After months of seeing posts and watching videos from other northern anglers on the ice, I was finally able to join in the action this past weekend. While the temperature was brisk and the wind was nippy, I didn’t realize just how much I missed ice fishing until I got back out there. Refreezing holes and driving gusts aside, my return to the icier side of the sport was full of fun and excitement.
My ice fishing endeavor started on Saturday, with a high of 11 degrees and a wind chill of -6 while I was on the ice. Joined by my buddies Ryan and Ben, we set out on a small local pond, one which we frequently fish during the open water season, but had never visited during the winter. Much to our surprise, this small pond, tucked away in a quiet neighborhood, had already had several visitors, and the surface of the pond was dotted with well over a dozen iced-over holes.
It took us well over a half-hour to set up our two pop-up tents, stake them down, and set up the guy lines to keep the walls from caving in from the force of intense windy blasts. Sparing no time at all, Ben’s Buddy Heater was quickly ignited and set to HIGH, giving us a much-needed place to escape the elements and defrost. Another 45 minutes were spent setting up our tip-ups, and 30 minutes passed before we saw our first flag. When the small chain pickerel hit the ice, we were all elated to have at least not gotten skunked.
The following ninety minutes were spent inventing new ways to stay warm and keep entertained while we waited for the flags to fly. While I would typically pass the time jigging, I just couldn’t muster up the willpower to sit still for any extended period of time, save for that time spent in the heated shack.
When we finally gave in, it was around 4:00 and the sun was starting to dip below the horizon. We each began to pull our traps from the ice, haphazardly reeling in the line while we fought frozen fingers and faces. Peering through the hole of my final tip-up, I noticed the line running sideways. After chiseling my way through the ice that had formed around my trap, I pulled it out of the hole and gave a great tug on the line, only to feel resistance on the other end: fish on!
Whatever the fish was, it felt heavy. The dead weight I was pulling on gave very few headshakes, leading me to believe it was either a behemoth bass, elusive shiner-eating carp, or a northern stickfish (commonly referred to as a log). When it got to the hole, however, it was none of those three options. An enormous mass of weeds flopped onto the ice, more weeds than I had ever seen attached to a single hook before. From within this glob of grass and goo came a small one-pound bass, the culprit behind the unimaginable mess on my line.
While I struggled to unhook the fish and disentangle the junk, the flag on Ben’s tip-up flew up. On the other end of his line, sans eight pounds of weeds, was a yellow perch that was quickly released before we finished packing up.
The next morning I was up bright-and-early to head out to a local ice fishing hotspot with my friend Brendan. When we arrived at the pond, we met my family’s friend JP, who is far more experienced at fishing the pond than either Brendan or I (though Brendan knows the pond quite intimately as well). Though equally chilly, Sunday was much less windy, which made for a far more pleasant fishing day.
Without needing to set up multiple tents and a heater, we made quick work of setting out our tip-ups and had our first flag before we even finished. The healthy two-pounder was quickly released.
By the time we finished our setup, Brendan had already had four unsuccessful flags. On the fifth, however, his hook set was met with a strong tug in the opposite direction, and the fight was on. After pulling in the many yards of line the fish had screamed from the spool, Brendan pulled the largie up to the hole, and I immediately scooped it out. The bass went 19.5 inches and looked to be about three-and-a-half to four pounds. After I left, JP caught a bass with the same dimensions and looks, which he presumes was the same fish Brendan had caught earlier.
The rest of the morning was about as action-packed as any day I’ve had on the ice ever. Flags were flying faster than we could reset them, and what had started at fourteen shiners quickly dwindled to a mere four.
As icing on the cake for an already exciting day, a fisher cat found its way onto the ice just as I was about to leave. When JP pointed and told me to look, all I saw was a small black dog; upon closer inspection though, I realized it was no dog. The fisher was chasing a frazzled hockey player around as he attempted to escape the path of the unusually aggressive mammal. At last, the fisher gave up and plopped down next to a couple of other ice fisherman. While they too looked a little concerned, they did the right thing and refrained from harassing the animal. When Brendan finally left the pond three-and-a-half hours later, the fisher cat apparently remained in the same spot, likely on the losing end of a bout with an illness or an encounter with a bigger, badder predator.
With the impending rain and warm temperatures today, all I can do is hope that the ice sticks around for some more fishing in the near future. For now, though, I’m satisfied with having caught my first few fish of the year, especially while partaking in an activity I’ve been waiting months to do.