Category: fishing

Fishing on Thin Ice

Saturday morning a friend was heading out ice fishing, and I decided to go along. Last winter I don’t know if I got out on the ice a single time, so I wanted to be sure to take the opportunity when I could.

It’s the earliest in the year I’ve ever been ice fishing, and it was definitely a new experience. Over time, I’ve come to see that there are definite types of ice fishing. Early on, the ponds are generally clear of snow, so you can ice skate and play around a fair bit on the ice. Later, snow covers the ice, and it feels more like you’re just standing on solid ground. Still later, a layer of slush can develop underneath the snow but above the ice, and walking across it and standing in it can be miserable.

The early days of an ice fishing season are the best, I think. Plus, the ice is thinner, so it’s easier to carve a hole through it.

We’ve had some really cold temperatures at night the last week or so, so I didn’t think the ice would be too unsafe. My friend’s the expert, though, so I let him go first. 🙂 He had brought a long handled chisel, and we’d walk across the pond for a while, and then he’d chisel at the ice to see how thick it was. One inch of ice can hold 100 pounds of weight. Two inches can hold 400 pounds. The first place we checked was about four inches. The second place was around three.

The ice is different colors, typically because it froze at different times. You’d have one cold night where a bunch of it froze, then the rest froze a night or two later. So as you’re walking along, you want to check the thickness in each color. Not to mention the fact that sometimes it will snow. Walking across snow-covered ice can be quite dangerous early in the season. The snow acts like a blanket, insulating the ice and keeping it from getting thicker.

We avoided the snow-covered areas as long as we could, but we wanted to get to a spot across the pond, and there was a strip of snow between us and it. My friend headed out a bit into it and struck down at it with his chisel.

It went through in a single blow, causing a sound to streak across the ice around us, as if a giant guitar string had just snapped. We both froze, and he said, “This is probably too thin.” Master of the understatement. He started to walk back toward me, and as he walked, his feet crunched through the ice’s surface. Apparently ice can also freeze in layers, however. He was breaking through the top layer, but the next layer was holding firm.

I turned to hurry off as well, and the same thing started happening to me. It’s a bad feeling, walking across ice that’s breaking with each step you take, knowing that there’s a whole ton of cold water below you. I was definitely glad I’d been on a diet at that moment. We were back to firmer ice in about ten yards, neither of us ever falling in, thankfully.

I asked my friend after the fact how close he thought we’d been to actually going in. He said typically the whole sheet of ice begins to sag before you actually break through. That hadn’t happened to us. When it does, you start to shuffle your feet as fast as you can and just hope for the best. It’s not usually like in the movies, where people are just cavorting on the ice and suddenly drop through it.

In any case, that’s about the most exciting time I’ve ever had ice fishing. Certainly had my blood pumping. After that, we ended up fishing closer to shore. I didn’t get so much as a nibble, but my friend and his daughter caught three between them, and they generously let me take one home for Denisa. I love to fish, but I’m not a fan of actually eating what I catch. I mainly like to get out of the house and enjoy the outside.

Preferably dry.

A Camping Report

As I mentioned last week, the family and I headed to the great outdoors to go camping for our first time in five years. I really wasn’t sure how the trip would go. It was MC’s first time. DC’s second. And while I always would tell people that I liked to camp, I clearly haven’t done much of it recently. Plus, this wasn’t just going to be a camping trip. It was going to be a Camping Trip. I mean, we weren’t going to drive up to a camping spot, throw up a tent, and eat food out of the cooler we stored in our car. We were going to drive two hours, load all our stuff for three days into a canoe, and then paddle for 1.5 miles to our camping site, far from wifi and electronics.

This might not have been the full Lewis & Clark experience, but it was at least a Lewis solo record.

So we had to be sure all of our important things were in bags that would keep them dry. I’d like to say that I prepared like a professional for this trip, figuring it all out and becoming a camping master in the process, but that would be a lie. I just have a friend who’s a Maine guide (his wife is too), and he pretty much did everything for my family on this trip other than pack our bags. He picked the spot, planned the menu, brought the food, brought the tents, gave me the right bags, brought the right mats, brought the canoes, brought the fishing poles.

I bought my own fishing license. Does that count as preparation? Probably not, since I forgot to do that until we were already almost out of cell range and had to pull over to the side of the road to do it.

But this is the sort of thing he does professionally on his summers, and I’d always wanted to do it, so I’d planned this with him for quite some time. I wanted to see what it was like, and he was gracious enough to agree to take on the Bryce family for a few days.

I’ll admit that I’ve been stressed out enough the past few weeks that I didn’t leave on the camping trip in the best of moods. I have this writing deadline that’s taking up all my free time, and plenty of chores at home that needed doing. Why was I leaving to go do nothing for three days? Not only that, but I had to pack those wet bags oh-so-carefully. So as I was cursing under my breath, packing said bags, I really wished I’d never scheduled this thing in the first place. It was just one more thing to do.

Thankfully, that’s exactly why I schedule things ahead of time. Because past Bryce knows that future Bryce will be really happy he did cool things, even if present Bryce is a real stick in the mud.

We went on the trip, and we had a glorious time. It was an entire lake, and there were literally only two other groups on it. We canoed, swam, read, played games, ate like kings, fished, and explored. The kids paddled around on solo canoes. Tomas lit a fire from scratch without using matches. We picked wild blueberries and ate bass that we’d caught hours before. I even managed to stay on track with my writing goal, typing on my iPad during a brief rain break. The weather was cool, not hot, and it only rained a little. We went to sleep listening to loons calling on the water, and I woke up each morning to watch the mist clearing from the mountains around us.

It was about as Maine as you can get without having a wild moose walk through your camp.

Better yet, the whole family loved the experience, and they all wished we could have stayed longer. (Pro tip: always leave wishing you could have stayed longer. If you’re on vacation and are really wishing you could be home, something’s not going right with the vacation, and you’re blowing time off that could be better used at another time. I’d much rather my kids leave a camping trip wishing it could have lasted another day than come home wishing it had ended a day earlier.) I believe we’ll do this again next year.

In the meantime, if any of you out there is considering going on a camping trip of the kind I just described, exploring the Maine wilderness for a few days, either canoeing down a river or paddling over to a site and settling in, let me know. Like I said, my friend does this professionally, and I can now say without a shadow of a doubt that he provides a wonderful experience. He knows just what to do, he has all the equipment you’ll need, and he makes a mean sweet and sour chicken dinner. The only down side is his schedule fills up fast, so it’s kind of first come, first served.

I think it would make for a fantastic family vacation, especially if you’re not from Maine in the first place.

Ice Fishing with Warm Feet? Is Such a Thing Possible?

Over winter break, I’d been hoping to get out ice fishing at least a few times. I had the time off, the ice would be fairly thin and hopefully slush free, so what could be better? (Side note: I know it might seem odd that I listed “thin ice” as one of the pluses of fishing early in the season. Aren’t I worried about falling through the ice? Not so much. Ice that’s 2 inches thick can technically support a 200 pound person. The thicker it gets, the amount of weight it can support goes up exponentially, so it doesn’t take much for a normal person to be able to go out safely. (Side side note: type of ice makes a difference. Solid, black ice takes more weight than white ice. Also, thickness isn’t uniform across a lake. Currents affect it, and snow depth affects it. Recommended depth is 4 inches for ice fishing.) The thicker that ice gets, the harder it becomes to make your hole. Also, early in the season, there’s no slush on the ice. (Snow falls, and then insulates the snow beneath it. The insulation raises the temperature, and so that snow underneath melts. You can be walking through deep, wet slush on top of deep, thick ice. Not a fun combination.)


So I’d wanted to get outside and do some fishing. Did it happen? Nope. Why not? Well, because it was in the 50s over the break. I might not be a scientist, but I know water doesn’t freeze when it’s 50 degrees out.

Long story short, I got to go out for the first time on Monday after work. This was minimalist ice fishing. One auger. One jig. No traps. Ice fishing really doesn’t take much. I’ve said it before: it’s about as easy as it gets. Just a little cold is all. Particularly my feet. I’ve always had a problem with cold feet (save your jokes, please!). Even in bed with a bunch of covers on, I need to sleep with socks almost all the time. My toes just get way too cold. When I go ice fishing, I’ve always worn extra socks and gone for the really thick ones. It didn’t matter. My toes would always freeze up, and I’d have to sit there jumping around to try and get my blood circulating.

However, this time, I had a secret weapon. Denisa had bought me some special socks for Christmas. (I tried to find them online, but I’m honestly not sure which ones she got me. They’re black. Does that help? She would know, if you have questions.) Supposedly, these socks were able to keep your toes toasty warm no matter what. I was excited to try them out, even if I was still skeptical.

The verdict? I was outside on the ice for two hours or so, and my toes were nice and warm the entire time. Honestly, I’m wondering if some black magic is involved in these socks. Maybe a fire demon was enslaved to keep them going? Maybe I shouldn’t look too closely at that.

All I know is that one of the few problems I had with ice fishing has been solved, and that’s just dandy. Thanks, Denisa!

How did the rest of the trip go? We caught 7 fish. Lake trout, and fairly sizable. It was quiet–not another person I could see on the lake. Saw some wild turkeys, and nothing else. I like ice fishing a lot, mainly for the peace and quiet that’s usually there. Any excuse to get out and do something different is a nice way to mix things up a bit and pep up a day. I don’t eat the fish (Denisa takes care of that), so even actually catching anything isn’t a huge requirement.

Come on–a picturesque Maine lake, with a light snow falling and no one else but me and my friend out there? It doesn’t get better than that, people.

Fillet o’ Fish

Went off fishing with the kiddos again yesterday on another gorgeous, serene, completely empty Maine pond. A lovely evening–storm clouds all around us, but they kept skirting the horizon instead of coming over to dump rain on our pond. We saw a few loons and a bald eagle, and I managed to get through the whole evening without a single mosquito bite.

I must be doing something good.

We were after white perch, a fish that has no catch limit in Maine. And we caught many. How many? I stopped counting. 50? 60? It wasn’t as many as we’ve caught before at that pond, but then again, they were bigger than we usually catch there, too. We caught plenty, and none had to be thrown back for being too small. Great fun to see the kids having such a grand time.

It’s a well-established fact that I am not a fish eater. I love catching the things, but give me cow any day of the week when it comes eating time. So I didn’t bring many of our haul back to the house for us to consume–we sent them off with our guide for the evening. But I did take six. When he was driving off, I asked him if I should just clean these fish like normal, and he said he typically fillets them, but that cleaning them like normal would work okay, too.

I was all set to go the normal route, but Denisa thought we should fillet them if that’s what the experts do.

Quick, Robin! To the YouTubes!

It seemed pretty straightforward. I mean, I didn’t have a real filleting knife, but I could probably MacGuyver my way through that.

Fish number one? A complete disaster. The fish was so much tougher to cut through than it looked like on the video. I couldn’t figure out from the feel of it where the spine was and where exactly the ribs went. On the first side of the fish, I left a ton of meat on there, and I was feeling pretty discouraged. Enough that I was considering just abandoning the idea and gutting the fish the way God intended.

Denisa pep talked me into try try trying again, though, so try try try I did.

And naturally it became easier with practice. It’s surprising how easy it is to forget that simple principle: acquired skills are called that for a reason. You can’t start off being awesome at everything. By the sixth fish, I knew how much pressure I could use to slice off the skin, where to cut best to get the meat that’s all the way toward the tail–I was just better at it. Go figure. I’m still not an expert by any means, but it was a fun way to spend a half hour or so, despite the frustrations at the beginning. (Though I do wish I hadn’t started with the biggest fish. Feels like I wasted the most meat that way. The meat that I’m not going to eat. Hmm . . . )

Anyway. Check that off my bucket list. A big plus about filleting the fish was that there weren’t guts everywhere to clean up, so a big thumbs up on that account. A minus? I’m pretty sure I missed a few bones, so Denisa’s going to have some surprises when she eats the fish. The good news is she was right there next to me when I was doing it, so she’s aware of what lies in store.

And that’s the report for today. Have a great weekend, all!

It’s Ice Fishing Time!

If someone had told me six and a half years ago that I’d be looking forward to ice fishing each year, I’d have thought they were crazy. Ice fishing seemed to be this exotic thing people did in exotic locations like Iceland or Greenland. Or Wisconsin. It was this complex thing where you needed a hut and a special kind of pole and who-knew-what for bait. And how would you know where to put the hole–and how to put it there? No–ice fishing was far too strange a beast for a novice fisherman like myself.

Boy, was I wrong.

Ice fishing has got to be one of the easiest ways to catch a fish I know of. With normal fishing, the problem is all about getting out to the fish. You need to either stand on the shore and hope you can cast far enough, or wade into the river, or get a boat and toodle around looking for the fish that way. With ice fishing, you’re walking on water. No need for a boat or a long cast. You drill a hole wherever you want to drill that hole–wherever you think the fish are. Drill that hole however you drill the hole. Most people have power drills. You can use a hand auger, too. Specialty pole? I don’t think so. You need a stick with about three feet of line on it. A stick that won’t break when a fish is tugging on the other end. Bait? Just your normal trolling spinner will work.  Once that’s all in place, you just stand there and jiggle the line some until something bites. When it does, no need to reel–just lift the fish out of the water.

The huts and everything else is all there for comfort. Who needs that? You can pack everything you need in a plastic sled, then walk it out on the water, set up in a few minutes, and then pack it all up when you leave.

It’s true there are some more advanced approaches: you can set traps in the holes, which basically let you fish in multiple holes at the same time. But the traps are simple affairs–wooden crosspieces with a reel and a line attached to them, and a flag that goes up when the reel starts moving. It really is that simple.

Better yet, there’s none of the other crud you sometimes get fishing. No jet skis, for one thing. It’s nice and peaceful and quiet the whole time. (Although I suppose it does get a bit noisy when people with power augers come set up. I’ve only ever used a hand auger.) You can move around as you want–not trapped on a boat (which I don’t mind, but still–it makes it easier for the kids you bring with you. If they get bored, they can run around some). You can ice skate while you’re out, or play on the ice some–until the snow comes, at least. Once the snow’s there, the ice gets really thick, and it can be more of a pain.

This year, it’s been really cold really early, so the ice is already in. Not much snow to worry about yet, and I’m heading out this afternoon for my first trip of the season. Wish me luck!

(The picture there at the top is of my ice fishing mentor-in-chief, Jeff Howatt–who’s one of the stars in the excellent documentary on ice fishing, Hardwater.)

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