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Still On

I am fully aware that spring will some day come, and that day is getting closer all the time.  But until then, I am on the ice!  Last fall I transitioned from fishing open water to being on the ice within a couple of weeks.  I am betting I make the reverse transition this spring.

I do not have a lot of pictures to show or reports to share, just a quick update on what I have been doing, a point to make, and a story to tell.

Update

This one came through my daughter’s ice hole and had us laughing because she did not know what it was.  She actually had never caught a bullhead before.  Well she has now, and not a bad one either.

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Her brother and her dad got a good laugh out of that.

Wonder why she does not have fingernails painted to coordinate with a bullhead?

Or perhaps no fingernail polish is entirely appropriate for a bullhead?

On another trip she was excited to catch her first walleye.

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Hey, I did not say it was a big walleye.  She was excited, we were together having fun ice-fishing, and that is all that counts!

Here, maybe this will make it look bigger.

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A Point

Let me crawl up on my ice safety soap box for a minute.  The recent cold spell has extended our ice fishing season just a little bit longer, but we are definitely on late ice and you have to be especially careful.  If you need an ice safety reminder, go back and read this, The Ice Man Cometh.  The spud bar is with me all the time on late ice and the ice picks and perhaps even my life jacket are on too.  In all my years of ice fishing, and that has been a few now, I have never fallen through.  I have broken ice at the shoreline a few times, but never fell through.  I have walked away when I knew it was not safe, even when I knew the fishing was HOT, but eventually you just have to quit.  If you are not completely confident in being safe, walk away.

Besides all my other reminders about ice safety I have to add one more to my list because I saw something really stupid recently.  I know folks like to have a good time when they go fishing, and I realize some of them will enjoy a few adult beverages while on the ice, but recently I observed a couple of guys that were so intoxicated they were not sure even where they were walking.  In the middle of January with a foot or more of good hard ice, that might not be a problem, although they could still fall down and get hurt.  Right now there are some bad spots on every body of water and you have to watch what you are doing and be aware of your surroundings.  I mention this because I know what would happen if one of those drunks wandered where they should not and went through–there would be this big declaration about the ice not being safe.  That might have been true, but was it the ice that was unsafe or the drunks?

Lay off the alcohol and other intoxicants until you are safely off the ice, safely off the road for that matter.

A Story

I was out west in the sandhills for a few days a couple of weeks ago; was able to slip away from meetings for a couple of afternoons on the ice.  No, I did not hammer the fish, but managed to dry off a few.  I have a hundred pictures of fish laying on the ice, here is another one.

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I am showing the picture to set up the story.  Right after I caught that fish in the picture, I hooked a big fish and I have a story to tell.  If you notice the jigging rod, it is one of my homemade “sandhills jigging rods”, kind of a short cane pole for ice-fishing.  Those jigging rods work really well for panfish on our sandhill lakes, in relatively shallow water, but the line is fixed–there ain’t no playing a fish on a reel.

I caught that bluegill, snapped a couple of photos, released the ‘gill and dropped the bait right back in the same hole.  Almost immediately I knew there was another fish down there; I could see it on my depth-finder.

Jig, jig, jig, pause.  Thump.  Fish On!

I set the hook into a 350 short block engine.  It did not budge.

With that jigging pole, when a big fish is hooked it is a toe-to-toe tug-o-war.  My best chance to land a big fish on that equipment is to get ‘em in the hole ASAP.  So, I started lifting.  The rod doubled over and I peered down the hole.  Just a few feet below I saw a fish roll on its side.  It was broad side, really broad, barn door broad.  The first thought that shot through my mind was that it was a big ole bass.  Then I looked again, it was a pike, a really big pike.

I do not think it even knew it was hooked.  It rolled on its side, slowly shook its head and my hook popped out.  And then that big pike just sat there, only a couple of feet below my Sorels.

We stared at each other.  I marveled at her size.  She wondered what that strange bearded alien was just above her?

I have early memories of staring down ice holes and seeing ginormous pike staring at my bait.  I imagine those fish are bigger in my memories than they actually were.  This one was not, it was life size.

Time stood still.  I could not move.  Somewhere in the distance a coyote barked.

Then very slowly that pike started to swim from left to right, passing underneath my ice hole.   As I looked down, it’s head left my 8-inch, circular field of vision.

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And then one minute, thirty-nine and three-tenths seconds later, its tail went stroking by.

I know, the seconds ticked by on my watch.

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Did I mention it was a really big pike?  Just how big I do not know.  Probably not a near state-record-size pike like some that have been caught through Nebraska ice this winter, but one of the biggest pike I have seen on this body of water.  I have caught pike from Nebraska waters up to 40 inches.  This fish was in that class.

“And there she was, GONE!”

Finally, I broke out of my trance and glanced back at my depth-finder.  There was still a fish there, a BIG fish.  I am betting it was still that big pike.  She sat below me for minutes.  I tried everything I could think of to get her to bite again.  First thing I did was grab another rod, one with a reel on which I might actually have had a chance of landing that fish, but it made no difference.  She would not bite again.  I could see that fish on my depth-finder for so long that I began to wonder if it was just some vegetation that had broken loose.  I even got on my stomach and stared down the hole some more.  It was that fish, I am sure of it.  Eventually it just disappeared.

I cannot recall having told any stories about “the one that got away” here on my blog.  Sure, there have been big fish that have escaped, we all have those experiences.  Perhaps I do not tell stories about them, because they are just that, stories.  They don’t count until they are in your hands.  I guess when I lose a big fish I try to be analytical about it–“What did I do wrong?”  “What can I do better next time?”

And then I just go back to fishing, there is another one out there, and I am going to catch her!

I had no chance to catch that fish on my sandhills jigging rod; I was doomed from the start.  But just to have contact with that unknown on the end of my line; that fish will live in my memory every bit as much as if I had put her on the ice.  I may not have the hero-shots to show you, but I know she is out there and I know what a magnificent beast she is.  Our paths will cross again!

About Daryl Bauer

Daryl is a lifelong resident of Nebraska (except for a couple of years spent going to graduate school in South Dakota). He has been employed as a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 25 years, and his current tour of duty is as the fisheries outreach program manager. Daryl loves to share his educational knowledge and is an avid multi-species angler. He holds more than 120 Nebraska Master Angler Awards for 14 different species and holds more than 30 In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards for eight different species. He loves to talk fishing and answer questions about fishing in Nebraska, be sure to check out his blog at outdoornebraska.org.

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