By Guest Authors Butch and Jehnifer Ehmann
The most critical pieces of equipment for any Alaskan Ice Fisherman is an Ice Auger. Alaskais unique in that often we travel great distances and encounter extreme conditions in pursuit of the trophies our great state has to offer. It’s for these reasons that we have to not only trust but have confidence in the gear we travel with. This article will offer some insight which includes different models, new technologies, fuel considerations, blade size, maintenance and repairs, along with a few tips and tricks to keeping your auger performing winter after winter.
Man-Power vs. Horsepower
The first decision to make is whether you want to purchase a hand auger or a power auger. Power Augers have taken over the market in Alaska. Reasons for this vary, but the time that it takes to drill an ice hole is near the top of the list. Typically, ice fishing starts late in October to the beginning of November with ice depths that are 12” or less. As you venture into mid-November and on into December, ice depths will far exceed this. Hand augers work great during the early part of the season or when ice depths are less than 12-14”. Some of the most popular months to ice fish are March and April with the increased sunlight and warmer weather temps, but this is when ice is at its thickest. It is not uncommon to run into 3-4 feet (or more) of ice. Having an auger that drills multiple holes quickly becomes a top priority. On average we will drill 20 holes per day.
The next big deciding factor to take into consideration is the weight. Obviously a hand auger is a quarter of the weight of a power auger, giving it a distinct advantage in this category. If you have to travel light because you are flying out to a remote location or if you can’t physically fit in into an airplane, the time to drill more holes may be an acceptable inconvenience. Hand augers can often be broken down in half making it more suited for hiking into your secret spot as well.
The last consideration to make is based on your budget. A decent hand auger will cost you anywhere from $30-$100. Power augers range from $300-$600. This is often times a deal breaker. Don’t have the funds to get a power auger right away? A more budget friendly option may be to look into a used auger.
If you decide to take the leap and get a powered ice auger, the following information will hopefully help you get a snap shot of your options within the current market. Let’s first take a look at new fuel technologies. Jiffy Ice Augers seem to have cornered the market in this area. Year after year they have pushed the envelope to keep providing some of the most innovative fuel options. Until recently the majority of augers used in Alaska were 2-stroke, which run on a mixture of gas and oil. This fuel technology works well and has for many years, but they tend to be a little higher maintenance and if not mixed properly they will run rich and be more difficult to start.
New technology is now shifting towards 4 stroke and propane powered engines, which are proving to be less maintenance and easier to operate. Jiffy offers the industry’s only Auger powered by propane. If you are looking for the best all around auger this might just be it as they are easy to start, have lots of power, and don’t fill your shack full of exhaust. There are also electric augers out there, but we haven’t seen them much in the Alaskan market.
Blade size is your next choice. Most of the top selling ice auger companies offer a variety of sizes, usually 6”, 8”, and 10”. We use a 10” blade and recommend this size to anyone fishing for larger species such as Pike, Lake Trout, and Burbot. Using the 10” blade, we have caught fish that are large enough to cause the water to purge in the hole and have to be squeezed through the ice. The cost between the 8” and 10” blade is approximately $50 or less, and to us the minimal upscale in cost is outweighed by the added performance of a larger hole (a 10” hole offers a 50% increase in area over an 8” hole). I cannot overstate how important it is to have sharp blades before heading into a new season. How often you will need to sharpen or replace your blades depends greatly on how many holes you are going to drill in a season. Blades can be changed easily and this can be done either at home or in the field. If you are changing the blades for the first time make sure you do a test run at home instead of on the ice. Check online with the manufacturer of your auger as most of them offer a great how to guide on changing the blades yourself. If you happen to break a set, most companies also offer 2 to 3 year warranties on blades so check before you run out and buy replacements.
Maintenance & Repair
We’ve all been caught out needing things we forgot at home, so here are a few things to remember from those of us that have learned the hard way! If you have an auger that uses mixed fuel we recommend mixing prior to leaving. Additionally, carry along extra spark plugs, a spare pack of blades, and the appropriate tools to change them. Usually a small socket set and your fishing pliers will do the trick. Other than being prepared with the above items power augers, depending on the brand, can be quite reliable. Again we will give Jiffy Ice Augers a thumbs up in this department as we have owned Jiffy augers for over 12+ years and had a near maintenance free experience. If repairs are necessary, check with the manufacturer to see if there is a service center near you and if there isn’t one call a local small engine repair company.
Tips and Tricks
If you are having difficulty getting your auger to start, priming the engine might be your worse enemy or your new best friend. If you over-prime, let your auger sit for 10 minutes and try to start without re-priming. If you don’t think it’s flooded, you may not have primed it enough. Although reading instructions can be counter intuitive for any Alaskan, this is a part of the manual you will want to skim over. The last Jiffy Ice Auger we bought needed to be primed 20 times where as the older model we had needed to only be primed 4 times. Always defer to the manufacturers recommendation and don’t assume your new auger plays by the same rules as your last auger. If possible, keep your auger in heated storage or bring inside the cabin overnight if your trip includes extreme cold temps.
The next culprit to consider is your fuel mixture. This is another part of the manual and warranty you will want to take note of. If your gas/oil mixture is too lean it could void your warranty, or worse yet, damage your auger!
Often times we will start out a season without the blade extension but come January depths can max out your blade length. This is an accessory we recommend you buy before you need it, as Alaska’s lakes will almost always require you have one and retail locations have been known to sell out.
Other important accessories we recommend is a cover for your power head to protect any plastic pieces that inevitably become brittle in cold temps. A cover can also protect the tip of the exhaust from breaking that is unless you don’t mind breathing exhaust while auguring or think that having a hole in the chest of your coat might be the next fashion statement to take Alaska by storm. If you need to remove the power head from the blade to travel, Jiffy also offers an EZ connect collar adapter, but we recommend you tighten it with a pipe wrench or channel locks and regularly check that it’s tight before you start drilling. We reserve the right to plead the 5th on this tip but yes we have lost our auger bit in 30 feet of murky water during a derby. We placed last in case you were wondering, but have a bright shiny new magnet used to recover the blade in our arsenal!
Below you will find a comparison chart that is not inclusive of all Power Auger Manufactures but the ones we consider to be major players in Alaska.
|Jiffy||Pro 4||49cc||6 8 10”||33-36#||$520|
|4G||49cc||6 8 9 10”||33-36#||TBA|
|STX II||52cc||6 8 10”||31-33#||$459|
|Strike Master||Lazer Mag||42cc||6 8 10”||23-28#||$449-$489|
|Lazer Pro||54cc||8 10”||25-28#||$499-$529|
|Shark Z51||51cc||8 10”||32#||$479.95|
|Shark Z71||71cc||8 10”||32#||$549|
We hope that this overview of ice augers answers more questions than it creates. If you have any questions for us please feel free to reach us by email at Ehmannoutdoors@gmail.com or interact with us on facebook at www.facebook.com/ehmannoutdoors