By Some Guy:
Awhile back I took an ice fishing trip that had me reminiscing quite a bit. Back to when I first started ice fishing as a kid, back to a time before “modern conveniences”. It wasn’t so much the fishing itself that triggered the reminiscing, but more the circumstances I encountered.
The trip started fine. I loaded all my “necessary” gear; ice shack, propane heater, power ice auger, assortment of rods and reels, tackle box full of assorted jigs and lures, and an underwater camera into the bed of my 4×4 pickup. A quick stop at the bait shop for some wax worms and I was off to the pond.
On the road I had my first reminiscing encounter of the day. With hindsight being 20-20, I should have caught this as an omen of things to come. I should have just turned around right then and went home. But not being that insightful of a man, I kept going.
The reminiscing was about the wax worms. I thought to myself, “Sure is nice to be able to just buy bait.” When I was a kid “store bought” bait just wasn’t available to us around here during the winter. Mostly we used corn borers or mealworms. It took hours of cutting open corn stalks or sifting through rotten grain to get enough bait for a fishing trip. “Don’t miss that”, I thought! Besides, the newfangled store bought wax worms work better than core borers anyway.
When I pulled up to the field entrance I noticed the snow had drifted in a bit. I thought, “No problem, I have 4-wheel drive.” “I can make it.” In the old days before everyone had 4-wheel drives we wouldn’t even consider driving right next to the pond. We’d just park on the road and walk in. I should have reverted back to “old school” tactics on this aspect! I made it about 3/4ths of the way through before I got stuck. “H’m, I really should remember to put a shovel in if I’m going to continue to do these sorts of things.” This predicament wasn’t all that bad though. It only took about an hour of digging with my ice dipper to remove enough snow from under the truck so I wasn’t high centered anymore.
I made it to the pond, unloaded my gear and headed out onto the ice.
Now rule #1 for ice fishing is you must have a hole to fish through. Power augers are great for this. They can cut through 24” of ice in about 5 seconds. . . . that is if they start. It’s strange how power augers will start just fine in the driveway before you load it, but then not start again just an hour later. Needless to say, this circumstance had me thinking, “Gee, wish I had put the hand auger in.” “No problem, I’ll just open up some of the old holes someone had used yesterday.” A lot of times this can be accomplished with just a quick stomp with the heel of your boot, but not today.
Stomp, stomp, stomp, crack! “Ouch!” It wasn’t the ice that cracked! “Well I guess I need to go old school on making a hole.” “Wait, I don’t have an axe!” That’s what we used to use before ice augers came onto the market. 4” to 6” of ice wasn’t too bad to cut through. 12” or more was quite painful though. I limped back to the truck and retrieved the tire iron. Tire irons work well at times for reopening old holes.
I dropped the underwater camera down. I thought to myself, “Ooh, look at all those fish!” “I think I’ll set up the shack here.” As if I had much of a choice where I fished without an auger. I opened up the other old hole by the first one and set up the shack.
I sat for about a ½ hour watching the fish on the camera. The fish sat for about a ½ hour watching my wax worm slowly compost. “Boy, I’m getting cold.” “Better start the heater.” “Crap!” “I didn’t bring any matches!” Propane heaters are a lot like power augers, they work great when they start, but not so much when they don’t.
After about another ½ hour or so more I was really starting to get cold. I didn’t want to leave yet though. I had a lot of fish below me, and it didn’t look like they were quite done staring at my bait yet. Besides, it’s usually just a matter of time before the fish will bite.
“Maybe they want a different color jig”, I thought. I reeled up, clipped off the tear drop, opened my tackle box and . . . splash! Freezing cold hands, tiny jigs, open hole in the ice . . . not a good combination. “Oh well, there’s $20 worth of tackle down the drain!” There were a couple of jigs that didn’t make it into the water. I tied one on and put the other one in my now empty tackle box. One good thing was that I was saved the trouble of cleaning out and organizing my tackle box. Pretty easy to be organized with one jig.
As I lowered my line I thought about how nice the new store bought ice jigs are. When I was a kid we made our own jigs by clamping a lead split shot next to the eye of a small hook and hand painted them. I truly believe the fish like the new jigs better also. The use of the camera has proved this to me. For instance on this day alone there were about two dozen or so fish that spent 2 hours just staring at my jig. It was like they had a greater appreciation for them or something. They just sat back and stared with total awe at the awesome beauty of the jig. Unwilling to mar the finish on these true works of art with their sharp little teeth!
After another hour or so the fish started to show some interest in my bait. They closed in from staring at it from 6” away to a mere 2”! As I continued slowly freezing to death my eyes bounced back and forth between the unlit heater, the art appreciating fish on the camera, and my totally motionless rod. Again my mind raced back to my youth. “These new ice fishing rod and reel combos sure are nice.”
My first ice fishing rods were made from the ends of summertime rods that were efficiently clipped off by the car trunk. I truly believe that the widespread popularity of pickups has really cut into fishing rod sales. We took the broken ends and drilled them into the end of a piece of old broom handle. A couple of nails were pounded into the handle to wrap the line around. We would pull up on the line hand over hand to “reel in”.
“Ooh, a bite!” I grabbed my rod, set the hook, and started . . . well, I tried to reel in. Reels, regardless of the quality, don’t seem to work so well when inactivity and the lack of heat has reduced them to a frozen mass of uselessness. I dropped the frozen mass of precision gears and highly polished bell bearings onto the ice and went retro on this fish. I pulled the line up hand over hand.
I unhooked the fish and realized that just like ice fishing reels, fishermen don’t work so well either when inactivity and the lack of heat has reduced them to a frozen mass of uselessness. I tossed the 4” bluegill back into the water, packed up my gear and headed home.
On the drive home I had a stark revelation as to how even with all the newfangled modern equipment I had, ice fishing really hadn’t changed all that much for me since I was a kid. I was going home almost frozen to death with a bunch of equipment that didn’t work very well . . . and no fish!