Saturday, January 23, 2021

Stealing Home

For the second consecutive trip, the morning bite was hotter than two hamsters farting in a wool sock. The type of bait and whether it was alive or dead didn’t matter; the pike were hungry and far from shy. Flags were popping all over our spread, but particularly along a weed line that ran perpendicular to shore. I had just released a small pike and was rebaiting the tip-up it stripped when I heard something hit the ice. I couldn’t immediately place the noise, so I scanned the direction it came from and noticed about 50 yards away the rod in my I Fish Pro was missing from view.

Over the past few years, these contraptions have helped modernize the way ice anglers catch fish with tip-ups by allowing anglers to retrieve fish using a rod and reel, instead of the traditional hand-over-hand technique. They were invented in Canada and popularized by YouTube channels like Uncut Angling, Jay Siemens, and Clayton Schick Outdoors. In Connecticut, where ice anglers can fish with up to six lines, it’s impractical to use just I Fish Pros, but friends and I have added a few to our line-up and it’s been a hell of a lot of fun. 

When it fully registered that that the sound I heard was my rod falling, I broke into the highest gear one can travel in Yaktrax across ice. A pike had taken my bait and the stiff wind had wrapped my bowed line around the tripped flag of the I Fish Pro. The fact that my conventional reel was in free spool didn’t matter; when the fish began to pull the fouled line, the rod jolted from its holder and was gradually towed toward the hole in the ice.

From a few yards out, like the scene in Sandlot where Benny steals home, I slid on my side and scooped up the dragging rod that was inches from disappearing. With some luck, I freed the braided line from the flag and kept the fish tight in the process. That kicked-off an eventful fight consisting of me dancing around the hole to achieve favorable angles while the pike peeled drag and changed directions like a warplane in a dogfight.  

By this point, one of my friends watching the spectacle unfold ran over to assist. After a valiant effort, the pike began to tire and its jaws emerged upward from the icy water. Aaron placed his hand under its gill plate and hoisted up a very well-fed northern pike. Sporting beautiful dark colors and a big head and shoulders, it was my best pike of the ice season and my largest ever taken on a rod and reel.

A couple of seconds was all the difference between me landing that fish and losing an expensive combo in a frozen lake. A lesson was learned about the need to be more cognizant of wind direction when setting the I Fish Pro, but that awesome fight and fish further cemented the tip-up’s place in my hardwater rotation. Thankfully things turned out how they did and I have noteworthy memory that will always be tied to that morning on the ice.

Photo credit: Aaron Swanson

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