Monday, January 4, 2021

Hells Bells

Our limit of 12 lines was set under the ice before the sun lifted over the trees. Despite only having a half day to fish, hopes were high as we drilled the first holes on this waterbody of the season. There was a layer of gray ice on top of a thinner layer of black ice; enough to feel comfortable, but an approaching storm bringing warm air and heavy rain meant a total reset was imminent.  

It’s funny how two anglers in the same area using the same thing can have completely different results, but that’s precisely how our day started. We had a mix of tip-ups and jigging rods spread over a familiar spot. They were baited with medium shiners that Buddy was able to secure on short notice. For the first two hours, my partner’s flags popped left and right resulting in more than a dozen yellow perch to my none. When one of Buddy’s perch came topside, it puked up dragon fly larvae and gave us a neat glimpse at what some of the fish were eating below.    

Out in deeper water, I hopped around and jigged the extra holes we drilled at first light. There weren’t many targets showing on my sonar, but I eventually coaxed a bluegill into eating a Hali jig. If not familiar, this little lure has a gold drop-chain hook and I tipped it with a piece of fish meat. The flash and action of the jig call fish in, but the freebie on the hook is what seals the deal. The dark bluegill was a modest first fish of my ice season, but I was happy to be on the board.  

The calmness was soon broken up by a jingling sound behind me. Bells clipped to a jigging rod bouncing violently set me in motion like a fire alarm. The drag on my reel had been loosened, but apparently not enough as the rod managed to free from its holder and inched closer to the hole in the ice. I grabbed the sliding rod and, all in one motion, cupped the spool and reared back to set the hook. 

By the weight on the other end, I knew straight away this wasn’t a panfish. I tightened the drag, yet left it loose enough to protect the light line for what turned into a lengthy back and forth. As the fish tired, it flashed under the hole a few times revealing the telltale markings of a northern pike. After a quick photograph it was sent back down to keep on growing. Still, it was a solid pike, especially on the rod and reel.

Once the excitement settled down, I set out for one last jigging mission. Every so often I picked my head up from staring at the fish finder to scan our spread. After one such check, I looked back down at the screen to see a large mark merge with the small mark of my jig. The hit and hookset were simultaneous and the rod immediately bowed over. It was on the lightest rod and reel combo on the ice that day and, while it was a smaller pike than the first, the battle was just as spirited. Thankfully the Hali’s tiny hook perfectly pierced the outer skin of the fish’s top jaw or else there was no chance of landing it. Catching those fish back-to-back further cemented just how much I enjoy fighting pike through the ice on jigging rods.

While my time was up, Buddy stayed through the afternoon and returned for a few hours the next day with another pike and more yellow perch to show for it. Unfortunately, after that, the integrity of the little ice we had came into question. The warmup and rain on Christmas Eve were the death blow for this spot and a handful of other places in Connecticut that had fishable ice. It was a tease by any definition, but I was grateful to have been on ice at all. As I type this in early January, I’m holding out hope for an extended cold spell and the semblance of a real hardwater season, yet the days are getting longer and sun is getting stronger so it had better happen soon!

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