Ice Fishing Sled(s): Who's Got Enough Of ‘em Anyways? 
by Daniel Kiazyk

I've gone through several, or should I say I've still got a few, and I've yet to find one that suits all my needs when fishing on hard water. This is a case of "where" you fish and with "whom" or maybe even after seeing some "Cadillac" models that there's always something better than what you're presently using. Generally you can get away with one of those plastic injection mold models but it's those custom models that can make the difference between having everything on hand or just getting out there.

My reflection on this topic fallows as a result of an e-mail I received from a former work colleague I hadn't heard from for a long time. His query involved wanting to build a sled, one that would suit his needs for ice fishing. He had dimensional restrictions and he also said he had a set of skis that he wanted to use as this sleds runners.

I looked around for a bit, surfing here and there on the net to see if I could find anything that might be of help to him. I didn't find any plans that seemed to meet and "all-around" sled's needs --- what am I saying: My ice fishing needs! I subsequently turned to the fishing Manitoba bulletin board to see if there was anyone out there who could make any suggestions about the perfect sled. To my surprise there were all but a paltry few (They were good but not really what the guy wanted) responses to the query.

In view of this lack of information about ice fishing sleds, I started to look at the sleds I am presently using (notice that I say "sleds" and not "sled" as I've found that in certain circumstances I needed a different type of sleigh for a different situation) or have used throughout the years. Important in this reflection was the necessity to remember different conditions in which sleds were used. This latter reflection had a big impact on what I considered to be a successful design.

So in what follows I am trying to make a few suggestions as to what I think might be some useful suggestions for the construction of an effective ice fishing sleigh. My reflections focus on sleighs that I'm using at present. Each of these sleighs has its strength but each has its limitations. But saying the preceding means that I haven't given up on dreaming about what might be a ‘dream' ice fishing sleigh….. I've at least got to share a few musings into what I'd consider to be a better mouse-trap… oops…. I mean ice fishing sleigh.

Sleighs I've Been Using.

Of all the slave designs that I've used the molded, plastic injection sleighs, have been the one type of sleigh I've used the most often while ice fishing. If you're not sure what I'm talking about all you have to do is go down to the local Co-op or farm supply store and they'll have a type of calf sleigh that I'm referring to here….They may even be a bit heavier due to the requirements that farmers have for what they do. My first sleigh of this type was no where near the rugged sleigh that I've just referred to but it was a molded sleigh nonetheless. It was a simple pull-about, and had good depth (at least 10 inches deep), but was relatively short at 36 inches. The sleigh was perfect in my estimation for moving out on the lake by foot, but put it behind a snow-machine and it didn't perform in the same manner. Not having a solid hitch meant it would slide all over the place when under power…..and if you should stop... The other weakness with this first sleigh was that it wasn't made of a plastic robust enough to withstand a bit of friction (OK.. a half mile of gravel isn't good for any plastic but I'm not going to carry the stuff by hand!)

My second sleigh is a little more functional and its acquisition followed as a result of the locale that I live in. I'd been on a local farm one day and saw a calf sleigh with a solid hitch. The hitch could be removed easily and the sleigh had enough space to haul a calf. The only drawback to this sleigh was that it had low sides and it was a bit heavy. I guess not having a top was also a disadvantage but that was easily fixed. To remedy the first shortcoming about having short sides, I added sides by adding plywood side fixing them to the sleigh with drywall screws. And then to handle the snow that usually is kicked up by a snowmobile a small blue tarpaulin was tacked on tot the front of the sleigh to protect the sleigh's contents while in transport. As for the weight there wasn't much I could do, the sleigh would weight a bit more with the sides added on. Has the sleigh worked? This sleigh has worked well since it's being refitted with sides and a top. It definitely certainly has filled a niche in my ice fishing "mobile-snowmobile" regimen .

The latter sleigh has been in use for quite some time now. I've also put a yellow rope around the perimeter of the sleigh. This rope serves as an anchor point for bungee-cords that have been used to hold down the blue tarpaulin "top" and the contents of the sleigh.

A Newer Sleigh

One of my newer sleighs brought into action over the past couple of years has been my "Clam Scout". This particular sleigh/personal ice shack has been particularly helpful for those cold days when I still want to run and gun while ice fishing but also want to be able to get out of the wind and/or inclement weather conditions. The sleigh itself is a bit short but it has adequate depth for holding everything but my auger. To accommodate my auger I've added some ornamental ironwork to the back of my snow-machine. The sleigh has a seat in and it is high enough to be able to look down the hole. The sleigh also has a retractable canopy that makes getting out of the wind a real breeze. The only drawback as I see it with this combo sleigh is that it does not have adequate space to store all my equipment.... It would be nice if it could "fish" another angler in it but by its very nature it is designed to serve one fisherman. It doesn't have a solid drawbar but a long enough pull cord keeps the sleigh away from the snow machine --- most of the time.

A Better Mouse Trap

So it goes without saying that I've used a few different kinds of sleighs for ice fishing but haven't yet arrived at the perfect sleigh. Now it's time to leave reality and muse over what might be my dream sleigh... YES, the perfect fishing sleigh... Okay… the best I can come up with.

Firstly, it would have to have compartments for the different things I'll bring out on the ice. Auger, tackle, heater and all need compartments as well. I'd also like it to have an insulated compartment where I could place my minnows and I should also mention that this compartment would have to have access to an aerator and electronics/battery that I'd like to have onboard. The last three components I'd like to see as a part of the sleigh would be a seat as well as an insolated area where I would put the fish that I would keep to eat. I'd like an insolated compartment for my fish as I hate to fillet a fish once frozen. Oh and I would be remiss to not mention the need for a waterproof cover that would stay on and hold things in the sleigh at snowmobile speeds (60 mph!).

In terms of physical construction the sleigh would have the following approximate dimensions; about 3 1/2 feet long and about two feet wide – I'm thinking of a single model but it could be wider if you were looking for a double model. You'd have to have sides that accommodate a seat 16 to 18 inches above the ground. A flat bottomed construction as well as a solid drawbar (where the sleigh would ride back about three feet from the snowmobile) are both desirable. The front would have a wedge shaped design to plow and lift the sleigh if necessary through soft snow. It is also important that the sleigh could drain itself especially in the spring. Larger and stronger hinges on compartments used often would facilitate their use in cold weather.

I realize that there'll always be circumstances where given the type of fishing that you're doing you will require of your sleigh certain "other" elements. However in a general sense I believe I've listed what for me would be an effective ice fishing sled. Of course that doesn't mean that a sleigh built can't be improved upon or for that matter rebuilt to meet whatever needs you might have with the type of fishing that you do --- or maybe even the needs of my next ice fishing trip!