If you're a fan of hard-water, consider this a public service announcement: Now is the time to begin preparation for the ice fishing season. There is still three months (give or take) before safe ice arrives, but there are lots of easy-to-do tasks that will set you up for success at first ice. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Start by going through ice fishing equipment. Inspect outerwear, boots, shelter, rod and reel combos, and other gear and make sure everything is in working order. I've heard horror stories about portable shelters coming out of storage that were ravaged by mice during summer. The owners had to scramble to find a replacement canvass in time for the season. Don't get caught. Repair what you can. Replace what you can't fix, making a list of what needs to be purchased and stock-up on these items.
I use a lot of ice lures year round. This means baits see a bit of back-and-forth from small ice boxes to larger tackle trays. As autumn fishing winds down, it's time to migrate hard-baits back into the ice fishing line-up. This is also a good time to clean out boxes and assemble ice tackle.
Power augers, ATVs and snow-machines are godsends on ice, but they're useless if they won't work. Test equipment early to allow time for troubleshooting issues. Even when properly put to bed, machinery can still fall claim to mysterious storage gremlins. Give yourself time to get this equipment out and in tip-top shape. Don't forget to audit towing trailers as well.
A portable sonar, underwater camera and handheld GPS units are all indispensable items for me on ice. Battery issues account for the bulk of product failure in many cases. If you haven't been keeping cells charged, plug them in now. Inspect units for damage, cords for nicks, and ensure all connections are secure.
Think Ice When Fall Fishing
Many of my productive autumn fishing spots are the same locations where I begin the ice fishing season. On some lakes these are the last bastions of healthy weed beds. On other systems deep, bait-loaded structure reigns supreme. Scout areas using your boat sonar as well as an underwater camera to gain an appreciation for what's below and how an area is laid out. This is much easier to do during open-water than peeping through ice holes. Save hotspots as waypoints for easy on-ice navigation.
Fall fishing is in full swing, but don't lose sight of the fact that ice fishing isn't too far off either. Get your gear ready early and you'll be way ahead of the crowds once safe ice arrives.