Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Family On Ice

Introducing family and friends to fishing is vital to keeping the sport alive. Yes, some anglers are self-taught, but most are shown the light by a relative, friend or mentor. My uncle and I had talked about taking out his two sons and my younger brother out for a day on the ice for some time. The stars finally aligned and that day came last weekend. 

The main mission of this trip was ensuring that good times were had by all and if we were lucky, to put a few fish on the ice.  Well lucky we were, but only with the forecast. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and the kids were peeling off layers by 10 a.m.  The fishing, however, left much to be desired and it wasn't for the lack of trying either. 

It was still dark upon arrival and the thought of walking on ice in an unfamiliar location may have been intimidating at first.  They all jumped in unison too, as the first pressure crack roared across the lake.  Soon comfort set in and we got to work.  Even if we weren't going to catch, we still were going to put on a show. Two pop-up shelters were erected on a day that didn't require any.  Over 25 tip-ups laced a few acres of the lake, baited with shiners imitating the land-locked alewives that call this place home.  We made the ice look like Swiss cheese with the gas augers for jigging missions too.

A few flags did fly, but the fish, most likely smallmouth bass or yellow perch, were not committing to our baits.  Even jigging proved fruitless, as the fish signals on our electronics were few and far between.  During down time, which more or less was a good portion of the day, the kids kept busy by searching for alewives that perished and rose to the lake surface, only to become incased in the ice.  Once located, the chisels came out and the alewives were freed and put on a sharp hook and dropped to the bottom of the lake.  It didn't help the cause, but it sure seemed like a good idea!  All in all, our guests enjoyed every second of the day, vowing to join us again soon.

In rare form, we were off the ice by 2 PM and made it home to witness the UConn men's basketball team topple #1 ranked Texas, which made a good day even sweeter.  Another highlight was testing my new Flip Video camera. Unfortunately, there wasn't too much action to capture on this trip, but this will be a very useful tool down the road. Here's a short clip I put together after messing around with the camera for the first time. 

Monday, January 18, 2010

Mid Season Form

What a difference one week can make.  Last weekend, trout were stacked at the lake bottom, aggressively inhaling our jigs at times. Seven days later, trout were hard to find under our base camp, lightly tapping our jigs, if they even hit them at all. One thing that did improve since the last time out was the temperature, as Saturday was akin to a beach day. Our parkas were rarely worn, and some of us ventured away from the shelter to see if better luck could found elsewhere on the lake. 

Photo credit: Aaron Swanson

Photo credit: Aaron Swanson

As we approach late January, the mid-season doldrums are now upon us. Early ice is now over across the board for Connecticut anglers.  Good fish can still be had any given trip, but the consistent action of first ice is over and done with.  We will hopefully see an up-tick in activity as late ice approaches about a month from now.  Since we capitalized on early ice trout and pike, I plan to branch out and revisit other venues that were neglected during the first part of this season. Species like walleye, smelt and smallmouth bass may be targeted over the next few outings, before returning back to pike and trout to close out the ice season.  Slow fishing or not, a great time was still had by all on Saturday, with a crew reminiscent of the good old days. 

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Early Ice Video

Here's a great way to burn a couple of minutes. My buddy Derrick did an excellent job capturing and editing this footage from some first-ice trout trips. The fishing was hot and heavy for a few days in a row. Check it out!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Early Ice Trout

CT DEEP's Inland Fisheries Division stocks a number of our lakes with trophy Seeforellen brown trout, a fast-growing German strain that thrives in deep, cold water. These big lakes are typically some of the last to freeze over leaving anxious trout anglers keeping close tabs on long-term forecasts each winter. With last week's arctic blast, we had high hopes that the lake was locked-up and ready to go. On Thursday a friend scouted and fished there, confirming our suspicions and saving us a 3-hour recon trip. By Friday morning, we were walking on three inches of black ice above 80-feet of water.
Derrick and I walked out to a virgin piece of ice and got to work.  I took my time jigging while setting tip-ups, while Derrick quickly put in his limit of traps.  When the sun came up, the bite turned on and we chased flags for the next two hours. The action was hot and heavy and we had trouble keeping our lines in the water.  At one point there were six traps on the ice that needed to be reset, but that's a good problem to have.  We both iced some nice specimens on the tip-ups during the morning window, though Derrick had the hot hand and put on a good show.    

Photo credit: Derrick Kirkpatrick

A friend and trout guru, Capt. Alewife, soon ventured out to meet us, but unfortunately the fierce morning action had cooled.  We did have a slow pick of fish throughout mid-day, but nothing like only a few hours earlier. The weather conditions changed, most likely turning off the bite.  A low pressure system moved out and a high, which would park itself over us for the next few days, rolled in.  The wind we knew was coming finally reared its ugly head and the one-man shelters came in handy. 

Throughout the afternoon, we made adjustments for the finicky trout, finally breaking their lock jaw with some finesse jigging.  We eventually pulled most of our traps and focused on jigging with electronics to put more fish on the ice.  We settled into a nice groove by late afternoon before packing up for the long ride home.  It would only be a few short hours before we got up and did it all over again.  The lack of sleep and hefty gas bill didn't matter, we were about to experience some of the best ice fishing we ever had. 

Day Two

Taking what we learned from the day before, we tweaked our game plan slightly for the next outing.  We were the first ones on the ice again, this time joined by Aaron, who was chomping at the bit from being stuck at work the day before.  We set tip-ups right off the bat, without early jigging to slow us down.  We did not set as many however, nor did we spread them so far apart.  I think we all knew the jigging would produce a higher number of fish collectively, but the traps were hard to neglect, as any flag could produce a trophy.  With all of the traps nearly set, a gust of wind came through signaling that it was time to set up base camp and lock her down with ice screws.  The wind blew a consistent 10 to 25 all day, putting the wind chill factor near zero.

With the tip-ups in and base camp locked down, we sat three abreast in the roomy Eskimo and began to call in the trout.  Right from the start, we were marking many targets on our fish-finders, right off bottom in over 70 feet of water.  It is almost hard to describe the fishing that occurred in that shelter for the next couple of hours, but it was nothing short of stellar.  There were several double hookups and even a rare triple.  Hoots, hollers and high-fives were commonplace for the day.  There wasn't a span of five minutes where a rod wasn't bent over.  With the wind blowing outside, it was hard to venture from the shack, even for tripped flags.  However, knowing the caliber of fish that roam this lake, every flag must be tended to, and it just so happened that the largest trout of the day came on a trap.

Photo credit: Aaron Swanson

As productive as trap fishing can be, they can be burn valuable time due to maintenance.  Unraveling 70-plus feet of braided line in temperatures hovering near zero degrees is a slow and painful process.  When the fishing is "on", time is of the essence and this is where the jigging rod can shine.  We had the trout in a frenzy on the bottom of the lake and we had to keep them interested.  One at a time we pulled our traps, which helped us from losing our hands to the cold.  We left a select few tip-ups out with rather large baits for the trout that never came.  We continued to pluck quality fish from the depths until the action came to a halt in the late afternoon.  Nothing of serious size came through the holes in the shelter, but 16 and 17 inch trout became the norm, with multiple 18 and 19 inch fish iced too.

Photo credit: Aaron Swanson

Photo credit: Aaron Swanson

Photo credit: Aaron Swanson

The action dwindled as the day wore on, but full advantage was taken during the early ice melee.  We hadn't achieved the size class of Seeforellens we were after, but the sheer numbers of fish iced certainly helped.  It was all smiles during the long pull back to the trucks.  We had a great couple days on Connecticut's trout-Mecca, along with good company and many a long laugh.  The weather conditions were brutal, but equipped with the proper gear, we made it happen. I already know where I'll be next weekend and with any luck we'll crack into a bigger class of trout.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Putting Time In

A friend and I spent the last day of 2009 on a favorite frozen body of water. We were after Northern pike again and we were not alone. Our vehicle was the sixth in the lot at 5 AM, yet we still managed to put ourselves in good position on a flat where a river pours in. The anglers that we shared the ice with were not rookies. We have seen their trucks numerous times before and have seen plenty of photos of their trophy pike. 

Photo credit: Derrick Kirkpatrick

A fishy low pressure system gave us confidence in our approach, but our dead baits went unmolested all day hovering off bottom in eight to ten feet of water. A nine hour outing and not one flag--a bitter reminder of how ice fishing for pike can be like watching paint dry. One group mustered a decent pike as we were picking up and another landed a surprise four-pound brown trout, which most likely ventured in the lake from one of its tributaries. It was still a slow day considering the storm front and sheer amount of baits in the water, but, as the saying goes, a tough day of fishing beats a good day at work. It was nice eating hot food in the confines of our shelter and it's always good to connect with other anglers that share the same passion.