Despite waking up to a -38C windchill yesterday, Darrell and I felt the need to hit the ice. After days of snow squalls, high winds, and blowing snow, the sunshine and the gentle breeze were a welcome change.
Having time to fish during the week is a rarity for us; so too was the nearly empty parking lot at our lake of choice. As I pulled on my heavy socks, my floater suit, and my Baffin Titan boots, I became aware of pain in my bare hands. It took two pairs of gloves and a few minutes of questioning why I left my warm house, before my hands had settled and I was good to go.
Walking through the parking lot, I was glad for my ice cleats, but after climbing over a snowdrift and walking out on the lake, I found myself wishing for snowshoes. It wasn’t long before I was toasty warm from the walk.
Darrell began drilling the first hole while I set-up the fish finder. He was still at it by the time I had hooked up the battery lines, turned the unit on, and fiddled around with the views and some settings. When he finally broke through the ice, the handle of the auger was nearly down to the top of the snow, and he was bending over for the final turns. Both of us realized it may be time to bite the bullet and buy a power auger. Twenty-seven inches of ice is a lot to drill through by hand.
To his credit, Darrell was still game to drill more holes in search of fish, and after three more, we found the depths we were looking for. More work was involved to shovel away snow so we had a clear area for the holes and the hut. I don’t think we (Darrell) have ever been required to put so much effort into a day of fishing before we even dropped a line.
Once the hut was set we were able to sit down and start organizing ourselves. Before I had even gotten a rod out, the finder started marking all sorts of things and I dropped the underwater camera down to have a better look. Fish bonanza! Every time I turned the camera I got a screen full of fish. Crappie, sunfish, perch…they were everywhere. The most accessible rods were grabbed first, with our fingers crossed that the fish would go for some more aggressive baits. After a few minutes I felt a weight on my line and started reeling, only to loose whatever it was at the hole.
After the initial flurry of excitement, we settled down and got the rest of our equipment out. I’ll be the first to admit that we don’t travel light, and there are usually nine rods in our hut, each rigged with something different so we don’t have to waste time when we want to switch. Just reel one in, put it down, and grab the next one. It works for us, and it came in handy when the marks on the fish finder disappeared, and a pike showed up on the camera screen. I reeled my Jigging Shad Rap in so quickly that it rocketed out of the hole. Darrell, while watching the pike on the camera, told me , “Grab Dino, quick, Dino’s got a jig”.
As an aside, yes, we name our rods. Usually it’s just a shortened version of the manufacturer and a reference to the action. But Dino is different. Dino is one of those little kids rods with the plastic spincaster reel built right on to it. It’s silly looking and was a freebie, but the darn thing is a great rod for bigger fish.
I shuffled through the other rods until I found Dino, then dropped the Berkley minnow down the hole and gave it a few jigs. The action was perfect. On the camera we were able to see the pike come in for a look. With the water being nice and clear, I decided to look down my hole and could see the pike only inches from the lure. I gave it another pop and SMASH! I set the hook hard, and although I had the weight of the pike on my line for a few seconds, I failed to drive the hook home and the pike swam away. I lost the fish, but what a rush.
We marked fish all day long. Whether it was perch or suspending panfish, they were there, but reluctant to bite. A largemouth bass spent most of the day hanging out in this area, and it was fun to watch him do a slow cruise. Since bass are out of season around here, we couldn’t try to catch him, but it’s always nice to watch a bass. Pike would cruise through intermittently. In fact, I’m pretty sure my friend who got away had returned, because when Darrell dropped the jig back down, the pike took off.
It was a great day of fish watching, both on the finder and the camera. The camera, in particular, has made slow days more enjoyable for me, because I can watch the fish if they’re not biting. And I love doing that almost as much as catching them.
This outing also marked a first for me – for the first time since I started fishing that I had a visit from a Conservation Officer, checking fishing licences. It was great to see him out on the lake and keeping an eye on things.
Fortunately, our day did not end with missed fish and the visit from the CO. Darrell decided to make a rig that could attract both pike and perch, and it resulted the day’s first fish through the hole, a little perch.
We continued rotating through lures, fishing different levels of the water column, and varying our technique. Fish would come in and look, but their mouths appeared to be frozen shut. I couldn’t blame them, it has been far too cold this winter. I was debating what to change up to next, when I heard Darrell yell, “Gotcha!”. Judging by the arc in his rod, he had something bigger than a perch or small crappie, and as I leaned over to move his transducer out of the hole, a beefy pumpkinseed popped out. I love sunnies!
We had to call it a day not long after that fish. I was surprised to feel the frigid air on my face as I emerged from the hut. Our Clam shelter does an awesome job of keeping us warm on the cold winter days.
After chatting with some other anglers, it seemed that everyone experienced some frozen fish lips, but most people were able to pull in a fish or two. Everyone was in agreement that even if the fishing was slow, it was a fantastic day to be on the lake.
The discussion on the drive home was about whether or not to buy a power auger. It really boils down to how many more days we think we’ll need it this season. Will we get out enough to justify the purchase before the ice disappears? We have a bit of money set aside for a fishing purchase, but both of us are leaning away from the auger and towards new fly rods for brookie fishing. I’m a little sick of ice, and trout opener is two months away. I guess we’ll see how much longer Darrell can handle drilling holes.