This past weekend, Matt and I made it out for my first ice fishing excursion. He’s been ice fishing for years and years, but I come from a place 1. with mostly only running water, that is, rivers, streams and creeks, and 2. that doesn’t get as cold as Wisconsin. Something about I-80, man. It’s just that little bit warmer south of 80. So, no real opportunities to ice fish, as my family didn’t have the time nor money to go to Wisconsin/Michigan/Minnesota to do so.
Since our favorite form of relaxing/getting away for what little chances we get is to do outdoors things, and since deer season closed on the 6th of January for us, one of the Christmas presents I got Matt this year was an ice fishing starter kit. He didn’t have an ice shanty , auger, or sled. These things are all helpful, and individually are sort of unreasonably expensive. I got the set on sort of double sale, with a $10 off coupon from Dick’s Sporting goods. $89 after tax, because I love me a bargain. Had I known this summer that we’d be ice fishing, I’d have been checking garage sales. I also picked up a handful of the lures used in ice fishing, jigs. He had some tip ups already, but we did pick up a few more at Farm and Fleet (which, if you have access to, is a great store for many outdoors supplies)
Anyhow, the big lakes around Madison haven’t got a ton of ice on them yet, in spite of how cold it had been for the last month or so. Most of the ice is either on the bays, or on the smaller lakes. Any time we drove through town though, we saw tons of people on a bay that is crossed by a road/causeway. Since there were always so many people there, we decided to check it out. Sure enough, six inches of ice.
We found some parking, took the equipment out of the truck, loaded the sled, and dragged it out. The bay was divided by first the road causeway from the main lake, and then again by a railroad causeway. Between the road and railroad were roughly 70 people. On our side of the tracks we saw about 50. We sort of picked a spot at random not too far from shore. I began to set up our pop-up shanty, and Matt set to drilling holes first for the shanty, and then for the tip ups.
Luckily, since that bay is so heavily used, there were a lot of pre-drilled holes that had frozen over. He did make me drill a hole from scratch, though. I did not look cool. One is not supposed to rotate around the auger.
Anyhow. We get all of our holes drilled. The tips ups we baited- two with wax worms for small panfish, and two with medium minnows (I bought fatheads, crappie, and shiners) for either juvenile pike (which Matt called snakes and had me wondering what the hell sort of snake lives in a frozen lake) or walleye (which I am dying to catch). We set our lines to sit about 6 inches off the lake bottom, because we were in fairly shallow water. The three holes we put the shanty over, we planned to jig in. So, we were set up.
I had been on solidly frozen water once in my life, during a particularly cold winter back home. The creek on the small plot of land my parents owned froze up. We quasi ice skated, and my sister fell and split her head open. So, I am not used to large expanses of ice. Turns out, it pops and cracks, which is the coolest sound ever. Imagine a subwoofer in a car letting off just one thump, from inside a garage a few houses down. But that’s only sort of what it was like. As it got darker/colder, the ice shrank after having sun on it all day, and you could feel it crack. Awesome and nerve wracking at the same time.
Six inches of ice seems pretty thick.
We got out at around 3pm that day. We stayed out until well after dark and got off the ice around 6:30. Unfortunately, we caught nothing. Which, honestly, didn’t bother me. I didn’t want to go out ice fishing for the first time, and hit our limit of 25 fish a piece, and then be disappointed by every other, more realistic, outing afterward. I debated making this its own post. But, like I’ve mentioned, I don’t want to be one of those writers who only records the success. There was, however, a lovely sunset; to which my little camera failed to do justice.
We’re hoping to make it out onto a less-populated spot this coming weekend, but the weather will dictate that. After a month of highs in the low 20s (Fahrenheit, obviously), with a blizzard in there, and lows in the single digits or below zero, we’re having a bit of a heat wave. There are highs in the upper 30s and 40s this week. Sunday it gets into the 20s again. The ice won’t melt completely off, but it will get slushy. Hopefully we do finally catch some fish though.