Saturday, January 27, 2024

First Ice, First Fish

Our footprints were the only ones on the lake aside from the coyote tracks we followed to our spot. It was a deliberate walk in single file, testing the ice in front of each step with whacks from a heavy steel chisel. There should have been more ice than there was, but a recent snow had slowed its growth and hid her imperfections. Even still, there was enough black ice under a grey layer to make us feel comfortable, and temps would be stuck in the 20s all day.

It was mighty good to be ice fishing again, but in the back of our minds we knew it was fleeting. Just like last season, it looked like we could be in for only a short window, so we had to make it count. That’s why we took the day from work and set our alarms for 3 a.m. It’s also why we brought more gear than we needed. What’s the point of owning all of this stuff if we don’t get to use it?

A flag went up just as snowflakes from a light system started to come down. Jeff noticed it first, standing tall on the farthest tip-up in my spread. The bait was a large fallfish that I had trapped in my home waters and vacuum-sealed almost two years before. It’s hard to describe the feeling when approaching a dead bait flag on a windless day. Suffice to say, it was exciting to look down and see a slow rolling spool with line off to the side.

With a firm tug on the Dacron, my hook found purchase in the maw of a hefty pike and the fight was on. Euphoria was soon replaced by despair when the tension went slack. The predator below had bolted toward the hole, fooling me into thinking I had lost her. Once I retrieved enough line to come tight again, our spirits lifted and the battle resumed in close quarters. The fish was still green when her jaw opened just enough for a plastic gripper, and we kept her in the water as we removed the hook and readied the camera.

When we pulled the entire fish from the hole, what struck me first was its color. It sported the darkest greens I had ever seen on an esox—just an absolutely gorgeous specimen, thick from head to tail, well on its way to becoming a true trophy. After quick photos and a measurement, she kicked away strong and cemented a memorable first-fish-of-the-year moment. Jeff and I were flying high for the rest of the outing and it set the tone for the ensuing days, which may or may not have been the last of the ice season. Time will tell.