Monday, January 9, 2017

First Fish of 2017

Plans to fish happen organically for me.  A Facebook chat with fishing friends centered around the desire to fish a body of water back in my old stomping grounds.  I explained in the chat how to get sleds and gear to the water easily since I'd fished this lake before.  In our circles knowing key pieces of info often means you're going fishing. So plans were made quickly in the hours before bedtime Saturday night and the alarm went off way too early Sunday morning.  But it's amazing how quickly I popped out of bed knowing I was going ice fishing!

After getting on the ice last week, New Year's Eve I'd caught fish this ice season.  What I haven't done is catch my first fish of this calendar year. Hopefully we'd change that this outing.

Pondboy and I arrived to the spot within minutes of one another. Greetings were said, strategy discussed, gear loaded so we'd each only have to drag one thing and we headed to the ice.

Holes were drilled.  Actually Dan (Pondboy) drilled the holes.  I followed with the flasher.  I saw some marks on the bottom so I dropped a jig tipped with three white spikes down the hole.  I could tease the marks up but couldn't get them to bite.  About the time those marks lost interest I saw a weak green signal mid-column in 10 feet of water.  I reeled up to the mark and teased it into biting.  My first fish of 2017 is....

...a crappie!  A nice, thick-shouldered crappie for my first fish of 2017, not bad at all!  This lovely speck posed for a groggy early-morning photo with yours truly before heading back down the hole to swim and grow larger.  Now that the pressure is off and we got multiple marks at this depth we decided to set up the shelter because it was 15 degrees out and we were getting chilly.

Once we parked in the shelter Brim from the Facebook chat showed up dragging his sled.  We chatted for a few minutes before he drilled his own holes close to ours and set up his shelter. This is where we sit and catch a few small bluegills for longer than we'd care to admit until Dan decides to switch things up.  He bites off a marmooska jig and ties on a Hali spoon with a drop-chain.  Almost immediately he catches a much nicer bluegill.  

I had just purchased a similar style lure; a Lindy Perch Talker.  It's a chain with alternating gold plate, ball, plate, ball down to a drop chain and small treble hook. I put waxies on the trebles and dropped down my hole.  I teased a mark up and got it to hit, I set the hook and the fish pulled a little drag.  Dan was pumped at the thought of a larger fish.  He turned on his Pivot Head recording eyewear to get video of the catch.  It's a good thing he did as this is the best shot we have of a VERY nice crappie.

The hook let go at the hole and Dan got there just in time to see the big girl slip back down it.  Crud!  Oh well, I'm not one to get down about losing a fish.  I just became more focused on catching my next.  That said our bite died down and our marks became few, far between, and not interested in eating.

Fortunately Brim got his first fish of 2017 too before the bite turned off. Here's his first fish which also happens to be a crappie.

Brim decided to head home to projects he had queued up and Dan and I decided to head to the basin at the other end of this lake to see if anyone had told the fish over there they weren't supposed to bite right now.  We drilled and had mixed luck at the other basin.  Both of us caught small bluegills but I wasn't excited by the size of what we caught versus all the marks of small bluegills that filled my screen and started the walk back to the basin we started out in.

I started kicking open the holes we'd drilled earler while Dan drilled a few in 7 feet of water to see if we could get on any other bite.  I put my flasher's transducer in one of these holes and dropped down a green marmooska jig with three white spikes impaled on its hook. I saw a big mark separate from the bottom.  I teased it up and felt the peck of a bite and the bend in my rod as I set the hook.  Drag pulled and the fish ran several times.  This was the bite that settled a conversation Dan and I had been having earlier.

I guess there ARE bass in here too.  Dan helped me land this nice, thick backed largemouth, shot its picture, then I unhooked the Fiskas jig from the bony upper lip of this bass before releasing it back to the lake.

I cycled off the shallower holes back to the deeper ones and was playing with marks on my flasher.  Dan stayed shallow.

When I looked up at Dan he had his hands above his head.  His ultra-light jigging rod was bent in an upside down U.  I ran over to assist.  The fish ran one direction, then another pulling drag then POP....up came the jig, sans-bait, sans-fish.  I left Dan alone to re-bait his jig.  I walked back to my flasher hoping to set the hook on a monster from the deep.

A pretty little largemouth.  Fun but not what I had hoped for since the mark looked bigger than the fish.  Still, catching is catching.  I hope Dan hooks into a better fish.  Correction: I hope Dan hooks a better fish and hooks more than the front edge of the top lip so we can land it. Wait....Dan has his arms up over his head again....Jason for the assist!

That's a better fish and further proof that we have at least a breeding pair and a second year class bass in this lake we weren't sure had 'em.  After some pictures the bass was released and we both went back to jigging.  I'd get the last fish before we decided to call it quits for the day.

A good handful of crappie bookends the day nicely!  It's a great thing to have a multi-species day on the ice.  Pondboy even caught a bullhead from his seated bass-hole.  It means there is more than one forage base for each species.  It was clear these fish were getting enough to eat with their thick backs and varied but decent size.  

It has been a few years since I fished this lake.  I wasn't sure what to expect.  I'm pleased to say that the lake exceeded my expectations.  I would have liked for this to be less the Darkstar show and a more balanced fish tale but sometimes that's how things work out.  

The old saying goes "That's why it's called Fishing and not Catching".  We did a lot of fishing today.  We both did some catching today.   I guess that's what we  set out to do; go fishing.  And first fish of the year catching I did.  Here's to a great year fishing, and a better year catching!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

First Ice 2016-17 In More Ways Than One

To say the year and a half since I last penned a blog has been full of events would be an understatement.  I've had a great year and a half that sadly hasn't included very much fishing.  It HAS included me moving to Palatine, IL with my wonderful Lupita.  We've added a sweet pit-bull we call Otis to the household and settled into the beginning of our life together.  I've been doing a lot, just not a lot of fishing.

That's why I was looking forward to ice season coming around.  I knew that I'd at the very least be able to get out ice fishing.  Since my move most of my things have ended up in the garage as a direct transfer from my old storage unit.  I knew where my shelter was.  My spud bar and flasher were accessible, rods and reels checked out, I even ordered a pair of Mickey Mouse boots for the ice season to come.  

Well the ice season came.  My friends who took time off work around the Christmas holiday were getting out on safe ice most every day.  This made me get the itch with only one problem.  I don't know where my box of ice jigs got to.  

Fortunately I was completely unaware of the fact that when I moved I set down roots less than a half mile from a fantastic bait and tackle store!  I got waxies, spikes, jigs and plastics in no time and was ready to go.

Planning happened earlier in the week but honestly I've been prepping Lupita for ice fishing since the first time I took her open water fishing.  I just had to wait for the right time to get her hooked!  I wanted to go Friday night after work.  I know Lupita had expressed interest so I shot her a quick text that basically said wanna go ice fishing tonight after work?  This was her one-letter reply.

Still, that wasn't a no!  :)  But things didn't work out for Friday so we planned on fishing together Saturday; New Years Eve.

We had four to five hours before we were to pick up Lupita's mama for dinner and all our gear was ready.  I gave Lupita pointers on which of her boots to wear and general guidelines on clothing.  We loaded up and arrived at our destination.  The whole drive I explained ice fishing and answered her questions.  She felt comfortable enough (more on that later) to help pull sleds of gear to the shore, strap on Kahtoola micro spikes, and follow me out a few feet onto the ice.

Pita's HEY, I'M WALKING ON A LAKE selfie!

Pita loves shoes.  No surprise we've got a picture of her feet safely on ice.

I showed Pita how to spud for safe shore ice, drill a test hole to measure thickness, and then we walked out to where a spring was still bubbling up through the ice.  I drilled a test hole to flash for marks.

10-11 feet of water, I was marking fish on a narrow flasher cone setting on my FL-20.  Of course I had my ultra-light rod rigged up with a Fiskas Tungsten jig and an Aurora Lure Company Magic Maggie in red.  I dropped down and teased the mark up but it didn't eat.  No meat on the hook so I can't say I blame the fish.  We decided to set up here since I knew the pond and had a tip from Pondboy that he did well near that spring earlier in the week.

Setting up the underwater camera. (surprise photo)

Hey, there are bluegills!

Pita's "I'm sitting on a comfortable seat after walking around on a lake for the first time look."

And of course the in the dark shelter couple selfie.  Now let's fish!

I originally was going to have Pita use the camera on my FL-20 Double-Vision system and I'd use the flasher in another hole. That plan went out the window when it got dark. The spring stirred up the water a lot and all we could see on the camera were dots of whatnot moving around, not her jig and not fish.

I explained the basics she'd need to know about fishing with a flasher. Signal strength green to yellow to red.  That's the bottom, that's your jig. That line moving between the bottom and your jig is a fish.  See it come up to your jig?  You'll feel a tap when it....steals your waxie. That's ok.  I have 99 waxies at this point so we'll put another one on.  Also this is the first time Lupita's felt the tap of a fish biting a lure.  Now she'll get the next one.  Not before I catch the first one however.

It's not a big bluegill but you can see it got my whole jig, Magic Maggie, and a few spikes in it's mouth.  It felt good to catch, no matter the size. Soon Pita was ready to drop down the hole. She read the flasher, saw jig, saw fish, saw fish move toward jig, then reeled like mad when she felt the tap!  Not convention ice fishing form but it was effective.  I present to the world wide web Lupita's first ever ice fishing catch.

It was a wonderful moment punctuated by a lot of loud and joyful "YAYs", some clapping, and big smiles!  Pita was happy, I was happy, the fish...the fish may have been happy, I'm not sure. Pita admired the blue colors on the gills and the iridescent purple colors on the bluegill's back before she leaned forward and let the little swimmer go back down the hole.

We fished, talked, laughed, and enjoyed each other's company.  Lupita was very excited and happy with this new experience.  Now the only thing that made her uncomfortable was the shifting groaning of the building ice.  I explained it's below 32 degrees so the ice isn't going away from under our feet, rather it is growing and grinding together like the plates that make up the earth.  No phaser-sounds were heard today but audible groans and vibrations felt through our feet were slightly unnerving for Pita.  I told her if she came with me often she'd get as nonchalant as I am about the noises the ice makes.  

Now, I promised more about how comfortable Lupita initially felt.  In a word, she was terrified. She told me afterward the idea didn't make sense to her how it would be safe but she trusted that I knew how to keep her safe and that I wouldn't put her in any danger.  Once she took her first steps onto the ice she said she relaxed and it became more of an adventure than something to fear.  It became fun!  I knew it would (I was pretty sure it would, at least).

This was a fantastic New Years Eve 2016!  We spent it together on the ice, together at dinner, and then as we've both discovered since we aren't in our 20s anymore we fell asleep at 10PM. We only knew it was 2017 because someone in the neighborhood shoots off fireworks to punctuate special events.  My father used to light off a Cherry-Bomb or 1/4 Stick every year at midnight on NYE so I zonked back out quickly and had happy dreams of Lupita's first ice fishing experience.  I'm pretty confident it won't be her last. :)