The lack of fishing finally got to me and I was looking for something to do to ease my urge. Snow was piled up outside but it looked like the sun might penetrate through the cold white clouds. Being that the steelhead cricks and lake were frozen I had been stuck in the house. I was so depressed I actually thought about ice fishing, which I‘ve never done before. I didn’t have an auger but I figured I should be able to find some unused previous cut out holes that I can chop open with my axe. What I heard is all I’ll need are any small fly or jig tipped with a maggot that should catch fish. I thought hard on this and then bundled up to brave the cold.
I gathered up my latex caddis and small egg patterns and put them in my winter coat. I grabbed two short rods, my hatchet and put on my Pac-boots. After stopping to buy hand warmers and maggots I headed to the local lake to try and catch some perch or whatever else was out there.
I pulled into the parking lot, among the other vehicles, and glanced out over the frozen water. A few shanties were scattered about but I noticed there were a few loners or couples braving the cold outdoors upon the ice. I put on my wool tossel cap and gloves, flipped my coat collar up, grabbed my bucket of gear and headed out onto the ice.
I noticed one guy, in a brown camo coat, was doing well with a dozen or so perch on the ice. A few others were sitting on plastic buckets or beach chairs huddled around their holes. I walked passed the guy with all the perch and nodded a greeting. I didn’t need to walk very far out when I came across a few neglected holes in the ice. There was just a thin layer of surface ice in two of the holes about 15 feet apart. I chipped out the ice and put a small orange soccer cone next to each of the holes to mark my claim. About another 30 feet I found another hole. The surface ice looked a little thicker and it took a little longer to chip through it. I was going to give up but I didn’t want to look like a quitter. Chipping the ice brought a warm sweat under my 5 layers of clothes, enough that I unzipped my heavy winter coat and unbuttoned my insulated flannel shirt. I felt sweat on my brow and even took my cap off until I hit water. I put my last orange cone on the pile of snow and ice and was ready to get this ice fishing thing started.
I walked back about 15 yards from the holes putting them, in a semi-circle, the same distance from me. I assembled my 8’ Cortland fly rod and strung it up. I knotted the #14 latex caddis, which wasn’t easy with cold fingers, to the tippet and stuck a maggot behind the barb of the hook. I pulled out line and false casted enough line above to finally get a good smooth stroke of movement in my stiff casting arm. My first drop was a foot shy of the watery hole. I tried a roll cast but found that wasn’t going to work well. With a heave back and then forward I put the maggot and latex caddis dead center of the hole. I wasn’t sure how deep it was going to drop but I was satisfied with the cast that I felt I’d wait a little before another attempt.
So there I stood, on the ice with my 8’ fly rod gripped in my gloved hands watching the fly line and ice hole some 15 yards away. I glanced around and a couple of dudes looked at me like I was goofy or something. “Hey“, I thought to myself, I get looks like that often when I’m in the middle of a bunch of bait casters. I imagine with my long hair, gruffy beard, I could see why I get funny looks.
After a few minutes I wondered if I should add some weight and maybe an indicator to detect the slightest strikes. After a snort of Yukon Jack, from my flask, I took in line to re-rig. I added a strip of lead and another maggot to the hook bend. I attached an indicator about 15 inches from the hook. I wasn’t sure how deep the water was but I noticed the guy with all the fish was about the same depth with his tip-ups.
I missed the hole with my next two casts but my caddis landed just beyond the hole on my third. I slowly took in line until the lead weight fell into the water. This forced the caddis to follow into the hole and then followed by the indicator. Again I stood and waited.
This got to be pretty darn boring. I than realized why ice fishermen bring two rods. I made a stick sculpture out of the loose snow and leaned my Cortland rod in the crook. I assembled my short Powel fly rod and strung it up. I knotted on an egg pattern complete with another maggot and indicator. I overhand cast to the third hole and on the second cast I got the egg into the water. I took another snort of Yukon, for my accomplishment, and lit up a stogie. I then tipped over my bucket and sat down relaxing. I was concentrating, watching my indicators, when I practically fell off my bucket when someone surprised me from behind.
“You know what yer doin?” some bundled up, only eyes and mouth showing through a ski masked, gentleman asked me.
“Well sure” I answered “I’ve been fly fishing for years!”
He looked at me puzzled.
“You ain’t gonna catch anything that way” he assured me.
"Whatever” I said and turned my attention to my fishing.
'Non-fly fishermen' I thought, 'they think they know everything!'
I took another snort and was more determined to catch a fish.
I brought in line and added a dropper about 12 inches below my latex caddis. I cast out towards the hole and the caddis fell short about a foot from the hole. I propped the rod shaft up again and walked over and dropped the tandem rig in the water. I set the indicator on a little snow mound aside the hole. I walked back to the bucket and wondered why I ever came out here for anyway. I’m a catch-n-release guy. Just don’t seem to be much fun sitting on a bucket in cold, cold weather on ice and watching two motionless fly rods.
The guy in the camo stood up and reeled another perch in. He unhooked it and laid it onto his pile of fish. It flipped about a bit until it slid off the pile onto the freezing ice. He sat the rod down, took his last swallow of his quart of beer and than looked around. I knew just what he was wanting to do. About 40 yards off was the edge of the lake where the tall bare trees stood within the snow fall. He set the empty bottle down and proceeded in that direction.
I looked behind me and noticed no one was paying any attention to me. I took in line until the indicator slid off the snow mound. I stood up and continued to take in line until the tandem rig laid upon the ice with no line slack. I heaved back the rod and my indicator and tandem rig followed. With a slight turn I changed direction of the rod tip and shot the line towards the mound of perch the camo guy had just left. My indicator landed in between the pile. I pulled the line towards me and watched as my tandem rig slid across the ice and entered into the pile of fish. I quickly side-armed the rod to my right and bingo! Not just one but two fish slid out of the pile. I quickly brought them in, unhooked them and slid them under my bucket. The camo guy just got to the bank and was proceeding up through the snow towards the first big tree to relieve himself. I did my best to get line out, false cast and laid the tandem rig again in the pile of fish. Quickly I ripped the rod tip back and a fresh perch came flipping out of the pile. That darn fish flipped and flopped all the way back to me as I reeled it in. I unhooked the hook from its tail and slid it under the bucket. I looked up and the camo guy was starting to walk out of the woods towards the lake. I made my next cast towards my hole and sat on my bucket as if nothing happened.
When he got back to his claim I picked up my flask, saluted to him, and took a snort. He shook his head and reached down into a backpack he had laying on the ice. He took from it another quart of beer, twisted it open, and saluted back. After I watched him set up his tip-ups and sit back down, I sat there contemplating. His back was towards me and a few of his fish, lying on the ice, were out of his vision. I couldn’t resist!
I brought in my one line and knotted on a #8 white woolly bugger. Just above the hook I clamped on a heavy split shot. I looked around and no one was paying me no mind. I single hauled a back cast and whipped the bugger towards the unguarded fish. The bugger fell near them with a thud. I expected the camo guy to turn to see what the noise was but just than I seen his ice rod tip pop up. He stood at that very moment to retrieve his hooked fish. I hurriedly back-cast for fear of getting caught. A perch came whirling threw the air following my leader and fly line towards me. I leaned to my right just in time to let the fish pass by my ear. I turned toward it and watched it slide across the ice finally coming to a stop. I slid the fish towards me and slid it under the bucket.
After that I felt I had enough. I gathered up all my gear and put my 4 fish in the bucket. I took one last snort of Yukon and walked over to the camo guy. Hearing me, he turned and looked up at me.
“Catch anything with that set up?” he jokingly chuckled.
“Sure” I said.
He got a puzzled look on his face.
“Here” I said dumping the four fish into his pile of fish.
“I don’t keep’em,” “ catch and release guy” I murmured to him.
He just stared in disbelief.
“White Wooly Buggers and Latex Caddis” I said as I turned and walked away.