When Gov. Arne Carlson called off school in February of 1996 because of dangerously cold weather conditions, Joel Nelson burned white-hot with excitement.

“I remember windchills were like minus-60 and the governor basically shut down state government and all I cared about was that I had an opportunity to go ice-fishing,” said Nelson, 37, of Cannon Falls.

With no ice shelter and “very little common sense,” Nelson said he stayed warm cutting holes through 18 inches of ice with his powder-blue-colored Mora hand auger. “It sure got the blood pumping in that frigid weather,” Nelson said. “I didn’t cut many holes that day, but I did catch fish.”

For Nelson and legions of other Minnesotans, times have changed in the world of ice fishing. Technological advancements with fish finders and underwater cameras and improvements with portable shelters and even rods, reels and tackle have changed the face of ice angling. “The ice-fishing market in general the last 10 years and the last five years even more so has changed dramatically — there are just more options across the board for consumers,” said Nelson, a pro staffer for Rapala/Ice Force. “And that certainly includes ice augers, which probably get less attention than electronics.”

Today’s augers — from gas- and propane-operated engines to new and improved electric — are generally lighter, start easier, require less maintenance and burn cleaner than vintage two-stroke gas-operated augers.

“Depending on your preference, there’s basically an auger you can buy today for every ice-fishing situation — two-stroke gas, four-stroke gas, and on and on,” said Nelson, adding that “augers have just gotten better across the board.”

“If you’re a guy who is fishing in a permanent shelter, you might not want a gas-operated auger and may opt for electric. Gas augers in general are loud and the exhaust can be overbearing at times, especially in a contained environment. But if you have to cut through three feet or more feet of ice on Lake Winnipeg, a gas auger might be a better option because of its overall power.”

For his part, Nelson said he regularly uses the Strike Master Lithium Lazer, a popular electric auger that hit the market two years ago. The 24-pound auger features an electric motor powered by a 50-volt Lithium Ion battery. Nelson said he cuts as many as 50 holes, in 2 feet of ice, with one charge.

“One of the reasons I’ve switched to electric is because the battery quality has improved so much,” he said. “The batteries are lighter and you can cut more holes with a single charge. It’s true that lithium batteries work better when it’s warmer, but I use mine when it’s well below zero and it works just fine.”

Overall, Nelson said, electric augers are just easier to use.

“It’s a simple plug-and-play system that doesn’t require toting along gas or mixing oil and gas,” he said. “They’re as maintenance-free as an auger can get. I predict within five years or so the majority of ice anglers will be drilling holes with electric.”

Tony Roach is the owner Roach’s Guide Service near Moose Lake. He said he uses both gas and electric augers.

“It all depends on the situation,” Roach said. When he’s fishing with clients, he regularly cuts 100 holes per day, a fishing technique he calls “ice trolling.”

“When I’m cutting that many holes, particularly with deep ice, I use a two-stroke gas auger,” he said, referring to his Strike Master Laser Pro. “Today’s two-stroke gas augers burn cleaner and start better versus the older motors. When I’m getting clients set up, it has the speed I need for cutting a lot of holes very quickly.”

As for Nelson, he still occasionally uses the tried-and-true hand ice auger, just like he did when he was a teenager.

“You bet I do, absolutely,” he said. “I use a hand auger with early ice religiously to stay light. It still works great.”


Tori J. McCormick is a freelance writer living in Prior Lake. Contact him at torimccormick33@gmail.com.