One of my favorite adaptations of fantasy football was the salary-cap league.
A spending limit on salaries made for an even playing field in divvying up the high-end and well-known talent. There was an incentive to find great value and you found yourself looking at match-ups, players who would get an opportunity in the face of injury, and unproven rookies or under-utilized players looking for a second chance. Those wild cards could make or break your season, and finding value was what seemed most enjoyable.
A lunchtime discussion with ice fishing friends brought up a real-world salary cap scenario. If you had a budget of $1,000 to start ice fishing, what would you buy?
Ice fishing continues to be a major growth segment of the fishing industry, with families picking up the sport to spend time together, get outdoors in the winter and get in touch with Mother Nature. Families that may have dropped hunting and fishing traditions are coming back to the outdoors. Many are pleasantly surprised to find that ice fishing is not what they remember as kids (freezing cold, sitting on a bucket on the ice, catching nothing) or what was portrayed in the movie Grumpy Old Men.
When dispensing ice fishing advice to newcomers, I’d recommend pulling gear from summer equipment for use in the winter. For example, small jigs, hooks, swivels, bobbers, line, plastics and reels are great for use in summer and winter seasons.
For the longest time, I had reels and small jig boxes that did double duty until I became specialized and didn’t want the hassle of transferring gear back and forth. Worth noting in that recollection is the passage of time and the opportunity to build avidity for the sport. I don’t think die-hard ice anglers are born overnight; they must develop by learning skills and embracing the chase — the journey of trying to catch fish through the ice.
Another nugget of advice I doled out was to watch for used gear. Technology in outerwear and fish houses keeps jumping leaps and bounds. Ice augers are transitioning from gas to electric. Used houses, equipment, rods and electronics are sold when users upgrade. Buying at the right time (season start or end) will usually bring a nice savings on gear that is gently used. For the newbie, used equipment will more than suffice.
In my $1,000 budget scenario, a few sideboards are important in the interest of fairness. The first is that I won’t tap into the used gear market. This is only because the deals are too volatile and not repeatable. I might come across an incredible deal on a fish house, but someone else might not be able to get that same deal.
I think there is a fairly consistent market range for used electronics, but to keep this exercise simple and fair, we’ll use new only.
The other sideboard is that summer gear can’t be loaned for winter. Once again, one person may have a bunch of summer fishing gear and another may be completely new to the fishing world. We’re shooting for an equal playing ground.
The last caveat is that nothing can be made. You might build fishing rods, have a jigsaw to build your own tip-up, or finish houses for a living and have the ability to build a permanent house. Those are great skills that can save you a lot of money, but for our purposes, nothing can be made.
Isn’t fantasy ice fishing fun?
Here’s how I laid out my tab, with pricing from a certain Nebraska-based outfitter:
- One man flip-over fish house: $256
- Little Buddy Heater: $70
- Twin pack of propane: $7
- Laser hand auger (Had to cut my power auger): $75
- Entry level flasher: $250
- Entry-level ice-fishing spinning rod combo: $25
- Panfish jig assortment: $25
- Ice-fishing line: $5
- Ice scoop: $5
- Bait: $5
- Minnesota resident fishing license: $25
- Navionics smartphone app: $15
Sales tax: $52.46 (6.875 percent).
To ice fish, you need to stay warm, cut a hole in the ice,and present a bait to the fish. Simple enough, right?
Guess what? Some days I forget equipment that is critical to doing all or part of those three things. I’ve forgotten augers after long drives. Earlier this year, I arrived at a lake with my kids without my rods. It happens to everyone at some point.
Here are the annotations for my prescribed salary cap ice fishing. The first choice to be made for staying warm is house or suit? Pop open your house or wear your house? Space in garages and cars are real world issues, but with budget our only constraint, I opted for house and heater over a specialized ice fishing suit.
If the newbie learns to love the sport, they can upgrade from a basic house and heater as well as opting for a deluxe ice fishing suit. Plus, living in Minnesota I assume the angler-to-be already owns some daily cold wear that will function just fine on the ice.
The biggest sacrifice I made was going with a laser hand auger. A power auger would have broken my budget with all the other necessities. A dedicated ice angler can eventually upgrade to a power auger. I started with a hand auger and bought a used power auger in college, before upgrading to a brand new model some years later.
Today, you can buy ice augers that work off cordless drills, which can save money if you already own one with a good lithium battery. The hand auger will work just fine but will limit your mobility as you eventually get tired of drilling holes.
In saving some of that money, you could spend $15 on the Navionics app for a smartphone and see the depth contours of most Minnesota lakes, helping you find important structural features and fishing hot spots. Or at least aid in avoiding drilling blindly. Consider it a small consolation.
I splurged on a flasher as I’m convinced it’s the one item most critical to catching fish on the ice. If we want our hypothetical angler to love ice fishing, they have to catch fish. A flasher means they have a chance on every lake to at least know if fish are coming through and how they are reacting to our offering.
Lastly is the fishing rod, line and terminal tackle. When I was a kid, you couldn’t buy a decent spinning reel combination off the shelf. They were big, clunky rods with junk spinning reels. Today, for $25, you can get a smooth spinning reel with instant anti-reverse and a nice, factory rod that will help you catch anything from panfish to walleye.
You can choose the corresponding action at the same entry level price point. Rounded out with a jig kit, an ice dipper and some bait, and you are ready to fish. Assuming you have 5 gallon bucket at home, you can toss everything in and go.
The final purchase is a Minnesota resident fishing license. Between the fishing license and sales tax, you’re helping to fund great fishing in Minnesota. Your license fee goes into the Game and Fish Fund that pays for the Minnesota DNR to survey and manage lakes and streams, protect and restore habitat, stock fish and create or maintain tremendous fishing opportunities.
The sales tax on sporting goods even goes back for fisheries management through the Dingell-Johnson Act.
After getting outfitted and ready to catch fish, we still have almost $200 remaining, which can be used for more tackle, bait, fuel for the heater or to get to the lake, a motel room at a destination fishery — lots of potential remains. And it’s all assuming you are buying new and don’t come across any great sales or deals.
As our hypothetical newbie develops, he or she may choose to buy ice fishing tackle boxes, a headlamp for night fishing, an underwater camera, expensive customized fishing rods and protective cases for said rods, a GPS, a snowmobile and trailer, or a day on some new water with a fishing guide. Like any hobby, it’s best to start small, learn and grow, and enjoy the journey.