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Woodland Trails: Christmas ideas for the outdoorsman

If you have one of those outdoors people in your family to shop for this Christmas, then I have a few suggestions that should go into your letter to Santa.

I'm pretty much a dinosaur when it comes to the outdoors. In the last few years I have finally put down my old recurve bow and picked up a compound bow. I get more joy hunting deer with a traditional muzzleloader than any other gun. But I am aware of a great new trend in outdoor products. I might not like them all, but they are still out there and they are not going to go away anytime soon!

The season is winter, so let's talk about ice fishing gear. It all starts with electronics. For years, Vexilar has owned the market with winter ice fishing flashers. Starting with the FL-8 and then followed up with the FL-18, the Vexilar flasher has brought modern fishing electronics out on the ice. Vexilar didn't stop there. Next came the 12 and the 20.

The latest versions have the flat screen instead of the protective cup that guarded the screen but also blocked the viewing screen. The newest most expensive units have a zoom feature that allows the user to zoom in on the bottom 6 to 12 feet. Add dual transducers, 9 and 20 degree cones and get the user options for deep-water perch and walleye or shallow sunnies and pike.

Now MarCum has jumped into the fishing electronics picture. The units are making big news because of the power they give out. While all the units function on 400 watts, MarCum has added more power with their base unit the VX-1 putting out 600 watts. It has bottom zoom, super bright display with finer target separation than the Vexilar.

Next, add two and three times the watts in the VX-3 and the top MarCum unit, the VX-5, and you have the most powerful units on the market. Add adjustable zoom anywhere in the water column, not just the bottom 6 to 12 feet, and you can see why so many anglers are saying good-bye to Vexilar and hello to MarCum!

When it comes to rods and reels for ice fishing, I have to start out with St. Croix fishing rods and reels. The Premier rod and reel combination are in my opinion the best combos on the market. Since they are made in Park Falls, Wis., how can you go wrong? If you are looking for a sensitive rod, look at the St. Croix Legend ice fishing rods. They might cost a little more, but you never own a more sensitive ice fishing rod.

The portable ice shack has added heat, comfort and ease of use to the people who want to take ice fishing to a serious level. Otter shacks are probably the best made on the market. Otter allows you to build your own shack from components -- skins, sled, individual seats or a bench give you more options. Old blue, otherwise known as Clam shacks, are probably the most common out there. I really like their latest version called the X-2. It's a bit bigger and more heavy duty, and the new color change, with a gray roof instead of blue or black, gives you a bit more light during the day.

Frabill makes some nice lightweight shelters. They are all black and extremely lightweight. If you like a dark shack that allows you to sight fish, then Frabill, which makes several units, are made just for you.

And, yes, there are new shacks out there that are insulated, and they are 40 percent warmer than uninsulated shacks. That means they are also a bit heavier but when you add warmer heat to an already full array of fully loaded ice shelters then you can see why ice fishing today is not the same game your father played when you were a kid.

The lures have changed too! The Buckshot spoons are probably the hottest walleye lures on the market. They have a hollow center with a couple buckshot inside so when they are shaken underwater they send out a noise that attracts walleye. We have used them a couple times now and we have watched walleye appear on the MarCum and then watched them come up and eat the Buckshot lure tipped either with a minnow head or with a drop line rigged with a live fathead minnow.

Of course, all of the lures glow in the dark. I haven't used them enough to give you a personal story, but all my ice fishing friends sure love the way they work. The last innovation is heavier lures made of tungsten. They get down faster, and many have a new shape that makes them hang horizontally instead of vertically. The fish seem to like that more natural approach and natural-looking bait that they want to eat.

And, of course, there are all the fish-viewing units. Aqua View was the first and has been the best forever. But once again, MarCum has jumped on to the scene, and their top unit, the 565, has all the best features of any underwater TV I have ever seen. And yes, Elizabeth, there is a new color underwater TV coming soon. Who woulda thunk?

I just want to thank all of you who sent emails regarding finding a home for the last puppy I had. A home was found when a father contacted me and wanted to give the little pup I named Flash to his son.