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Which ice auger diameter is best for you

A short guide to ice auger selection
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My first two auger purchases did not work out well.  A friend recommended I buy a 6-inch hand auger, but since the 8-inch StrikeMaster model was all the stores had in stock in September that is what I purchased. A similar situation occurred when I bought my first gas auger.  I went in looking for the newest and greatest and left with what amounted to be the only auger available at the time (just after Christmas).  So my first tip is to buy an auger in late October, when the stores have a full selection. 

A good ice chisel is highly recommended for Front Range ice anglers.  For $35 or so, this tool helps identify ice conditions during those February warm spells.  The experts carry this tool anytime the ice conditions are sketchy and use it to sound the ice every few steps until they reach their favorite spot.  The peace of mind and increased safety is worth the price. Plus, it quickly opens up enough previously drilled holes, allowing anyone to fish a full day on popular reservoirs. 

Ice Chisel

My second recommendation is a 6-inch hand powered ice auger.  Avoid the 8-inch diameter versions like the plague; they take exponentially more energy to drill a few holes even in relatively thin ice.  If you like to sit in one spot all day and mostly fish along the Front Range the hand drill weighs much less than a gas auger and can be refreshing to use for an afternoon outing.  Keep it in your car whenever you head out and if the gas engine doesn’t work, you will always have a backup.  
The three main features of a power ice auger are motor size, drill diameter, and weight.  There is a time and place for each of these depending on what type of fishing you do regularly, and what type of fishing you do occasionally.  The problem is that most anglers in Colorado run into many different situations each season.

Gas augers, for the most part, come in three motor sizes, 2.0, 2.5, and 3.0 hp.  Here is where the delicate balance between weight, ice thickness, and drilling speed come into play.  If you live along the Front Range, a 2.0 hp model will zip through 6 to 12 inches of ice in no time, with the advantage of being a few pounds lighter.  The smaller motor will also power through thicker ice in the mountains, but at a slower rate than the larger motors.  If you regularly fish all day in 30 inches of ice (i.e. North Delaney) opt for the 3.0 hp.  The 2.5 hp motor will work most anywhere there are in-between conditions.

Fuel choice has been a recent topic of interest.  The four choices, two-stroke, four-stroke, electric, and propane all work. Most local guides use a two-stroke motor for consistency in operation and overall simplicity.     

Drill diameter is the big choice among gas augers.  Here it is best to choose the type of fishing you either do most or enjoy most, and live with the shortfalls of that decision when fishing other situations.  My first gas auger was an 8-inch drill that worked great for chasing walleye on Chatfield.  I drilled 30 to 60 holes a night and the light weight of the drill really made it easy to keep moving with the fish.  In fact, I would recommend a smaller 6-inch drill if you are truly focused on fishing along the Front Range.  The five pounds shed with the smaller drill bit and the extra drilling speed makes ice trolling a cinch.

An eight inch hole is the all-around best size for Colorado.  This is a medium weight drill that works for all species and most conditions.  If you are worried about hooking “the big one” don’t worry.  An eight inch hole will handle a fish with a 25 inch girth. This is the auger size used by Granby Lake guide Bernie Keefe (


 He typically burns through 100 or more holes in 10 to 20 inches of ice a day with his StrikeMaster Lazer Pro in search of large fish. An eight inch hole has never stopped him from landing monster mackinaws.  

Six inch, eight inch, and ten inch holes

The 10-inch auger comes in to play while sight fishing in a shelter.  The extra diameter allows a 50 percent larger field of view than an eight inch hole, especially in thick ice.  This extra vision is vital when a pike sits for a few minutes just a foot away from your lure in ten feet of gin clear water.  Four 10-inch holes side-by-side create a 40 inch window into the world below.  The downside is, drop anything onto the shelter floor and it is probably gone to the depths.   

The extra weight of a 10-inch drill bit is very noticeable when compared with an 8-inch version and at some point during a 30 or 40 hole day the 10-inch drill becomes a burden.  Further, a 10-inch drill takes longer to drill though even the thinnest ice.  Finally, the larger holes can spell trouble for kids and people with smaller feet when walking on the ice.  The size is safe, but a cold, wet foot can end a day’s fishing very quickly. 

Drill Size (in)

Hole Area (sq in)  

Auger Weight (lb)

6 28 24
8 50 26
10 79 29
Weight based on StikeMaster Lazer Pro

Antero, Chatfield, and Elevenmile guide Nathan Zelinsky ( uses a 10-inch blade on his StrikeMaster Lazer Pro for an entirely different reason.  Zelinsky doesn’t always sight fish (instead he mostly uses a Vexilar F-18 flasher) but he likes to land monster trout by sweeping them up through the hole sideways.  The extra area afforded by the 10-inch diameter allows him to reach down and scoop most fish from underneath.  This allows him to handle fish along their backs so he doesn’t risk touching their gills.  The technique also keeps his hands away from the line, a major reason for lost fish.

Nathan adds that pike, with their long snouts, are tough to position in a smaller hole.  A large pike hooked in the corner of the mouth might have 6 inches of nose in front of the hook.  Plus, according to him, “the ten inch holes do not freeze up as easily and offer more room for fishing when using a transducer in the same hole.”

For anglers who rarely move once they set up on a spot, a 10-inch drill with the largest engine you can afford is a great option.  Mobility and drilling speed are not a priority and sight fishing is a fun way to spend the day.

For run-and-gun anglers who drill constantly, a 2.5 hp engine with the right size blade for the occasion makes sense.  If you regularly fish multiple parts of the state, $125 or so for a second blade allows one to quickly match the hole size to the conditions at hand.

Recommended Auger Diameter (in)
Situation 6 8 10
Front Range X X  
Run-and-Gun X X  
Sight Fishing     X
Lake Trout   X X
Kids X X  

Before heading to the store to purchase an auger take the time to critically examine your favorite ice fishing situation(s) and select equipment that will best fit your fishing styles.  Then make sure you get to the store early in the season while they are still fully stocked. The right equipment will go a long way toward ensuring a great ice fishing season.

David Harrison runs the fishing half of the Skyline Hunting and Fishing Club near Chatfield Reservoir in Jefferson County.  He also works with local guides to write fishing articles for major magazines including In-Fisherman, Salmon Trout Steelheader, and Colorado Outdoors.




© 2024 David Harrison