After much preparation the time had arrived for ice fishing season to begin. The lakes had watered up, then frozen, and the six inches of slush of a week before became hard ice with occasional “air holes” where the surface water had drained below the crust, but they, too had frozen to where they were pretty strong.
As it happened, the village of Newboro had scheduled its annual ice fishing derby for Sunday, so Saturday was the day to scout for fish and get to know the Ranger on the ice.
The trailer worked very well. The hardest part of the loading procedure is hitching the tandem to my pickup. The loose plank ramps are quite forgiving, given the Ranger’s wide tires and light weight. All I need do is drive up the ramp, bump the front tires against the headache bar of the trailer, set the brake, then hitch the hook on the web strap into the appropriate hole in the undercarriage. An old 6″ bolt is all the lever I seem to need to winch the strap tight to the front A-frame, and then the planks land in the bed of the Ranger and we’re good to go.
The ice on Newboro Lake alternated between a dry, hard pebbled surface which provided excellent traction, and patches of glare ice with many, many raised “ruts” from snowmobiles frantically trying to get through patches of slush without sinking. These regions were almost impossible to walk over, but the Ranger proved itself very sure-footed on glare ice.
A few three-mile runs across the varied ice surfaces made it clear that while the TM is much cheaper than the other, more elaborate Ranger models, its suspension has had a lot of thoughtful engineering. Most obviously, on glare ice it handles as well as a good, rear-wheel drive car. I was able to control drifts with it and it always felt stable. The extra width is a real advantage out on the lake.
The tires looked a little soft, so I checked them at 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning. They were too low for any air pressure to be measurable on a gauge, so I topped them back up to 10 pounds. This improved engine performance considerably. With the tires harder I was able better to comment upon the steering and suspension. The Ranger eats bumps and deals with rutted tracks on ice better than my Tacoma manages angled railway tracks. That strange trailing-arm box into which the rear axle is mounted completely eliminates wheel hop in squirrelly situations. A day of driving the TM around the lake was a day without drama. It did exactly what I asked.
My fishing buddy Tony’s from Scotland, and shows his disdain for the Canadian climate by refusing to wear appropriate winter clothing. He complained that the TM “needs a windshield.” I suggested that a windshield would be a nuisance, and all I needed to do was dress appropriately in a snowmobile suit and helmet, with facemask. “There you are, all dressed up like Santa Claus. When I go fishing I want to wear something more like this,” indicating a collection of garments which added up to appropriate downhill skiing attire, not nearly enough in my estimation. I’m surprised he didn’t freeze to death, but you can never tell with these Scots.
Downwind of the TM I smelled stale gasoline. This is strange because there certainly wouldn’t be any stale fuel in the tank at the rate I run it through. Tony noticed it, as well. It’s a smelly beast, for a modern machine. (This turned out to be a split in the gas cap/fuel gauge which allowed fuel to spill out. It’s a 2004 model, and these things deteriorate with age, I guess. On eBay I found a replacement OEM unit from a vendor in Florida and it works fine.) Update 9 Jan. 2016: These caps deteriorate rapidly. After three of them dumped fuel in sheet order after installation, my mechanic fixed me up with a regular gas cap which seals well.
The box of the TM is perfect for ice fishing. Fish, the auger, rods, clothes, chairs, minnows, all get tossed into the plastic box and nothing falls out. Tony even discovered the tailgate was an excellent surface for cleaning perch. I’ll throw a board into the back for the next trip. The glove box is a write-off in cold weather. Its latch becomes too stiff to open safely with frosted fingers. The lights work well to mark the vehicle in the muddled traffic of a fishing derby, and the high beams are adequate for travel at night.
Apart from the cold, the TM is a pleasant vehicle. It doesn’t rattle. It starts and runs well. It has adequate speed for extended runs on the lake – the only time I used full speed was an attempt to get to the weigh-in with a trophy perch. It has lots of power and the engine sound isn’t tiring.
I suspect the machine will make many more trips with ice fishing equipment aboard.