'Handsock' variety is key to winter angling success
When I was a kid, I was notorious for losing anything not attached to my body.
This trait could border on dangerous during winter months, when lost mittens and hats can result in serious frostbite after just a few minutes.
Loss of a winter cap might have been one reason why my Dad used to call me “numbskull” when I was growing up. Over the years, I've learned to cope with being paralyzed from the neck up.
My youthful mitten loss was more egregious. Before my folks discovered “idiot mittens” that were joined with a long string, which ran up the sleeves under my coat, I can remember wearing socks over my hands—and I've called mittens 'handsocks' ever since.
Handsocks were better than idiot mittens. I still have ligature scars on my neck from the loop of string that held them together as an extra measure of retention.
These tough lessons growing up have resulted in near obsession for functional hand covering while ice fishing: The sole winter pursuit where a man can sit on a bucket in the middle of a lake and not be called “simple.”
Ice fishing requires a minimum of four pair gloves and/or mittens. This is based on a lifetime of real-world fishing experience, not that 2013 government report issued by the Dept. of Redundancy Dept.
Beyond protection from the elements, scent control is a major consideration in consistent winter-fishing success. It is common knowledge that unsavory scents, like gasoline, repel fish.
This isn't a problem when you're casting or trolling. About 20 years ago, I learned fishing through a small vertical hole was more efficient than cutting a 1-by-50-foot trench and running back and forth, dragging a Rapala.
The water column beneath that small hole will be tainted with whatever scent is on your lure. Transitioning from grinding holes with a gas auger to tying on a small ice jig is not conducive to catching dinner.
I used to wear a huge pair of fur-lined neoprene mittens as over-gloves when tapping holes or running for tip-ups. Unfortunately, these resulted in dexterity akin to a bear cub fumbling with a handful of shelled corn.
The folks at TightLine products took pity of my flailing out on the ice and gave me a pair of their new survival gloves. These gloves have two-inch rapidly deployable spikes built right into the gloves.
Only a numbskull goes out on the ice unprepared for the possibility of self-rescue. Decades ago, I learned the wisdom of always having a readily accessible personal flotation device, res-q-piks and 50 feet of quarter-inch nylon rope wrapped around my ice fishing bucket.
The survival gloves are a much better alternative than fumbling for picks when icy cold, deep water has pretty much your complete attention.
Once the holes are drilled and it's time to get down to fishing, wearing an extremely thin pair of scent-free gloves is a good idea, even when fishing in a heated ice shanty.
Human skin excretes an amino acid called L-Serine, which fish find as repulsive as gasoline. The amount of L-Serine secreted varies from person to person. But even a little negative scent is bad in the slow-and-small presentation and limited-water-column world of ice fishing.
Simply spraying or washing your hands in a no-scent product is not an option when temperatures are below freezing. Wet hands lose heat 10 times more rapidly than dry hands due to convection.
Cold hands offer considerably less dexterity than trying to hold a jigstick wearing handsocks.
When fishing outside on a bucket on a beautiful winter day, a pair of disposable handwarmers in your jacket pockets, coupled with thin gloves, provides a good mix of dexterity and warmth. But having a slightly bulkier pair of over-gloves “handy” is certainly a good idea.
Wool and neoprene both retain heat when wet. But wool tends to act like Velcro when handling little ice jigs, and wetsuit material is awful for retaining heat.
Heading out with lined-cotton over-gloves might be the best option for both warmth and functionality. Take at least two pairs. Gloves get wet and get lost.
Going the “idiot mitten” route and joining handsocks with a long string is not the best option.
Last winter I discovered the wonders of slip-on, knee-high rubber boots after reading an article on how they carry less scent than leather boots when deer hunting.
Now I am able to take long strides, even in deep snow.
Handsocks aren't the only clothing items my folks tried to “idiot proof” with a long string.
More than 60 years of trying to cover ground with boot laces tied together hasn't been easy.
Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.