It’s getting to be that time of year again. That’s right, ice fishing season! Whether you are a casual weekender who only hits the ice a couple times a year or a die hard, hard water-a-haulic, you can’t help but get a little excited. Ok maybe a lot excited! For me this is a joy that I have been experiencing for only a few years know. I had ice fished in my childhood but not very often, and with little success. I did however want to give it another try. I just need someone with some experience, and knowledge of the hard water. I did not know anyone that fit that description.
That all changed about four years ago when I meet John. He was hired at my place of work and we soon found we both had a liking to the outdoors. We shared tales of deer hunts, and hunting trips, fishing in the summer, and we had both been to Canada pike and walleye fishing. Then one day the topic of ice fishing came up. I was not able to share many, well no stories really, as I could not remember the last time I had held a pole in my hand on the ice. Soon the stories of the great adventures on “the bay” started. To this I said “you’ll never catch me down there, them people are crazy.” He laughed and said,” its not that bad.” To which I answered, “how come there are news stories every year with some guy getting picked up in the coast guard helicopter then.” Or the stories I have heard of the big cracks and need to use planks to get across them. “No thanks not for me.” I said.
That first winter John made many trips to Saginaw bay, as he had done for many seasons. Every couple weeks he’d say “we’re going to Linwood, wanna go”, or “we’re going to Standish…..” Each time I just said no thanks. John never gave up though, and if you now him, you now he never does. It was the second winter of working together now, and the ice season was in full swing. I got a surprise from my wife 2 weeks before my birthday in the shape of a brand new Frabill ice shanty. I rounded up some of my old things that I still had, a skimmer, a beat up tip-up. John was nice enough to give me a couple old poles, and some baits he had laying around. Now I was doing it, out every weekend to a local lake somewhere chasing the pan fish, and setting tip ups for pike. I did this with a friend of mine, Jamie, that I met through my wife. He had also been itching to get back into ice fishing. Jamie and I spent about three weeks chasing gills around the local lakes, with not much success. After every weekend John would ask how we did and I’d say “we got a few” or “not very good.” To which he would reply “you should come chase some real fish, can’t beat a 5 lbs. walleye on a two foot ice rod.” Well at this point I was starting to consider it, a little. I mentioned to Jamie that I was considering it, and he let me know what a fool I was. After a few more trip of not much luck John said “that’s it you’re going with us Saturday” I said no way, you’re not getting me down there. John reassured me that this was the best ice he had seen in years, no cracks, flat as can be and locked in good, and if I was going to go, even just once, this was the time to do it. Well I finally caved in, and Saturday morning John, his son Steave, and I were on our way to Linwood.
We arrived at the ice in Linwood at about 1 p.m. John found a place to park on the ice and said, “when we come back in this will look like a Wal-Mart parking lot.” Man, was he right. When we came in that night we needed the gps to find the truck. There were trucks every ware. After we parked and unloaded our gear and John backed the Argo of the trailer we were ready to set out. I think knowing the Argo floated made me feel a little better about what I was about to do.
I asked John, “so how far do we go anyway?” He said, ” see those little black dots off on the horizon? That’s about 5 miles, that should be a good start.” FIVE MILES!! What have I gotten myself into.
So we get to our spot and get set up. John gives me some pointers about jigging, and hook setting, and how to fight the fish. He says when you hook up make sure you take your time once you get that fish to the hole. If the hook gets hooked on the hole you will lose that fish for sure. After about an hour of nothing taking my offering of a Swedish pimple topped with a minnow John calls me over to his shanty to check out his vexilar. You’re what I say. He says this is the most important tool a walleye fisherman can have. I remember thinking how can watching a little green line dance around a circle be that important. Then about 30 seconds later a fish shows up. John starts working his jig up a little, then a little more, and this orange blob on the dial is following. So he gets too high for the fish and it starts to settle back down to the bottom. John drops his jig back down and starts working the fish again. Now the green line is covered up by the orange one. The next thing I see the end of his rod take a dive and with a nice firm hook set the first fish of the day is on.
As he gets it to the hole he shows me how to slow down and line the head up before pulling it in the hole. And just like that a nice 20″ walleye is on the ice. As I head back to my shanty supper exited to get one of my own he yells, “remember to line up with the hole” After settling in to my shanty I start jigging again. I quickly realize that not only is the vexilar a good “tool”, but it also helps to pass the time by giving you something to look at. After about another hour of nothing, I sat there peering into my hole of nothing when the strangest looking thing I have ever seen swims right through my hole about a foot under the water. I had never seen a fish with a snout before. I later learned that it was an alligator gar. Now we are getting close to dark and here John yell,” marking one.” Meaning he has another on his fancy vexilar. Then “got it.” By about this, time I and getting a little distraught about the whole process. I can’t “see” the fish like he can, and I have not had a single bite. All of a sudden out of know where my pole is about jerked out of my hand. I get ahold of it and set the hook, I have my first fish on. All the advice I have received on how to handle this has gone by the wayside. I start reeling that fish up and then I see a flash of it down the hole as it pulls back a little. My heart is going a million miles an hour, and I am reeling this thing up like a crab pot on Deadliest Catch. And then it happened, As i see he fish at the hole it suddenly dawns on me to slow down, line it up. To late, my treble hook at the bottom of my Swedish pimple gets hooked on the bottom of the hole, and away swims my fish. I was sick to say the least, there it goes my only chance. Well I rebaited with a fresh minnow and dropped it back to the bottom. After it hit bottom I reeled it up a couple cranks. There was resistance on the end of my line and my first thought was great I got a snag. Then my snag started to pull back! I couldn’t believe it another fish! I was so excited I almost forgot to set the hook. Once the hook was set I told myself slow down, line up the hole, take your time, and for gods sake don’t screw this one up. Well I didn’t, and a few seconds later I had my first walleye from Saginaw Bay on the ice.
Two more would come out the hole in the next half hour or so, and one that straightened the hook of my stinger. That fish, even to a rookie felt big and heavy. This is how my love affair with chasing walleye around the frozen expanse of Saginaw Bay got its start. I made more trips that year with John and Steave, learning a little more each time. The following year I was able to get my own piece of electronics, a shiny new Lowrance x67c. I have made many more trips with John and Steave, and we even got Jamie to go, but that is another story in its self.
If you have a chance to get out this winter and learn the joys of ice fishing, I strongly recommend you do. Or if you have the chance to introduce someone new to the sport, do that also. You never know what could be the beginning of a new addiction.