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When it comes to ice fishing, 'Bro' knows

Venturing out on early ice is hard work, says Brosdahl, who uses a Nils Master auger mounted on a cordless drill to check ice thickness in this undated photo. Note the ice picks on his jacket, which Brosdahl believes should be required equipment for ice fishing enthusiasts. (Photo courtesy of Brian Brosdahl)1 / 3
Brian "Bro" Brosdahl signs a hat for a young fishing fan in December 2014 at the St. Paul Ice Show. (Photo/ Brad Dokken)2 / 3
Panfish are a passion for ice fishing expert and promoter Brian "Bro" Brosdahl, and his name can be found on a variety of ice fishing jigs, rod-and-reel combos and other products. (Photo courtesy of Brian Brosdahl)3 / 3

With his trademark red beard, contagious enthusiasm and gift for gab, Brian Brosdahl is one of the most recognized, sought-after personalities in the ice fishing industry.

"Bro," as he's known to all, is a frequent seminar speaker, fishing guide and product promoter at ice shows, sports shows and promotional events throughout the Ice Belt, including the St. Paul Ice Show, which began Friday, Dec. 1, and winds down today at the St. Paul RiverCentre.

Bro, 50, of Max, Minn., in Itasca County, is an ice fishing innovator, whose name can be found on products ranging from rod-and-reel combos to panfish jigs. It's a distinction and a level of recognition he doesn't take lightly.

"For me, it's more than just being sponsored," Brosdahl says. "For me, my name's on the product; these have my concepts in them and I want to show you why I did it, and I did it because I wanted it for ice fishing."

Brosdahl recently talked ice fishing trends and techniques with Herald outdoors editor Brad Dokken. Here's an edited transcript of that conversation.

Q. How's the enthusiasm for ice fishing going into the winter season?

A. I think there's more than ever before. Everywhere I go, every store, I have people stop and see what's new, the latest in tackle, houses, electronics, underwater cameras, just the excitement of getting out.

Q. What's the fishing outlook for this winter?

A. It's going to be really good. I see nothing but great things on the horizon as far as fishing. A lot of lakes throughout my area have quite a few different year-classes of walleyes and medium perch. Everybody loves catching perch and a lot of lakes have some 9- to 10½ -inchers in them and the occasional big one.

Q. How much does it cost for a newcomer to get into ice fishing?

A. Less than $100. The first thing is you get a bucket and depending on where you get a bucket, you can get a bucket sometimes for less than $10. You can get a spud bar to poke a hole through the ice if you're really going for bare minimum.

Ice picks for safety are $5 to $10; that should be first on the list.

Other than that, you'll need a spud bar, a bucket, a rod and reel combo, and as far as electronics, that's something you can acquire later, but to get going, that's not even $100 yet. Everybody has warm clothes; if you're in blaze orange or camo, oh well. And bait. And some of the combos have line on them and then of course a very minimal expenditure is Northland Tackle (one of his sponsors) because tackle is one of the most inexpensive parts of going fishing.

That's all you need. And then you just need the willpower to go.

It's not like summer; it's a lot cheaper.

Q. What does it cost if you want to gear up?

A. You can have a Bro Series rod-and-reel combo, you can have Northland Tackle, you can have a Nils Master auger that you put in a cordless drill that you already have in your garage, and you can find them just about anywhere.

As far as a fish house, if you've got kids, you don't need a big expensive fish house. You can get a pop up for really inexpensive, about $200, and then have a heater.

It's something that you could start on a low end and then add to it.

You can get an Aqua Vu (underwater camera) with a wind-up reel for a little over $300. And you can get a depth finder, too. And you don't need flashers; you can just take a depth finder off your boat in the summertime. If you got a Humminbird, they make a shuttle that you can put it on and carry it on the ice.

And let's say they go and buy a Helix 7 (depthfinder), and they buy an Aqua-Vu, they buy a really nice Frabill house or a Nils Master auger and a bucket and combos, you're still only into the ice fishing scene about $1,500, and you've got everything that exists.

Q. Obviously, the recent tragedy on Upper Red, in which two people drowned while ice fishing, is on many people's minds. What advice do you have for staying safe on early ice?

A. We don't need legislation or more rules, but it would be nice if people had to have ice picks and life preservers. You don't see anybody with them.

The DNR and the Coast Guard require life jackets in open water but not on the ice. It's simple but this is very sad; we're real sad to hear that this happened.

We always tell people to have the ice picks, we tell people to have flotation. There have been many tragedies in the time that I've ice fished in my life, and most of it is without safety gear.

Q. You've done some videos in recent weeks showing you checking ice on small lakes. It's not just running around on the ice, is it.

A. I go to early ice lakes—I call them the smaller swamps that have fish in them—and I stay away from big water. But when I go, I tell everybody early ice is a lot of work. When you truly go on early ice, you have to drill the whole way out there with safety precautions and measure with a tape measure. Take the ruler out of your boat, hook it at the bottom of the ice and measure to the water surface. That gives you a true estimate; don't guesstimate because everybody guesses wrong.

When I went out, the recommended amount of ice (for walking) is 4 inches of solid, clear ice, which is the strongest ice there is. That's what I go out on, and I don't take risks

It's a long winter so there's plenty of time.

Q. Why has ice fishing become so popular?

A. I would say effectiveness. It's user friendly. Everybody that goes catches something, it seems. I don't have the percentages but I think 70 percent of panfish are caught in the winter.

People are realizing it's not about being exposed to the elements. In the winter, you control your comfort level with houses and heaters.

It's more of a social affair. You can feel it; it's a social thing with ice fishing, and I think that's part of the growth of it.

And ice fishing is a sport where you can get in cheaply and take the whole family. That's why the sport is so popular and it's growing. It's the one fishing sport that's been growing and is still growing.

Ice brings out the inner kid. It really does.

Q. What's the largest demographic?

A. I would say all different ranges of incomes, but it seems like people with more money go south and have saltwater tans, and people who are moderate to middle class have ice fishing tans (laughs) and I'm one of them.

Q. What's new this year in terms of gear?

A. I think glow is huge on the map, and tungsten (a metal that's heavier than lead) jigs are popular as ever.

In electronics, more accurate target separation and GPS is huge, so now you've got a map on the lake and it shows where you're at on the lake. You can take your GPS with mapping technology, go out to the spot you would normally fish in the summer and you can map your own lake and go out and fish it in the winter and be the only person with that map because you took time and drove around (in open water).

Another big trend you're going to see is bikes on the ice. There's a company that's making studded bicycle tires. I don't think they did it specifically for ice fishing, but it's a benefit for ice fishing and quietly it's been catching on.

Q. How many miles are you logging during this winter's promotional season?

A. I started in Clear Lake, Iowa, which was opening of Minnesota rifle season, and then I've been going ever since. This year's schedule, I made sure to factor in some times to get out fishing.

This year, I'm concentrating closer to home with the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana are my focus. That is 80 percent of the ice sales.

I've already been in the Dakotas quite a bit, Minnesota, the Twin Cities and I'll be heading to Wisconsin and then in January, Michigan.

It will wind down but not end at Christmas, and then after Christmas, I'll be guiding and fishing and doing film shoots on the ice.

Q. Any favorite fishing destinations for this winter?

A. Lake of the Woods might have its downs once in awhile, but I was out there this summer. When I was looking for fish, I marked fish out in the mud for miles and miles and miles. That looks like a real healthy fishery.

I always enjoy Devils Lake. I'll go to Devils Lake because you do have a chance to catch a giant football perch, and walleyes up there are as sure to happen as the wind blows. And then somewhere around the Waubay (S.D.) area,

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998.  A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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