Friday, March 8, 2013

Season's first and last ice fishing trip likely also only one

Putty-gray was not just the color of the winter sky above but also the color of the farm pond’s ice below.

Dedicated ice-fishing anglers often refer to such material as “punk ice,” a term that generally applies to maybe-safe, maybe-not-so-safe, conditions.

“Good ice,” yelled Paul Liikala, thrusting his left hand up and spreading his fingers apart as a way of making a safe-ice explanation point.

Liikala had worked his way from the farm pond’s shore, drilling first a hole in the ice only several feet from the bank. He then inched further out, drilling test bore holes along the way.

Wearing a super-bright Mustang survival suit, Liikala was less concerned about falling through the ice more than he was regarding whether we’d have the opportunity to fish.

“There’s six inches of ice,” Liikala said after returning to land. “We’re good to go.”

The ghostly scab of gray ice was little more than a shim overlaying several inches of solid clear stuff underneath, Liikala said.

Such conditions would not forestall an effort for us to try and catch some of the farm pond’s fishes.

“You have to consider it a bonus when you get good ice this far into March,” Liikala said.

Actually, March’s good ice not only provided our last opportunity to ice-fish the farm pond this season it also was the first opportunity. Thus, it likewise was the only opportunity.

Considering as well how the 2011’s unseasonably mild/global-warming/climate change/whatever-weather tossed out any chance for ice-fishing the farm pond, we were thoroughly pleased.

Using his ice augur to drill a matched set of holes for each of us, Liikala decided that four weren’t enough. Nor eight nor even 10.

Liikala took off on the ice, drilling a running series of prospective holes that would please an entire colony of gophers or prairie dogs.

On our first attempt at fishing after Liikala had worn himself out by drilling holes (“I’m pretty hot from all that work”) we sent our lines down through the farm pond’s slightly stained waters.

Having determined the water’s depth by temporarily attaching a weighted alligator clip to an ice-fishing jig, we settled on having the lures and their accompanying wax worms suspend 12 to 18 inches above the farm pond’s muddy floor.

That should get the fish’s attention, we figured.

It did, though not as fast nor with as many fish as we would have liked. Call it timing. Late ice, Liikala opined, usually means the better fishing comes to play toward early evening.

For now we were content with catching a few respectable bluegills. The numbers were enough to keep us paying attention to our lines but not enough to stave off worry how this could be our worst-ever ice-fishing day.

No need to panic, of course. Certainly not with this farm pond anyway.

A swap of pre-drilled holes proved less than satisfying in the volume of bluegills being hoodwinked by the stationary jig-wax worm combination.

Size was a different story, and here size did matter. The average length of the fish was on the rise, another hint that the later we angled the better the odds were of catching both more and larger fish.

Just about the time I was thinking we had enough, Liikala yelled from his perch up toward the face of the pond’s dam. And while we were separated by maybe 150 yards I could see the fish Liikala was holding up had some substance to it.

Sure enough the last series of holes to be drilled by Liikala was over a hollowed-out cavity - or bowl - in the pond’s substrate. And down maybe 15 to 18 feet Liikala tapped into the hunger of a nearly 14-inch-long white crappie.

That would be our forth and last move. There really was no point in trying to augur any more bore holes into the ice.

Better still the clock was now entering the cusp between late afternoon and early evening. On cue the fish started to bite; nice-size fish, better-size fish, and finally Liikala’s “that would be a ‘wow’ fish for a public lake.”

Trying to keep an eye on more than one pole became a chore, the fishing having turned itself on with gusto. Usually it meant that while you were keeping a close look on the tantalizing pull-down of a foam plastic float in one hole the another float in the hole three feet to the right dipped quickly.

Which led to neither fish being caught.

It was a stretch of good-natured banter as either Liikala or I would withdraw a bluegill, admire the fish and then send it back down the hole from which it was extracted.

Before we even realized it we each had become chilled as the evening took hold.

It had been a good day of ice fishing; the likely first, last, and thus, only, such trip of the kind to the pond this year.

Yep, the long wait was worth it, too.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter @Fieldkorn

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