July 7, 2022

By Tim Allard

The auger let out a steady 2-cycle scream as it chewed through 4-1/2 feet of ice. Chips and shards fell around my feet until the blades broke through. I hit the throttle and cleared out the slush, before walking a few yards and punching another hole.

Behind me my partner followed, checking the depth of water with a Vexilar. In 10 minutes we had several holes drilled, cleaned and scanned for depth. Now, we were ready to fish.

Drilling holes may seem straightforward, but there are some tricks that can make you more efficient when cutting through the ice.

Here are some suggestions for the hard-water season with a particular focus on powered augers.

Secure Your Footing

One tip shared with me during an outing with ice-fishing guru Dave Genz and pro angler Big Jim McLaughlin, is to drill over snow patches on the ice. There are several reasons for this approach.

First, snow is a better a gripping surface than ice for your feet, increasing your stability when drilling. Secondly, the surrounding snow turns to slush from the water surge when you break through ice. You can then use the slush to anchor your portable ice hut and secure the tent skirt in windy conditions. Early in the season or after a thaw, however, snow can be hard to find. In this case, pack a pair of ice grips or cleats for sure footing in these slippery conditions.

Let The Blades do The Cutting

A common drilling mistake is applying too much downward pressure on the auger. Pushing down too hard won't make an auger cut any faster and, in some cases, it will slow things down. A good indicator that you're pushing too hard is if you lose your balance or surge forward when the auger breaks through the ice.

I found that with a chipper drill you need to put just enough down pressure to make the drill cut without overloading the power head, said Cyril Zieglmeier of StrikeMaster Ice Augers. He explains that augers featuring blades, such as the StrikeMaster Lazer 24, behave differently than chipper-style drills.

With a Lazer Drill you should never need to put downward pressure on it. It should cut its best with no load or even pulling it up just a little, and adding a little bit more upward pressure as you feel the tip break through the bottom of the ice, he added.

Clean The Hole

Let's return to the scenario I mentioned at the beginning of this article. It's standard practice with my fishing friends that as one of us drills holes, the others follow and clean them. This clean-up role is more tolerable (and in the best circumstances unnecessary), if the angler drilling the holes makes an effort to remove slush with the auger. I received advice on how-to drill a clean hole from Genz.

One thing that works really well after you drill through the ice, is to kick the snow away from one side of the hole. Then run the auger again as you lift it out, Genz said. He explains that you don't clear the entire mound of ice shards away, only a section.

This cleared area acts like a channel, directing slush and water away from the hole as you run and remove the auger. The remaining snow around the hole directs water to the channel and prevents additional snow and slush from entering the hole.

This approach usually gets almost all the slush out, Genz noted. It's best to kick snow away on the downwind side, this way when you're checking the depth with your electronics you can place it in the space you cleared and fish with the wind at your back, he added.

Keep The Blades Clean

Having ice build up on blades during an outing dramatically reduces drilling efficiency. A good rule of thumb with power augers is to run them above ice for a few seconds to spin off the remaining water before setting them down.

Genz recommends clearing a section of snow away on the ice before putting your auger down. This way you can place the blades on ice and not in the snow. This prevents snow from sticking and freezing to the blades.

After drilling, Zieglmeier suggests laying the auger in the sun. He explained that this helps keep the drill warmer than when stored in the shade, and in some cases may provide enough heat to keep ice from forming on the blades.

Should ice accumulate on the blades, which is often unavoidable in extremely cold conditions and when drilling lots of holes, it's best to remove it before running the unit. Tap the bottom of the blades (not the edges) to remove ice from the blades. In most cases, the ice shatters right off. Using a tool with a handle is a safe way to clear ice and keep your hands away from the auger's sharp blades.

Finally, never drill the auger halfway through the ice and use this half-hole as storage. This practice is not recommended by manufactures as the drill could freeze in place and removing it could result in damage to the drill or the power head.

Try these hole-cutting tips on your next outing. Not only will you be more efficient at getting through the ice, but also you'll spend less time drilling and cleaning, and more time jigging and hooking fish!

Originally published October 21, 2019. Tim Allard hails from Ottawa, Ontario. He's a full-time outdoor journalist and author/photographer of the multi-award winning book, Ice Fishing - The Ultimate Guide.

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