up the points on everything.

As for beefing up his arsenal with new tackle, Keefe carefully eyes new-product reviews and peruses retailers’ latest offerings, both online and in person. “Manufacturers are always coming out with hot new products,” he explains. “Keeping up with these trends can help you catch more fish. Take tungsten jigs, for example. Tungsten fishes heavier than lead, so you can fish smaller jigs in deeper water, which can be critical in finesse situations.”


One of Keefe’s favorite purveyors of new and noteworthy tackle is “Clam has everything from tungsten jigs and special pliers designed specifically for them, to ice rods, shelters and the warmest apparel on ice,” he says.

Only after giving every piece of his gear a thorough once-over, then stocking up on lures and other necessities, does Keefe consider himself ready for the season ahead. By following his lead, you too can be ready for action the second safe ice offers access to hardwater paradise.

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