Alaska is 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 trust and hold extraordinary confidence in the gear we travel with. And for this time of year, the most critical piece of equipment for any Alaska angler is an ice auger.
In the following paragraphs, we will offer an overview of ice augers that includes models, new technologies, fuel, blade size, maintenance, repairs and tips and tricks to keeping your auger performing winter after winter.
Hand vs. Power
The first decision to make is whether you want a hand- or power auger. Power augers have taken off in the Alaska market in recent years. 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 October to beginning of November with ice depths that are 12 inches thick or less, but from the end of November and into December ice depths will exceed this. Hand augers work great during the early part of the season or when ice depths are less than 12 inches. Also, some of the most popular months to ice fish are March and April, with the increased sunlight and warmer weather, and this is when the ice is at its thickest; in fact, it’s not uncommon to run into 3- to 4 feet of ice. Having an auger that drills multiple holes quickly becomes a top priority.
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 clear lead in this category. If you have to travel light because you are flying out to a remote location, or if space is an issue, the time to drill more holes may be an acceptable inconvenience. Hand augers also take up less space and can often be broken down if you have to hike to a lake.
The last consideration to make is based on your budget. A decent hand auger will cost you anywhere from $30- to $100. Power augers range from $300- to $600. This is oftentimes a deal-breaker. 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 snapshot of the market and your options. Let’s first take a look at new fuel technologies. Jiffy Ice Drills have the market in this area. Year after year they have pushed the envelope in order to provide some of the most innovative fuel options. Until recently most augers were 2-strokes and ran on a mixture of gas and oil. This technology still holds its own against other fuel technologies when it comes to performing in extreme cold temperatures (-30 degrees or colder). So although mixing fuel and creating a recipe for optimal performance can be challenging, its dependability is of great value.
Jiffy now offers augers powered by propane and 4-stroke engines that take straight gas instead of a gas/oil mixture. We drilled over 1,000 holes with the Jiffy Propane Auger last winter and it outperformed our expectations in every category. It handled everything we threw at it, including cold temps and thick ice. There are also augers powered by electricity, but we have yet to see them used widely in Alaska.
Blade size is your next decision. Most of the top-selling auger companies offer a variety of blade sizes, such as 6-, 8- and 10-inch models. We use a 10-inch blade and recommend this size to anyone fishing for larger species such as pike, lake trout and burbot. Using the 10-inch 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-inch blade is approximately $50 or less. Most companies also offer two- to three-year warranties on blades.
I cannot overstate how important it is to keep your blades sharpened before starting a new season. We have held out and fought through buying a new set…that is until we got the new set on and realized that it’s at least 100 times easier to drill a hole with brand-new blades. 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, and of course, if you drill into sand or mud accidentally and don’t break a blade you may have dulled them considerably. Blades can be changed 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.
Before heading out, if you have an auger that uses mixed fuel, we recommend mixing prior to leaving. Also carry along extra spark plugs, a spare pack of blades and the appropriate tools to change them. Usually a small socket and an open-end wrench. 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 have 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.
If you are having difficulty getting your auger to start, priming might be your worst 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 counterintuitive for any Alaskan, this is a part of the manual you will want to skim. The last Jiffy Ice Auger we bought needed to be primed 20 times, for instance, whereas the older model we had needed to only be primed four times. Always defer to the manufacturer’s recommendation and don’t assume your new auger plays by the same rules as your last. 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 note. If your gas/oil mixture is too lean it could void your warranty.
Oftentimes we will start out a season without the blade extension, but come January depths can max your blade length. This is an accessory we recommend you buy before you need it asAlaska’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, 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 lock and regularly check that it’s tight before you start drilling. We reserve the right to plead the Fifth 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 now we also have a shiny new magnet used to recover the blade in our arsenal.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook @ Ehmann Outdoors.