Not so long ago the typical ice-fisherman went onto the ice carrying a spud bar or an axe, one of his standard fishing rods and reels, the same used during the open water period, a few hooks and sinkers, and bait.
My first ice-fishing excursions took place at the cove in Starbrick. I remember that chopping a hole through the ice with an axe was sloppy work, and from that point on you were wet and cold.
I believe it was sometime in the early 1970s, shortly after getting out of the Army, when I bought my first hand auger. It was the spoon type, wonderful in its day, but just about impossible to maintain a sharp edge. The first Swedish screw type auger far outclassed the spoon auger. There was still a problem of keeping blades sharp, but new blades were a lot less expensive than new spoons. There were places where you could send the blades to have them sharpened, but that was nearly as expensive as buying new blades.
I forked out the money for the Swedish auger the winter in the mid-1970s when ice at the Allegheny Reservoir was more than 40 inches thick. That was during the period when huge walleye, muskie, pike, and trout were being pulled through the ice at the reservoir on a pretty regular basis. On a few occasions either I, or one of the regular gang from Smith's Bait Shop that gathered to ice fish together hooked fish so large that they could not be squeezed through the usual 7-inch holes. Sometimes a couple more holes could be drilled close enough to make one large hole, but that was very difficult and usually the fish was gone before it was finished.
Still, not many local guys had gas powered augers yet. I think they were available, but I am not certain.
By the 1990s someone I fished with had a gas auger, and during most winters then the ice was no thicker than about a foot. It was probably after 2000, when arthritis made drilling holes with a hand auger very painful, that I finally laid out the money for a gas auger. It was a winter when there was very little ice and stores were desperately trying to unload their ice-fishing gear. I paid at least $100 less that the auger would have cost just before the ice-fishing season.
A lot of other things having to do with ice-fishing were changing at about that time. But in this area things lagged behind the Upper Midwest because there was not much good ice for a few consecutive years.
Now serious ice-fishers have a lot more gear than we did a few years earlier.
Most people who do a good amount of ice-fishing have some sort of ice shelter. My own is a one-man model that folds down in a manner that leaves the sled open with enough room for all of the gear I would want to haul. It is light enough that I can load and unload it from the bed of my truck alone. Some people who usually fish in groups use shelters large enough for four ice-fishers, then there are modular additions that allow shelters to be connected so you can visit your friends without even stepping outside.
Ice-fishers do not feel completely equipped unless they have either sonar or an underwater video camera. Flasher sonars which were on the way to obsolescence have made a comeback because they are superior to other types for ice-fishing.
A good flasher will show the jig, and fish can be followed as they approach, then strike the jig. The most useful function of sonar, to me, is the ability to detect fish that are suspended well above bottom. This can completely turn a day around while ice-fishing in water deeper than 6 feet. Presque Isle Bay may be the best example.
Sonar can be the most effective tool while ice-fishing for crappie during midwinter. This is usually a time for very slow crappie fishing. Often the only problem is that crappie suspend. In small reservoirs such as Lake Wilhelm or Woodcock Creek Lake, crappie are usually quite abundant near the dam where depths may be 20 feet to 30 feet. Fishing close to bottom usually is a waste of time. However, locating crappie without sonar is very time consuming, especially since the correct depth may change several times in a day. This, I think, is because crappie travel in small groups, and these groups suspend at various depths.
Usually ice-fishers make a choice of either sonar or underwater video cameras. The latter sometimes become almost more fun than the actual fishing. Folks who use them typically talk more about fish they have seen rather than fish they have caught. Looking for fish on the screen may even get in the way of catching fish, but as long as the ice-fisher is having a good time, who cares?