Breaking the Ice

A couple weeks ago I was presented with the option of trying something completely new to me in fishing. Always eager to try new things related to fishing, I jumped at the idea of going ice fishing. I really had no idea what to expect because fishing through a hole in the ice is drastically different than any other type of fishing I have done. The only time I had ever been on ice before was to play hockey. Regardless, I hopped in my Jeep Wrangler that has led me on many fishing excursions over the last 6 years and drove towards the ice. The venue for the day was at Sayer’s Reservoir located in Bald Eagle State Park. If you happen to go over to Sayer’s Reservoir, I recommend getting a bite to eat afterwards at the Hublersnburg Inn. They have great food, and it’s the perfect spot to end the day with a great tasting, high quality cold beer (Yep, you guessed it. Busch Light.) My fishing buddies for the day were my girlfriend Alissa and her father Dave (Yes, my girlfriend and her father are avid anglers and for that I’m thankful). Alissa and Dave spend their winters ice fishing with one their good friends, “Pap” they called him. “Pap” spends everyday out on the ice fishing and knows Sayer’s Reservoir as good as anyone. It was safe to say that I was in good company for the day. I wasn’t sure how I felt about sitting around on the lake trying to pull fish through a hole in the ice, but figured if my girlfriend enjoys it that it was time to “man up”. Immediately I was thrown off when handed the ice fishing rod. It was a 24″, extremely slender, spinning rod that is very different from the 7′ medium action bass spinning rods that I am accustomed too. It literally felt like I was being handed a spaghetti noodle compared to my normal Bass Pro Shop Carbonlite. The second thing that caught my eye was the line was lined through this little spring with an orange colored tip attached to the tip of the rod . I was told this was my strike indicator. The next puzzle was a fish finder with a confusing array of lines on the screen that at the time meant absolutely nothing to me. The only piece of common ground to this point was the small jig head laced with a meal worm. The overall game plan was to use the fish finder to find fish and catch those fish by jigging this small meal worm.

In this picture, Alissa was watching fish follow her jig up the water column on the Vexilar
In this picture, Alissa was watching the Vexilar for fishing moving into the area below the hole. If you look closely, the bright red area on the machine indicates the bottom of the lake. You can also see the Celsius Spring Bobber on the tip of the rod.

To be completely honest, at first I thought it was absolutely preposterous that we were using a $530 dollar fish finder to catch crappie, perch, and blue gill. Many days in the summer, it can be impossible not to catch these fish every other cast while pursuing other quarry. Within ten minutes I was fascinated by this piece of equipment, and promise you that I would never want to ice fish without one. The Vexilar was an absolute game changer. It is the eyes of the operation considering without this piece of equipment you would be blind sitting above “the hole” that you cannot see through at all. After having a trained eye for the machine, it was possible to read depth, identify fish moving about, identify the location of the lure, and track the lure as it was led up and down. Not only could you identify the fish, but it was possible to watch the fish follow your lure up the water column. The best tactic for us was to bounce the jig on the bottom a few times and then let it sit still. After detecting the fish close to your lure it was crucial to slowly manipulate the jig up the water column and pray that the fish followed. If the fish followed then I would switch my attention to the Celsius Foam Attached Spring Bobber that is on the rod tip. This indication was another complete game changer because without it I am sure we would have missed takes. Even the slightest indication of a take registered on the spring bobber and required a hook set due to the light sensitive takes of small fish in cold water. This technique of fishing had me hooked more than the fish. Catching crappie blue gill and perch does not necessarily thrill me, but catching them with this style of fishing was an absolute blast. Not to mention it has been so brutally cold lately that all other forms of fishing are arbitrary. I will be sure to become an avid ice fisherman through the winter months. I may even consider trying to fish venues where it is possible to catch pike or musky along with the perch, crappie, and bluegill.

The first fish that I have ever caught while ice fishing. Not the biggest fish I have ever caught, but it will certainly be a memorable one.
The first fish that I have ever caught while ice fishing. Not the biggest fish I have ever caught, but it will certainly be a memorable one.

The take home message is that ice fishing is just an incredible amount of fun. I had an awesome time sitting beside Alissa talking, joking and competing at catching fish. Although it was a cutthroat competition, this is where I must admit she bested me 11-7. I am more than happy to admit that my girlfriend outfitted me; I couldn’t me more proud that she is capable of doing so. This just goes to show you that all types of fishing requires a different skill set. This is exactly why I like fishing as many different ways as possible. The more ways an angler challenges himself to put fish in the net, the more complete that angler’s skill set will become. I would much rather be the angler that is capable of picking up any rod and catching any fish anyway then the angler who is only a master in a certain field.  Ice fishing allows anglers to catch fish during times of the year when no other methods are productive. There is nothing better than being able to spend more days with a rod in hand! If you have never tried ice fishing, get out there and give it a try.

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