The temperatures have finally plummeted to allow for sufficient ice thickness on some of my local ponds. Not wanting to waste this precious opportunity, my friends and I quickly scrambled to get on the hard water and find our first fish of the year. As the temperatures warm due to climate change, chances like these are hard to come by. That being said, it’s incredibly important to ensure the ice is thick enough before stepping onto it. Ice is nothing to mess with. There is no sense in risking your life to catch a mere fish or two.
Soon, our first hole was drilled, and our first baits were being dropped down. It’s slightly ridiculous how quickly you can turn the ice into swiss cheese with all the holes dotting the pond. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean the fish will come easily.
It was nearly an hour before we got our first flag. Actually, due to user error (yes, even I mess up some times), the flag never actually popped. It was more of a jiggle of the entire tip-up that alerted me to the fish on the line. There’s no better feeling than catching the first fish of the day before any of your other friends even get a bite. After a short and, dare I say, weak fight, a cookie-cutter sized bass emerged from the hole. I was elated to at last catch my first fish of 2021. And a bass, none the less!
With lifted spirits, we were ready to catch some more fish. And boy did we not have to wait long! Even though there were nearly a dozen other options, the flag went up on the same trap no more than a minute after I reset it. This time, though, it wasn’t a largie on the other side of the line, but instead a slimy pickerel. In my opinion, these native warmwater fish are harshly underrated; they put up a great fight, and will eat almost anything under the sun. Still, there is no debating that they are annoying to handle, and will turn even the nicest clothing into a smelly mess.
I was convinced the day couldn’t get any better. Two fish in less than two minutes? Unbeatable. I grabbed my jigging rod rigged with a marabou jig and a shiner head and dropped it down until I felt bottom. When I felt my line go slack, I closed the bail and slowly reeled it off the pond floor. I didn’t get far, though, before the rod doubled over. Unprepared, I clumsily set the hook, and fumbled to get my hand on the reel. I couldn’t believe it! I lifted my second largemouth of the day into my hand, and looked at my friend. Lo and behold, his rod was now bent over as well! It truly was prime time. He grabbed his first fish of the day, a decent bass. We just looked at each other and laughed. We hadn’t had fishing this great since the summer.
Over the next few hours, the fishing significantly slowed down. It’s not like we didn’t catch anything. Quite the contrary, in fact. But the nine fish over the next four-and-a-half hours was nothing compared to the four we caught in just a matter of minutes. We were all surprised to have only caught one small bluegill jigging panfish lures compared to the 12 we caught on tip-ups and larger jigs. It was an unusually successful day.
Unfortunately, these good times won’t last long. With daytime highs well into the high thirties and forties over the next week, it looks like we won’t have thick enough ice for long. With the uncertainty of the ice fishing season over the past few years, we were lucky to have a day as great as this. We certainly didn’t catch any big fish, like a six pounder one of my friends with me today caught last year, but it was terrific for numbers. Let’s hope for cold temperatures and hungry fish in the months ahead.