western Wisconsin firm finds success with specialty ice fishing products
In early December, you might have seen many an ice angler out on Half Moon Lake, including a few bright red pop-up tents with the brand name Eskimo. With a name like that, you might think Alaska or Canada. Actually, Eskimo Ice Fishing Gear and Ion Electric Ice Augers are made by a company headquartered in Cumberland, Wisconsin, just an hour from Eau Claire. Eskimo and Ion are two of 10 brands created by a half-century old company called Ardisam Inc. which is known for reliable fishing shelters, augers, and other outdoor products. The company employs about 130 people.
“In 1960, my grandfather Dick Ruppel started up a small machine shop with two other guys named Art and Sam – thus the name of the parent company, AR-DI-SAM,” said grandson Graham Ruppel, the company’s director of marketing. The company’s main focus was the ice auger, and although Dick Ruppel was the only founder who stayed with the business after the first year, the operation grew slowly and surely. His sons, Mark and Ron, took over in the mid-1990s, and the company expanded from a single machine shop with two products into eight manufacturing and warehouse facilities in Cumberland plus an office in China. In addition to the Eskimo and Ion brands, Ardisam also owns Barronett Blinds, Castle Pellet Stoves, Earthquake Groundbreaking Power Equipment, Gazelle Tents, Rivers Edge Treestands, Yardbird Chicken Plucker, Yukon Tracks, and Yutrax ATV Accessories.
“The new products we create are based on input from our super users,” Ruppel said. “We are focused on solving the problems that our users want solved, and then we test, test, and test, before a product comes to market.”
While Ruppel enjoys ice fishing, he is not a die-hard fanatic. That role belongs to Tony Aloia, principal consultant for the 32 Degrees Outdoor Group, and brand ambassador for the Eskimo and Ion brands. Aloia grew up in Michigan’s upper peninsula and credits his enthusiasm to his dad for first taking him ice fishing at age 6.
Before getting into the camaraderie and fun of ice fishing, Aloia was quick to emphasize safety. “First and foremost, no matter how much you want to catch that fish, ice safety comes first, whether you are an experienced or novice ice angler,” he said. “Always let someone know your plans – where you are going and when you expect to return. And preferably, go with a friend; don’t go alone. Take your cell phone with you. Dress appropriately for the weather, and remember to wear a hat, gloves or mittens, and boots. You lose the most heat from your extremities. Wear a life vest or take one along. Always carry something sharp to pull yourself to safety if you fall in.”
You also need to judge the thickness of the ice to ensure it’s safe to walk and fish on. Contact your local Department of Natural Resources office, bait shop, or fishing club about current conditions. Pay attention to “Thin Ice” signs. Watch the color of the ice. Gray or dark ice means soft, slushy ice. Hard blue-colored ice usually means strong, thick ice. Depending on your mode of transportation, you need 5 inches of ice for an ATV, 6 inches for a snowmobile, and 10 to 12 inches of ice for a car or light truck.
Prior to the start of ice fishing season, Aloia and Ruppel attend many ice fishing and winter sports shows. The St. Paul Ice Fishing and Winter Sports Show, now in its 26th year, is one of the largest. Aloia just returned from the Fargo Ice Show, which he created and coordinated. “Ice fishing is definitely growing in popularity,” he said. “We are finding that ice fishing is becoming a family affair. It’s a great way to get outside during the winter, enjoy nature, and get some fish to eat at the same time.”
More information about Ardisam outdoor gear and the company is available online at www.ardisam.com.