I just don’t think I’m cut out to be a bait fisherman. Maybe I should stick to flies. As I am driving back to the house this morning to retrieve the can of worms I forgot, I am realizing that fishing with bait isn’t as easy as us fly fisherman think. Brewer just called me 20 minutes ago asking if I had enough bait for him and Evan today too. God they would have been pissed if I showed up without these stupid nightcrawlers. There’s too much stuff to bring ice fishing. Darla the Golden Retriever will be gracing us with her presence today as well – if you have visited the shop in the past few years, then you definitely know Darla and Evan.
We are fishing a lake in Paradise Valley today that is known for brutal winds and mysteriously finicky fishing. Walleye, perch, and trout are residents here, but most of the time they all seem to elude the fisherman. This will be my third day in a row here, and I’m still looking for my first fish through the ice. Brewer, however, caught a Walleye last night – a nice 17” keeper. We are hoping that with a little more time on this lake we’ll start to figure some things out. So we’ll keep drilling holes.
A big herd of elk are watching us pull up to the lake. They are scattered across the ridge overlooking the lake, maybe about a hundred or so. I wonder if they know we are fisherman and not hunters, and we are bearing rods and not rifles. Either way you can tell that some are keeping an eye on us. Hearing the chirping noises from a heard of elk is always a great way to start your day. It does not last long though, and as soon as the sun comes up the herd moves out of sight.
Another noisy lake. Sometimes the big cracks are like earthquakes, and they leave the water in your fishing hole sloshing around. “Sure this is safe?” Evan asks. “No way dude she’s gonna blow you better run!!” Evan starts to ease his nerves with a few early beers while Brewer is drilling holes like a madman looking for schools of Perch. I’m sitting on a ten gallon bucket, eyes glued to the fish finder – trying to distinguish the difference between weeds and fish on the screen. Was that a mark?
I just can’t believe it. Not one fish in this lake will eat my worms. I mean, come on, they’re worms! Every fish loves a worm. I’m using the forbidden fruit amongst fly purists, now where’s my fish! I thought this was supposed to be easier or something. For gods sake, that tip up has been sitting on the bottom of the lake for hours now without a nibble. “Brewer, I think the lake is broken…”
“…No, we just suck”
On my jig rod I’m am furiously switching baits. From small soft plastics (white and chartreuse gummy minnow things with squiggly tails) to big shiny spoons to small spoons, always tipping the hook with a few maggots or piece of worm. Soon I go through my entire (small) ice-fishing lure collection. I feel like I’m being stumped by picky fish on Slough Creek in the Park or something.
Brewer has us constantly moving to different parts of the lake. Drilling more holes and fishing different depths, looking for hard bottom. We do know that we are looking for around 20ft or so of depth, we just can’t find the fish. One of the trickiest things about ice fishing here is the lake bottom is almost entirely covered in weeds. We are looking for small holes in the vegetation, where we can see a clear bottom on the fish finder. That is where we should find the walleye and perch. I think we’ve drilled close to 30 holes throughout the day. None of which have been over any fish!
It looks like that herd of elk will be the only wild things we see out here. No bites, and right now the shanty is being bent in all the wrong directions by the constant wind gusts. We have to call it. Oh well. Evan definitely caught the biggest buzz today, but once you lose the cap to your own whiskey bottle, it’s pretty much game over I guess. On the shuffle back to the truck we are all left to speculate as to why it’s so much harder to catch fish here under the ice than it is on flies in the summer and fall. Honestly though, we don’t really care – well maybe Evan and I, Brewer definitely doesn’t like to get skunked. We’ll be back, Dailey.