Monday, February 21, 2011

Night Eyes

Wind wreaked havoc on ice fishing plans across the region this weekend.  Saturday and Sunday for the most part were unfishable. We had friends that tried and broke part of their pop-up shelter as a result.  Gusts to 40 MPH were common from Friday night into Sunday morning, and one town in northeastern Connecticut reported a gust of thanks! The wind finally died down Sunday afternoon just as we were settling in for a night of walleye fishing. A small snow event was due to move in around midnight, so we hoped for pre-storm action action as the barometer dropped. 

The bare ice made for some easy pulling and studded boots were needed to stay on your feet. We set up in a spot that has treated us well in the past and focused on depths ranging from 10 to 20-feet of water. Our live shiners and dead alewives were set just off bottom and we gave ourselves a bunch of extra holes throughout the spread for jigging. All was quiet until 9:10 PM when Aaron spotted the one and only blinking red light of the evening. It was Derrick's flag. The walleye had taken a decent amount of line out but then swam back towards the hole. Derrick patiently caught up to the fish until he felt something there and set the hook. Soon a respectable 22-inch-plus walleye came through the hole. 

The night was already a success by our standards and we still had a few more hours to kill before the first snow flakes fell. Next up was an ice feast that you dream about. Aaron cooked up a half dozen cheeseburger sliders, as well as pierogies and kielbasa, which we topped off with some good beers and swigs of espresso vodka.  Like clockwork, the wind reared its ugly head as the storm rolled in and we knew it was time to pack up. That was fine by us though.  Anytime you can get good friends together, eat like kings and land a keeper walleye is considered a solid outing in our book.

Stay tuned for next weekend's full report from our annual excursion to Maine...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bait & Switch

We stepped foot on the lake as the first hints of dawn were creeping over the hills. And for the first time in over a month, dragging gear across the ice was easy. The right combination of mixed precipitation, thawing and refreezing had packed the snow well.  My power auger got its toughest workout of the season boring eight-inch holes through 30 inches of snow and ice. I punched holes in a tight circle and Jon cleared the mass amounts of slush. We then sat over 55 feet of water and got to work trying to catch our bait for the day.

Jon and Aaron had some live shiners as a backup plan, but the real meal tickets for trout in this lake are land-locked rainbow smelt. Smelting can either be a blast or flat-out frustrating. This trip started out as the latter. We had light-action jigging rods with spring-bobber extensions to aid in strike detection. Our small jigs and ice flies were tipped with fish meat and dropped down to the appropriate depth on the fish finder. Then we imparted little action and waited for the tiniest depressions of our rod tips to let us know that smelt 30-feet below were nibbling our offerings. 

On this particular morning they were not cooperating. We set some tip-ups with shiners anyway and waited for any type of bite to turn on. Confidence for flags flying was low without smelt on our traps, so we continued to try and crack the code. Around mid-morning, as if someone turned on a switch, we finally started getting them to eat, and one by one we switched out our shiners for fresh smelt. It did not take long before flags started to pop. 

Photo credit: Aaron Swanson

Both the smelt and trout action continued to pick up as the morning wore off.  Though not awfully big, these trout sport some awesome colors thanks to the cold, clean water and their healthy smelt diet. It keeps me coming back knowing what a real trophy out of there could look like. Unfortunately, we had to leave them biting, as all three of us were headed to the same obligation that afternoon. But before packing up, Jon capped off the outing with a nice 16-inch holdover brown on his first-ever smelt. It goes to show that having the right bait can sometimes be the difference between a skunk and a decent day. The leftovers didn't go to waste; I bagged them up individually and put them in the freezer when I got home, as dead smelt are better than no smelt.  

Monday, February 7, 2011

Change Of Pace

Much of my free time in February is reserved for ice fishing, yet winter fly fishing is always a worthy option. My friends DerrickTodd and I spent a few hours on the Farmington River yesterday. Air temps crept near 40 degrees, though gusty northwest winds and leaky waders let me know winter was still in the driver's seat. River access wasn't easy--we had to blaze new paths through the snow at both spots we fished. The Farmington was running at a nice level, yet I couldn't tell you exactly what the flow was because one of the gauges used to calculate it was frozen solid. 

It was strictly subsurface fishing this trip and a variety of nymphing methods produced in the right situations. There wasn't a magic fly, yet a few different caddis pupa, midge, and pheasant tail variations took fish, as did off-beat patterns like a pink scud. I had not fly fished since November and it showed, but any day on a fine piece of water like that is well spent. There is a good amount of ice fishing still to be done this season, though the wonderful winter fishery on the Farmington River is never far from thought.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

When The Going Gets Tough

The National Weather Service recently announced that Connecticut's snowfall amount in January was higher than any other monthly total since record keeping began in 1905. That sucks for just about everybody except plow guys and ski bums. Dragging an ice fishing sled full of gear through all this snow is torture. If the slush beneath the snow layer cakes to the bottom of your sled, just forget about it. It's tough out there, but if you want to ice fish then you have to deal with it.    

Sloppy conditions or not, some friends and I were determined to get out last Saturday. We spent the early morning hours jigging up rainbow smelt in one of our favorite lakes. It wasn't on fire by any means, but we caught enough for a days-worth of trout bait. The cold, clean water here and healthy smelt diet always ensures good looking trout if you can find them. We kept the smelt fresh in a live-well and eventually set them on tip-ups and dead-sticks suspended under the ice. It didn't take long for some trout to key in on our baits. The first flag produced my only trout of the day, a beautiful 17-inch holdover brown. Aaron scored the next two fish, including a nice 16-inch brown. That was about it for action, but it was a blast to be on the ice again.

Bring enough shit?

Photo credit: Aaron Swanson
Photo credit: Aaron Swanson