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Dokken: The gas ice auger has become a relic of the past

I made the switch from a gas to lithium battery ice auger way back in 2016, and I haven’t looked back.

Ice auger photo with 121022.C.GFH.BRADDOKKEN.jpg
Developments in lithium ion battery technology and the resulting increase in battery-powered ice augers that can drill dozens of holes have made gas ice augers relics of the past.
Contributed/North Dakota Game and Fish Department
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Brad Dokken
Brad Dokken

GRAND FORKS – I wonder how many ice fishing enthusiasts out there have gas-powered ice augers gathering dust in their garages, sheds or wherever they store their fishing gear.

Once a staple in the arsenal of pretty much everyone who fishes through the ice, the gas-powered auger has gone the way of the “jiggle stick,” those old-school ice fishing rods that required an angler to land a fish using the hand-over-hand method.

Instead of a reel, jiggle stick rods had two pegs around which to wrap the line.

Not that many years ago, I never thought I’d see the day when gas augers would be relics of the past, but here we are.

The advent of the lithium ion battery has arguably been the biggest ice fishing development in the past decade. It certainly has been in my world. I made the switch from a gas to lithium battery ice auger way back in 2016, and I haven’t looked back.

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I bartered my gas auger with a handyman friend a few years ago in exchange for his help with a household project.

The ice fishing industry was quick to respond to advances in lithium battery technology, and manufacturers wasted little time shifting away from gas augers to electric augers powered by lithium batteries that can drill dozens of holes.

The batteries aren’t cheap, but I purchased a second lithium battery a couple of years after buying the auger. With a back-up battery, I can drill more holes than I’ll ever use during a day on the ice, the way I fish.

Every manufacturer out there now seems to have a version of the lithium battery-powered ice auger on the market. That’s a good thing. I haven’t done the research, but I’d wager companies sell more hand augers today than they do gas augers.

Long gone are the days of smoking up a fish house with the stinky exhaust fumes that gas augers produce. Pretty much everyone who owns – or owned – a gas auger can probably share horror stories about fighting to start it on a cold winter morning. Or – perhaps even worse – having the gas from an auger’s leaky fuel tank or carburetor spill all over the inside of the fish house or tow sled.

And the language. Oh, the language. How many bad words have been uttered, I wonder, while trying to coax a cold-blooded gas auger to life?

I’m here to tell you now – I know those words.

The subject of gas augers came up earlier this week when I interviewed Brian “Bro” Brosdahl, a northern Minnesota fishing guide and industry stalwart who’s always on the cutting edge of developments in ice fishing and ice fishing technology.

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Brosdahl talked with Herald outdoors writer Brad Dokken about a wide range of ice fishing-related topics, as he does every couple of years about this time.

We covered a lot of ice during our hour-long conversation , and you can read a condensed version of my Q&A with Bro elsewhere on this website or in the print edition of the Saturday, Dec. 10, Herald. My question about ice augers didn’t make the cut, but when I asked him if anybody buys gas augers anymore, he didn’t have to think about the answer.

“No,” he said. “As a matter of fact, last week, when we were out filming on the ice, a couple of guys came down on the lake. We heard a power auger, and I looked at everybody else and everybody was looking like they had to remember what that was.

“When somebody starts up a gas auger, everybody looks because it’s like seeing a really old Schwinn bike or a really old Harley going by. People just look at it like it’s something from the way-distant past.”

Thanks to lithium battery technology, auger companies also are reinventing ways to drill a hole, Brosdahl says. Several manufacturers, for example, now make auger flightings – the twisty part of the auger with cutting blades at the bottom – or adapters that enable tools such as power drills to double as ice augers.

“Everybody’s starting to go to the tool market,” Brosdahl said. “And then they want the auger bottom vs. buying only something designed for ice. And so they’re seeing that trend, too, because they can use the drill in the summertime on other projects.”

The fish might not always bite, but when it comes to drilling holes in the ice, these are indeed the good, old days.

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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