Catalogue and Conquer – Part II – Ice Fishing

After our last day in our favourite trout fishery, Kitty and I found ourselves heading back to the mainland for Christmas break. Within the first few days of being out there, Rodney had planned to take Kitty on an ice fishing trip – a filming expedition for tourism Kamloops. They asked if I would tag along. Most years I pass and fish steelhead while Kitty is away with Rod on the ice fishing excursions, but this year, somewhat reluctantly, I said yes. I have always avoided ice fishing. Personally, I’d rather spend my days hiking rivers (even if I don’t find a fish) – I just love the exercise, active fishing, moving water, and the fact that you could find yourself with a hard fighting, big, early steelhead on your line. Sitting in one spot all day in the freezing cold, looking down a hole, waiting for (relatively small) fish to come to me never seemed like a good time. I figured I couldn’t actually form an opinion on it though without ever trying it – so out on my first ever ice fishing trip I would go.

frozen line
Brrrrr

We arrived on the selected lake in the mid morning and started gearing up. While packing for this trip, Rodney had given me a hard time for wanting to wear my waders out there – he told me I’d freeze without proper insulted winter boots on. I figured layering up underneath would serve me just fine as it had in the past, and I stuck to my original plan. Upon arriving at the lake, we had found that the overnight snow had weighed down the ice enough to create an up-welling effect along the edges. That up-welling effect had effectively turned the entire ice surface into a 4 inch deep slushy watery mess (again, many of you anglers out there probably already know that happens, but this is all new to me). Suddenly, my wadering up idea didn’t look so silly after all, and I definitely wouldn’t be having wet feet like Rod was about to be stuck with.

first day kitty rod fishing filming
A slushy mess

All the gear was finally loaded up, and we walked across the lake. Of course, Rod figured the very far end would be the best (grass is always greener out of sight, right?!). Luckily for me, as I was towing the sled for over 30 minutes, I warmed up and decided to almost completely de-layer down to just 1 sweater (more on this later). We finally get to our destination and set up. We drilled a number of holes spaced apart to cover water from 16 feet deep up into the shallow 3 foot water along the edges. Once the drilling was all done, we set up to fish. I elected to fish a muddy bottom section at around 8 feet deep, while Kitty and Rod were out slightly deeper. After fishing for around 15 minutes, I had finally cooled down, and decided it was time to walk back over to the sled to grab my extra layers again.

I walked in a straight path from my hole back towards the sled, and around 10 feet from the sled, I was suddenly floundering. As I took a step, I had completely lost my leg. I threw my body weight as best as I could and kept my right leg up on the surface of the ice (along with my elbow). I got off up my belly and shook off, and took a look back at the ice confused. We hadn’t drilled a hole there, and I was trying to figure out how I had fallen so hard by just losing my leg through a small hole. After going back to the sled, dumping out my waders, and putting on my extra layers (thank God I had taken them off and that they were dry), I took a shovel with me to investigate.

After a few minutes of digging, I finally discovered that I hadn’t just tripped on a little hole. Underneath the 4 inches of slush, someone had chainsawed out a 3 foot by 3 foot hole, which had only frozen over around half an inch thick – just enough to hold up the slush and hide its location. I still am unsure of how I managed to stay upright and out of it for the most part, as in the video posted below you can see my footsteps lead right into the middle of it (falling in portion of the vid is at approx 4:35). Luckily, my larger stride and reach probably kept that from being a disaster – had Kitty, Rod, or a smaller kid fallen into that, it could have been much worse. My mind wandered to how lucky we had been – our footsteps were all around that hole while drilling our holes, and Kitty had been carrying the heavy electric auger.

Anyways, that was pretty much the only exciting part of the day, for me anyway. I got blanked on picky trout that would come up, investigate, and then dart away. In a way, I was “hooked” just because I wanted to figure out how to get those frustrating little critters to eat. At least Rodney managed to catch a couple!

 

Conditions were MUCH nicer the second day. It wasn’t wet and it wasn’t cold, and the ice was crystal clear with a 4 inch layer of fluffy snow on top. It was actually really cool to see the ice this clear, unfortunately the water underneath wasn’t very clear, or it could have made for some awesome sight fishing.

kitty ice hole downward look
Some very clear ice

Soon after setting up, Kitty was into a fish almost right away. Hopefully this was going to be the sign of a good day ahead. While she fought that fish, I ran over and managed to snap a picture that I had in mind – her fighting a fish through the clear ice!

Kitty fish flashing through ice
A brook trout fighting for freedom under the ice
kittys brooky
Kitty with a chunky brook trout that was quickly returned to the water

After that, fishing actually died off for quite some time. We couldn’t really see into the water like the day before, so we were mostly fishing blind (besides Rodney with his fish finder). At one point during the day (just as I was about ready to throw in the towel) I had an absolute smash of a hit that actually managed to break my 6 pound line – so I decided to stay put in one place and continue on doing what I had been doing. Eventually it paid off, and my first fish ever through the ice came to hand. A decent sized fish, so at least I started off on a good one. Unfortunately for me, that was my only fish of the day. This fishery has me stumped.

rainbow R&B
My first ever fish through the ice – a good sized fraser valley strain rainbow trout. It grabbed the jigged R&B spoon hard.

As fishing continued to remain slow, we decided to have a little cook out on the lake. Rodney brought his grill and we fried up some steaks and veggies and made some potatoes. If others are planning to ice fish, I highly recommend bringing “extras.” An ice fishing tent and a heated makes the day a lot more enjoyable (and even makes it easier to sight fish by taking glare away). Bringing ways to cook food can also take your mind off slow fishing, and as an added side bonus, fish ALWAYS bite when you’re not paying attention to your rods!

rod cooking
Steak master Rod

After diner, fishing picked up drastically, but it was a bunch of smaller ones with the odd bigger hit mixed in. It was a welcome change from the day before though – at least we were hooking up and getting bites.

As light closed out, we packed up, and it had me mulling about whether or not I would do this again. On one hand, I did like the challenge, and I would like to get better at it (one day). On the other hand though, as discussed above, I prefer a more active fishing style and ice fishing just doesn’t really cut it.  Perhaps I should give it one more try where there are hopefully more bitey fish, and maybe less swimming involved to make it more comfortable.

In the end, I view this as a great family activity. It’s pretty easy to set up a tent, a rod, and then hang out with your kids out on the ice (maybe have a family dinner out there) while potentially introducing them to how it feels to have a fish on the end of your rod. For myself, personally, I would not be likely to do a long drive to do this again. With numerous moving water steelhead and trout fisheries around that never freeze up, I’d much rather spend my time doing that. If nothing else was available, I’d probably find myself on the frozen water more often, but with so many other high calibre fisheries around, it just doesn’t seem reasonable to avoid those to go do something I find less enjoyable. At least I gave it an honest effort, and can give an honest opinion on it. One thing I will say though, is that ice fishing definitely requires a skill set I don’t have, and this fishery kicked my butt. I may have catalogued my first day on the hard water, but I definitely didn’t conquer it.

Here’s another little video that Rod put together of the trip from day 2:

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