I grew up in Southern Ohio and had no shortage of outdoor recreation activities to keep me entertained. Hunting was awesome and fishing the small creeks around my home provided endless amounts of fun. But there was always one outdoor activity I just couldn't get the opportunity to do; Ice Fishing. It never got cold enough and I didn't feel like driving 5-6+ hours to do it. Much to my delight, a combination of my move to Colorado and having a phenomenal neighbor has finally allowed me to participate in sitting around an 8 inch hole praying for a huge fish to swallow a tiny jig. My first trip was a doozy and I'd like to share it with everyone.
My wife and I went to her friends house to make Christmas cookies when my neighbor sent a text asking if I wanted to try out ice fishing. I have no gear so after making sure he had stuff I could borrow the plan was set. We left at 5 a.m. the next morning. It was a cold, cloudless and most importantly windless morning. I wasn't looking forward to the thought of being on an ice covered lake with wind whipping all around me. As I sipped a cup of coffee outside waiting for Brian to get back from getting gas, I stared at the star filled sky and took a moment to appreciate the fact that I was getting this glorious opportunity.
We set off for a high mountain lake about 2 1/2 hours from the house. We drove straight north through Laramie, WY and made a sort of fish hook back down into Colorado. Driving in the dark isn't super exciting, so we just shot the breeze while searching for elk herds, big muley bucks and the moose that frequent the area. The more we drove the more I wondered what the people who live in the area did for a living. It was hours away from any major town and the only thing around were the mountains and open prairies.
We finally got to the lake around 7:30 a.m. and unloaded the truck. The first important lesson of cold weather outdoor recreation is layers. You want to have the ability to remove and add layers as necessary. If you start off too warm, you will freeze outside because you have already started sweating before leaving the truck. That wasn't anything new to me, but the gear required for ice fishing was something I have never used. All of our fishing gear was piled in Brian's black plastic sled. His 5 gallon bucket had various types of Powerbait, worms, ladles with holes in them for scooping ice out of the hole and an assortment of tiny jigs and lures. Along with the sled we had to pack out his motorized ice auger.
I don't really know the science behind selecting a spot, but we marched out to a point that Brian knew well and started drilling holes. We worked our way from the bank toward deeper water by drilling a set of holes about 15 feet apart, 4 holes in total. Holes drilled, we dropped one of 2 fish finders in and started fishing. We had 2 fish finders and started with Brian's newest one because his other one had been dropped in water and probably wouldn't work. So as we used one, Brian checked to make sure the other was working. Sure enough, his other fish finder worked like a charm. This is when things went south. Almost as soon as we had both fish finders going, the one I was using stopped working. So we began to tinker with it and right as our heads were turned, some kind of sea creature yanked one of Brian's rods to the depths of the lake.
We immediately went into recovery mode. Brian tied a couple of treble hooked jigs on and dropped it down in the hopes of snagging his line. After 20 minutes, it felt like all hope was lost. He had lost a big fish and one of his favorite rods in the process. When we were at our lowest, one of Brian's other rods twitched and as he set his hook, something was different. At the same time, the rod in his second hole jerked like it had a fish. As Brian reeled in his line he noticed he had snagged a fishing line. To our sheer amazement, the fish attached to his lost fishing rod had swam through the path of the jig he was using. In addition, our snagging tactic had worked to. Adding to the sheer joy of getting his rod back was the size of his fish. Brian looked down into the hole and exclaimed "Holy crap that is a big fish!". Sure enough, once the fish was on top of the ice, it was a big, beautiful Rainbow Trout. If we wouldn't have been so burdened with clothes, I believe Brian could have done cartwheels across the lake.
I caught one small trout but that didn't matter. As far as fishing goes, Brian's adventure was the highlight. I got to experience a form of fishing I never thought I would get to try. The feeling of standing on top of a lake was surreal. As the temperature went up, the ice began to groan, pop and make noises that unsettled me to the core. We were on 10 inches of ice so we were in no danger, but it still made me flinch every time I heard a pop. At one point, I felt the "pop" of the ice through my feet and legs and saw a noticeable ripple in the ice hole I was staring at. It is definitely something I will do more of and get better at. The drive home was made all the better getting to look at the beautiful herds of pronghorn and mule deer. By the time I got home, the thoughts of a nice warm shower and hot plate of food the wifey cooked were a blissful end to a wonderful day. I highly recommend finding someone that is experienced and trying it at least one time. Just make sure you keep an eye on your fishing rods.