Wednesday, December 14, 2011

First Ice 2011

FINALLY!!!  With the stretch of near zero weather last week I was primed to get out and drill a few holes.  Decisions, decisions..............go local for some panfish action or head to Mille Lacs where I had some good report on the walleye bite.   That invitation from Bill was too much so I loaded my new Eskimo Ice Fishing Combo into the truck and headed up north.  Last spring while in Cabela's they had a closeout on an Eskimo setup, a Quickfish 3 pop up shelter, an 8" hand auger, an ice fishing seat, all in a narrow sled that included a cover.  I believe I paid less than $160 for the entire setup.  I was really looking for something that was light and portable, would easily fit in the back of the truck, and easy to pull.  My insulated Clam house checks in at well over 100 pounds, coupled with my Strike Master auger, heater, flasher, camera, and bait we are talking about a couple hundred pounds of gear.  When I can simply drive to my spot via the truck or ATV it's not a big deal but if I'm walking, that's a lot of weight to tug around.  The Eskimo setup is simply perfect for these early ice outings as well, something light for those short trips when it's nice out.  My destination was an area they call the "Trough" located in Vineland Bay.  After stopping at Bill's to load up on bait I headed up the shoreline and pick a spot where it would be easy to walk out.  About 1/2 mile or so offshore, the Trough is an area with a steep drop off in the middle of 12 feet of water.  It stretches for a good 1/3 of a mile and bottoms out at 24 feet.  The drop off is steep going from 12 to 24 in less than 10 feet.  Normally I have a GPS with the lake contour loaded into the map software but when I pulled it out the batteries were completely dead.  Knowing the drop was straight north and seeing another shack about where I was going, I headed off. 

It's interesting walking first ice.  The ultimate dilemma is what do you trust more, yourself or the ice!  The reports had the ice thickness at about 6 inches, more than enough to support a guy walking.  With no snow on the ice I made sure to put on a pair of ice cleats on my boots, a must for first ice.  I do not want to repeat the same fate my friend Leon Lambert suffered during a trek across 11 Mile Reservoir in Colorado on clear ice, he slipped an shattered his wrist. The first 1/4 mile was pretty rough.  As the ice freezes on Mille Lacs it works it's way towards the middle of the lake.  Often a wind will push the newly frozen sheets of water into the bays, piling it in many layers.  This ice is white in color and layered provides a very secure base for walking.  As I approached the edge of the chunk ice there were more areas of clear ice, frozen between the chunks.  Eventually I passed the edge and started crossing substantial patches of ice that was sometimes difficult to judge the depth.  Relying on cracks in the clear ice to give the confidence of it's thickness, I worked my way out to where those guys were.  About half way out those guys had packed up and headed in.  The first thing I noticed was they were staying on the white frozen ice chunks, the same as what was near shore.  It makes you think if one was doing the right thing.  Fortunately the ice was strong, safe and realistically I probably could have rode my ATV............naw.   Having developed the confidence my next task was to find the drop off.  Using my Vexilar and water from the minnow bucket I shot transducer readings through the ice every 50 feet.  12 feet, 12 feet, 12 feet, 12 feet, 24 feet, alright!  Backtracking to the top of the break I found where the bottom started leveling out and setup there.  Drilling a couple of holes in 22 feet, a few holes up the drop, a few beyond the drop, and a few in line with my depth, I was ready to fish.  The ice was a good 6 inches and all fear disappeared for the time being.  I fished outside testing each hole to determine the best place to set up my base.  My original strategy of 22 feet paid off immediately as the Vex lit up like a Christmas Tree in that bottom 6 foot range.  Bang, a small perch, bang, a nice perch, bang, a 14 inch walleye........Wow.  I drilled another hole, set up the Eskimo and settled in.  It was about 12:30 and my plan was to fish till 4:00 as I had a turkey in the smoker for my neighbors annual Christmas Party. 

Between 12:30 and 4 the action was steady.  I ended up with a 14 inch keeper walleye, an 18 1/4" (pictured on top) and a bonus 24 inch walleye pictured above.  Along with about 25 perch (keep 8) I am not complaining for the first time out.  the hot lure was an orange #5 Jigging Rap in a Brown Trout pattern, with a minnow head on the bottom treble hook.  Fishing the clear ice is intersting as you can see the fish underneath the ice as you  reel them in.  This time of the year sitting on the ice can be nerve racking to say the least.  As the ice freezes it is constantly moving and cracking.  As it cracks the ice sounds like you are hitting a large metal tank with a hammer, a sound that reverberates across the surface.  As I sat in my shelter the ice let out a huge rumble as I heard the crack coming towards me.  Fishing the hole in front of me, the crack actually split my hole in half and continued between my 2 legs.......time for a heart check!  Although in no danger, it is still somewhat nerve racking to watch the ice crack in front of you.  I took a picture of the crack as it entered my Eskimo, I guess you just had to be there.  On my way back I entered the area near shore where the ice was rough.  Ice sheets piled up makes for an interesting scene, one I decided to take a picture of.  Trying to get a fish eyes view I laid on the ice and pulled out the camera.  Well it stopped working.  Laying there for about 5 minutes working on fixing it with no luck I got back up and continued my walk back to the truck.  Being about 200 yard from shore I noticed someone walking towards me..............a game warden maybe?  Here it was guy who's wife noticed me laying on the ice and was concerned.  Getting closer he asked if I was alright.  Assuring him of my failed photography event, I expressed my appreciation for his kindness and concern with one of my Ron Schara Outdoor Calendars.  We were both satisfied, I met a very nice man concerned about his fellow fisherman, he got a nice calendar and the fact that his efforts did not go unnoticed.   I am sure that if I could have stayed till sundown the walleye count would have increased nicely.  With that I am looking forward to getting back up this weekend.  My friend Mark Applen is heading north to grind some venison and with a little luck I can tag along and help then find time to close out the evening on his "secret" spot.  We'll see!

By the way, I have been meaning to comment on my friend Dewey's last post.  If you check out the left side (called a sidebar) you will see a category of Blogs I Follow.  One of my favorites is What's Dewey Doin'?  Sometimes other people have this knack of saying what you are thinking and Dewey is the expert at this.  His last post is a simple letter to his dad.  Although I never knew his father, and I know he has long since passed, it takes courage, insight and a huge heart to write what he did.  This will be my first Christmas in 56 years without my dad and I am not sure I could have expressed myself any better.  Thanks Dew, missing somebody hurts but wow, I wouldn't trade that ride for nothing.  You are the man!

1 comment:

Beaver Creek Cabins & Guide Service said...

Great post. Couldn't describe first ice better.

Here's my report. Last weekend I was catching nice size walleyes. Now, I can't seem to hook a fish larger than 12". Caught 15 this morning and couldn't keep one of them.

Get a hold of me if you need company on the Big Pond. Looks like you're seeing better quality fish than I am.