Remarkable to consider that in a short span of years, we’ve progressed from 5-gallon buckets and toy sleds to ultra-modern “boats on ice.” Hardwater anglers today often own multiple portable shelters, plus a snowmobile, ATV, and even a larger luxury shelter tricked-out with satellite TV. If you’re as serious about the sport as Brian “Bro” Brosdahl, you might even own one of the new amphibious ice machines, such as the Wilcraft, which both drives over the frozen terrain and safely floats across open waters.
Bro, whose Northern Minnesota home lies smack dab in the middle of a thousand natural lakes, spends countless hours each winter searching for fresh, untouched fish. More than anything else, he relishes finding and then catching big bluegills and walleyes— well away from community holes. Spend a day fishing one of Bro’s hot spots and you might be tempted to think he’s got it easy, surrounded by so many hungry, heavyweight fish. The truth—though he doesn’t like to dwell on it—is that he simply spends more time searching, scouting, and sleuthing than anyone else. The other bit of truth is that although it takes extra time and effort, Bro really does savor the search. Yet he’d freely admit that without the awesome array of fish-finding technology at his fingertips, the process would be nearly insurmountable, besides being a lot less fun.
“On the lake, I avoid crowds at all costs,” says the legendary, otherwise gregarious ice man. “I like to find my own fish. But even though the next big bluegill bite might be right around the corner, you’ll never find it on your own if you’re not prepped for speedy, efficient surveillance—and that means using the right tools for the job.”
One of the true secrets to Bro’s genius for discovering giant panfish— beyond his unmistakable sixth-sense— is a favored fish-finding device. Among the earliest adopters of underwater cameras for ice fishing, Bro has lately been palming an Aqua-Vu Micro, reaching into his pocket for the compact device at opportune occasions. While searching along weedlines or over broad shallow flats, Bro enters what he calls ‘speed viewing mode.’ Walking briskly from hole to hole, he quietly dips the camera optics into each icy opening. Holding the smartphone-sized unit close to his chest like a deck of cards, he stealthily spies on fish and their terrain, silently noting species, size and numbers, as well as variety of vegetation.
Although the bottle-cap-sized camera optics can be rigged to view in any direction—including down, up and sideways—Bro prefers a panoramic perspective, simply twisting the cable between his thumb and index finger to observe the terrain all around his position. “The nice thing about this camera,” he offers, “is that I can change the direction the lens points in seconds. The little view-fin is super easy to adjust, so I can be sideways viewing one moment and then switch to get a bird’s eye view for sight-fishing the next.”
Bro estimates that while deploying the miniature viewing system, he’s able to filter through vast stretches of fishless water and find the sweet spots twice as fast as he could by searching with a rod and a lure. “By simply fishing, it’s not always easy to determine where the bee-hives of panfish are stationed. Sometimes, they’re in the thickest cabbage, or in little clearings between thick coontail. But just as often, the biggest ‘gills or crappies are simply hovering in totally random areas that look completely un-remarkable on screen. You absolutely need a camera to put yourself on the money.”
Bro continues: “Sure, I can fish all across a big flat with a Bro Bug or a Northland Bloodworm and catch a few. But the camera shows me the largest flocks of fish, as well as the biggest individual bluegills or crappies. And the device is so small that I can quickly put it in my pocket and then start fishing with the rod that’s been in my other hand all along. Before I had this little camera, instant switching between underwater viewing and fishing wasn’t possible.”
Once set up on one of his money spots, Bro often continues fishing with the camera, but adds sonar to the equation. He calls the powerful pairing of electronics, ‘multi-viewing.’ “I get the best of both worlds—sonar and underwater view— simultaneously,” he says. Connected to a special snake-arm mount, which C-clamps to handle of Bro’s Humminbird ICE-55 or 597 unit, the Micro cam displays real-time underwater video right alongside his sonar.
“The ability to watch my lure on sonar, or monitor fish response on the Aqua-Vu, or do both at the same time is just an awesome advantage. The things the camera shows really help me get the maximum benefits from my sonar. It’s the best learning tool there is, because it’s always confirming or disproving what I think I’m seeing on sonar. And at any time, I can instantly disconnect the camera and go into speed viewing mode out on the open ice.”
Owner of no fewer than half a dozen Frabill shelters, plus multiple snowmobiles, ATVs and even an amphibious Wilcraft, Bro’s always tweaking and retooling the way his sets them up with electronics—GPS, sonar, underwater cameras, and other multimedia accoutrements. “Multi-viewing can also be done inside your portable shelter, your pickup truck, ATV and of course, your large permanent fish house,” he says. “The key is to make everything interchangeable. I use different mounts and hardware from RAM Mounts, Aqua-Vu, Humminbird and some homemade jobbers that allow me to swap units between different modes of transportation. I also pre-rig each shelter and vehicle with its own power supply—be it a cigarette lighter plug, extra 12-volt battery or even a built-in battery charger for replenishing portable sonar power or underwater cameras.
“I want to be able to take my Micro camera, mount it inside my Frabill portable, pop it off for speed-viewing on foot, and then re-attach it beside my Humminbird while fishing on open ice. Same deal with sonar and GPS. With a variety of quick-release mounts and brackets mounted in optimal locations inside shelters and on vehicle consoles, I’m never without that critical underwater data at my fingertips. Even at ice out, I can quickly transfer units and new waypoints back to my boat. Snap, you’re back at the helm, wrestling big fish.”
Images courtesy Ted Pilgrim and Brian “Bro” Brosdahl/ Traditions Media