(Because of my upcoming surgery, I’ve not been able to get out and do much. Here’s an icefishing story from seventeen years ago that could have almost happened yesterday.)
An afternoon at the lake….
I glanced out the window at the thermometer on the deck as I answered the telephone. The thermometer said 25-below zero. The voice on the phone asked, “Howard, if it’s above zero and not snowing a blizzard, would you want to go icefishing next Monday afternoon?” After staying inside for the previous week because of the extremely cold temperatures, I was ready to get back outdoors. I asked Doug when and where he was thinking of going.
We decided to meet about noon on Monday and drive out to Finger Lake to chase some of the stocked landlocked salmon Fish and Game had planted specifically for ice-fishermen. Doug’s two teenage sons, Joel and Luke, were coming too, and I suspect were the driving force behind the trip.
I called Fish and Game Monday morning to inquire about ice thicknesses. I spoke with a Sport Fish Division staffer who had been out on Finger Lake over the previous weekend. He told me the ice was somewhere between two- and three-feet thick – driving a vehicle on the lake would not be a problem.
I spent the rest of Monday morning making sure my power auger was running properly and loading my gear into the truck. We met in Big Lake at the appointed time and Luke rode with me to relieve the crowding in Doug’s truck.
We arrived at Finger Lake and saw one vehicle out on the ice, parked way down from where we planned to go. I was surprised to see how few anglers were there since the F&G staffer had told me he saw over one hundred people out fishing the Saturday before.
We drove out to our favorite location and positioned the trucks to break the wind blowing across the lake. Everybody picked their spot and I fired up the auger. It took a little time to cut each hole through nearly three feet of clear, solid ice. The guys were all fishing before I finished drilling my own 8-inch hole. Joel had the first fish on the ice in a matter of minutes.
I was using a little chartreuse jig-head hook with a small piece of cooked shrimp for bait. Joel was using a small, bright red jig and shrimp. Doug was jigging a small Mepps with a flashing silver blade without bait next to Joel. I’m not sure what lure Luke was using.
Joel had three fish on the ice and Doug had two by the time I hooked and landed my first landlocked salmon. Luke had yet to get a bite. He and I discussed moving over to Doug and Joel’s holes after they limited out when, suddenly, the fish appeared beneath us.
In a little over an hour from the time I started fishing, I limited out with my ten landlocked salmon. I gave my chartreuse jig to Luke, who had already caught five or six fish, and told him to tip the hook with small pieces of shrimp. His catch-rate immediately picked up.
Luke and Joel limited out about the same time maybe ten minutes after me. Now we all concentrated on getting “Dad” his limit. While the kids and I had been catching fish, Doug had been experimenting with different lure and bait scenarios and had five fish on the ice. Shortly after I quit fishing, Doug moved over to the hole I had been using to see if his luck would improve.
After Luke limited out, the popular chartreuse jig found its way onto Doug’s line, and we all were offering suggestions on the right depth to fish and when to set the hook. I must admit that I enjoyed watching the kids coaching their dad on how to catch a fish through the ice. Doug listened and refined his techniques. In just a few minutes he, too, was limited out. In a little over two hours, we had a combined forty fish in the bag.
On the return trip home, we encountered a blizzard of near white-out driving conditions along the Parks Highway between Wasilla and Big Lake. We hadn’t seen as much as a snowflake in the air while fishing.
Fresh fish for dinner is a real treat in the wintertime. Doug told me as we were leaving Finger Lake, “We need to do this more often!”