Monday, March 25, 2019

First on the Last

Partly sunny and above freezing from the start, it was a full-on beach day when the wind wasn’t blowing. The ice was still about 10-inches thick of varying quality—not bad for March in Connecticut, especially considering the strange 2018-2019 winter we had. In the back of mind, I knew it was my last trip of the season, so I tried to keep that in perspective throughout the day.

A 7 a.m. arrival was later than I’m used to, but how can one complain when getting the red carpet treatment? I was the guest of a friend of a friend that lives in a homeowner’s association with private access. Even better, it was to a location I had never laid eyes on before. Opportunities like this don’t come my way often and I was pumped up to check out new water.

The conditions looked good on paper. Wedged between two snow events, I had high hopes for a moving barometer and feeding fish. Northern pike were the target and in this particular waterbody, the predators seem to prefer their food alive and well. So, with that in mind, I mixed in a few big live shiners on jigging rods along with my usual dead baits under tip-ups.

One of the rod and reel combos was a conventional set-up that I placed in a Nor’Easter—a contraption handmade by a mom-and-pop operation called Indian Hill. Like a traditional tip-up, it gives the visual aid of a tripped flag when your bait is taken. Unlike a tip-up, it allows the angler to fight the fish on a rod instead of by hand. Fighting a pike through the ice on a jigging rod has always appealed to me, but I never had any luck in the dozen or so outings I have tried this thing out.

I saved the Nor’Easter for the last hole I drilled in about 11-feet of water halfway into a large cove. With my host at my side, I sent down a lively Arkansas shiner and placed the line in the line holder that acts as the trigger. It’s a clever design, but it can be a little temperamental and trip false flags once in a while. Sure enough, after setting it, we got no more than five paces away and it pops. I joked that the wooden trap would end up as kindling if it kept this up all day. To my pleasant surprise, the braided line was off to the side just a hair when we got back to it. I literally must have dropped the baitfish right on top of a pike lying in wait.

Crouched next to the hole, I picked up the rod, engaged the reel, and slowly came tight to some weight that began swimming away. It lasted only a minute or two, but it was a really cool experience battling my first pike on a jigger. A respectable fish, not huge by any means, but healthy, full of fight, and quickly released. I wish I could say that started a chain reaction of flags popping all over our spread, but it was not to be. We did, however, have a blast just soaking in the sun and enjoying the prospect of a huge fish moving in at any moment to feed.

What lacked in flags was made up in jigging for panfish. It’s not worth the effort in most places that I fish for pike, but this spot had good depth and the bottom was paved in yellow perch. A bonus was reeling in a big fallfish. Awesome pike baits in their own right, I immediately airlifted it to one of my tip-ups and put it to work. I also missed a mystery fish that doubled over my rod to its cork handle. I am guessing it was a pike that zeroed in on the school of perch, but in that body of water the options of what it could have been are numerous. Regardless, it was enjoyable showing my fishing partners the clear benefit of having electronics when jigging on the ice. Even the basic model fish finder that I have can be a game changer.

By early afternoon, dad life was calling and it was time to start a slow pick-up in hopes for one final flag before hitting the road. Naturally, I let the Nor’Easter soak for as long as possible, but no more luck for me. Buddy saved his luck for late in the day. When I got home, he texted a photo of a pike he landed similar in size to mine. Two pike over 30-inches and a pile of panfish, all in all, that's a pretty good day. I met some new friends, fished new water, and checked a new box—northern pike on the jigging stick. A neat ice fishing first on the last day of the season. 


  1. Loving the Showdown! Thanks for turning me on to it several years ago! Nice Pike and as always a great fishing story! Tight Lines!

    1. Thanks for reading.Glad the Showdown is working out for you. It has treated me well over the years. Good luck in open water this year.