The mystery of ice fishing

Paul Smith
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Winter will soon be over and I haven’t yet dedicated a column to ice fishing. Like Janis Joplin, I must make amends. You must forgive my tardiness in featuring this icy cold, but popular, sport, one held most dear to the hearts of so many of my countrymen and countrywomen.

You wouldn’t label my wife Goldie a bonafide outdoors person, not really, although she loves spending time outside in the summer sun. She adores the beach in Florida, and likes an occasional boat ride in the sunny south. She has stated categorically that she will never again sleep in a tent. I haven’t accepted that just yet — a quite controversial issue in our house.

She doesn’t fly fish; reasons are varied, mostly to do with buzzing insects and tangled leaders. She will drown the odd worm under a bobber, and loves cod fishing in Spaniard’s Bay aboard my 17-foot aluminum skiff.

I installed a new comfy seat for her last summer.

Oddly, Goldie abhors winter and snow, but curiously loves ice fishing. It’s a profound mystery of the vast mysterious universe, akin to dark matter and cosmic wormholes. Whatever is it about standing over a hole in the ice dangling a worm in the water? I’m not sure but folks love it, even my summer girl.

Without question I’m a bonafide outdoorsman who loves winter. However, and it has nothing to do with the cold and snow, I’m definitely not a serious ice fisher by anyone’s measure.

I fancy being more engaged in my fish-catching process. Fly fishing, where the angler does a bunch of stuff to better the odds of pan-seared trout, is more my speed. There just doesn’t seem to be much I can do to improve my chances of catching a fish through the cover of ice. I have no idea what brook trout do in winter when the ponds are frozen solid. I understand little of their behaviour or feeding habits. I know for sure they aren’t prone to claustrophobia.

I fished on Cat Hill Pond with Robert and Cameron a few weeks ago, the day of our winter camping trip that I wrote about last weekend. The pond was frozen nearly to the bottom, the poor trout living and navigating in no more than half a foot or so of water betwixt ice and mud. You know it was dark down there. Still, a trout unwisely chomped on Robert’s worm and ended its existence flicking about in brilliant March sunshine, covered in fluffy white snow. What a shock that must have been to the visual system.

I’m amazed they can see bait under thick ice and snow cover. Maybe they smell worms. Come to think of it, why do trout eat worms at all, especially in winter? I’m sure there are none in their natural diet.

None of this matters a lick to Robert. He loves ice fishing and the trout respond to his technique.

I watched Rob closely while puffing on my pipe, studied the intricate detail in his wrist twitches. I noted how often his worm hit bottom, the time intervals utilized and the distance he jiggled his worm from the bottom. Maybe there actually is skill to this freezing cold madness, the thought crossed my mind, briefly provoking consideration. Smoke curled from my pipe into the crisp cold winter air. I leaned against my quad and soaked in the ambiance.

Nah, Rob’s just bloody lucky. Then again, I’d probably catch more trout if I kept my worm in the water and quit smoking my pipe and taking photos.

I might not like ice fishing all that much, but I do like a day in the woods, winter or summer, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a strong cup of tea and a Jam Jam with pungent cheddar on the pond.

A winter ATV ride is also high on my list of fun stuff to do.

Goldie has been complaining plenty about winter of late. She’s been observed checking for airline seat sales on her iPad. It has been a very long winter, particularly tough on summer girls.

I’ve been giving her unappreciated lectures about embracing winter and trying to enjoy each season. I offered to buy her snowshoes. It didn’t happen.

There are only two activities she will dress up in warm woolies and venture outside for, in winter that is. She will brave the cold to play in the snow with Rory, our granddaughter, or to go ice fishing. She’s been out with Rory a few times, but for ice fishing it’s either been too cold, raining or snowing on every day I haven’t been working the day job.

Goldie’s not going out in no minus 20 wind chill, and I’ve got better sense than try and convince her.

Last Sunday was absolutely perfect and we had no other commitments.

The temperature hovered at just a couple of degrees below zero, the sun was shining, and only a light breeze disturbed the treetops, insufficient for the  conjuring of a cheek numbing wind chill.

Goldie packed us a lunch and I loaded up the Arctic Cat with ice fishing rods, ice auger, extra mitts and kettle.

We stopped in Tilton to meet up with Robert, who decided to tag along with us. I welcomed his company, since it’s always better riding with a buddy, especially in winter. It’s so easy to stick a 600-pound quad in deep snow, and without another machine for towing, you might be in trouble. My plan was to take Goldie for a ride up over Spider Pond, and fish in Bowe’s Pond. She had never been in that way before, despite growing up in the area, and Robert had caught quite a few trout there just a few days previous.

The ride was grand, sun glistening off the snow, green trees, blue sky, puffy white clouds, as good as it gets. “Just as nice as St. Peter’s beach,” I yelled over the racing motor as we speeded up the vast openness of Spider Pond. I heard no response; a poke in the ribs answered my question.

However, she was out of the house and enjoying winter, at least to some degree. Off the pond, we whipped through narrow snowmobile trails, making sure to keep those wheels on the hard-packed snow. Veer too much one way or the other and we’d be pushing, towing or winching.

Finally, on Bowe’s Pond, we shut down our engines and dismounted from the machines.

Robert is a resourceful fellow. I’d heard just recently that some folks are using battery powered drills on their ice augers. I never imagined they could deliver enough torque. I believe you can now actually buy an attachment or adapter to connect the drill and auger together. In any event, Rob had jerry rigged his own, and proceeded to drill holes all around us. It worked remarkable well. Goldie was impressed and so was I. He got about 20 holes drilled through at least a foot of ice before the battery ran down.

With plenty of holes, we got right down to serious fishing.  Well, Goldie and Robert did. I fished for 10 minutes or so and decided how lovely a day it was for a pipe.

“Make no wonder you never bring home any trout,” says Goldie.

She loves fried trout for breakfast. It wasn’t too long, about half a pipe, before Goldie pulled a lovely plump mud trout up though the ice.

She got pretty excited. I took some photos and continued puffing my pipe.

“Maybe I should boil the kettle.” “Why don’t you put away that bloody pipe and see if you can catch a trout.” “I want trout and beans for breakfast and you’re not getting this one.”

I gave in and picked up the rod and tapped the ashes out of my pipe.

Rob caught a trout.

“I’m just no good at this,” I thought out loud. “I’m boiling the kettle and getting a cup of tea.” And that’s what I did. We had a wonderful day, despite Goldie’s feet getting a tad bit cold.

Trout sizzled in the pan for Monday morning breakfast. This week I’m shopping for a late season sale on super warm women’s boots, size 8.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at  or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock

Organizations: Arctic Cat

Geographic location: Florida, Tilton

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