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.

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