Choosing the best hand auger is a common dilemma for those that flood the ice each winter. Many feel that "The bigger the hole, the better," but, depending on specie targeted, ice conditions, and whether you are fishing solo or in a group, this train of thought can lead you down the path of fishing fatigue.
My first auger was an 8-inch model. After one full season I quickly figured out that it was overkill for the panfish and average-sized walleye I chased. Not to mention, once ice thickness breached the fateful 2-foot mark, drilling more than a few holes became a burden on the body to say the least.
To narrow down your choice, first figure out what specie you commonly target. If you're purely a panfish pursuer, a 5-inch auger is your best bet. Some even drop down to 4 inches, but this is best reserved for those that strictly target slim-bodies pannies, such as perch, as they may not be quite adequate if you luck into a saucer-shaped crappie or 'gill. (Sure, wishful thinking but it happens!)
A 6-inch auger covers a wider spectrum, with the addition of walleye, whitefish and small to medium trout. And for those that chase big trout or trophy pike, an 8-inch or larger auger should be your tool of choice.
Many people don't realize this but the difference between drilling a 5-inch hole and an 8-inch hole is like night and day. In fact, I'd say your time (and effort) is cut in half with the downsized drilling. This is most important if you are an angler that likes to cover water and drill many holes. Unless the ice is thin or you're with a couple of buddies, an 8- or 10-inch model is just not going to cut it. No pun intended.
Ice thickness also comes into play when deciding on an auger. Obviously, first ice is prime for an upsized hole cutter — if needed. But, as the weeks creep forward and the ice thickens more, dropping down a size or two (if it is applicable to the fish you chase) is definitely in your best interest. If not, bringing a buddy or two to take turns and to tandem-up when drilling will make the task that much easier.
Although many anglers are making the switch to gas powered augers, the hand unit is still the bread and butter for those that like to pack light, travel distances, drill multiple holes, and hike-in to untouched waters. It also fits the budget of all that enjoy the sport.
Choose wisely and your hole-maker will become your best friend on the ice. Bite off more than you can chew and it will quickly turn into your worst enemy.
Have a safe, fun and drill-happy season out on the frozen water.