The North American Frontiersmen





  Chief-Factor - Staff Writer

   Smoke Signals

                   Jul./Aug. '09




After putting my wife on a plane to Hawaii, I spent the rest of the day sitting over a hole in the ice at Steamboat lake, enjoying warm temperatures hovering right around 29 degrees F. In this country, for that time of year, that's really mild. However, by three p.m. Mariah showed up and I don't know where the temperature went but it was snowing so hard that I had to work at finding my way back to the wagon. Other that catching fish (yesterday we'd had our limit in the first hour. Today we didn't hit a frenzy like that but we did catch fish all day - restrained by a limit of four, we put back anything under two pounds - by three o'clock we had our limit, including three fish of around five pounds each), the day wasn't wasted: while sitting around the ice-hole I had a few thoughts I thought worth sharing.
For fishing companions I have a professional fly fishing guide and his son (who claims me as a grandpa), both of whom I can bounce ideas off. This being the off season they are mine! So as I continued to sit I thought about how I would do this in a survival situation. You have to remember that in fishing at any time of the year natural bait is the number one food source of the fish. That is any type of fish food that lives below the surface of the water, be it lake, pond, or stream. The best success I have had is with nymphs and stone flys. After that comes anything the fish will recognize that may blow into the water. Worms will resemble a leech and meal worms will resemble different stages of insect development as they mature. It is always good to take the time and call local bat shops to find out what type of bait is most popular in the area you are planning to trek in. This will give you a fighting chance on catching fish in survival situations - or just for practice and fun.
If you are doing primitive ice fishing, or think you may be going to, you will do well to carry waxed meal worms with you. They work even if they are dead. Picked up from pet stores and bait shops they will keep in a cool place. I like to feed them chopped up carrots and they seem to last forever.
For jigging you must chop a hole in the ice of at least five or six inches wide. From your primitive fishing can (which should include at least six hooks, some line (it's not so primitive but I use Johnson and Johnson dental floss, which is at least somewhat period because it is made of silk. Bill C says he uses the non waxed but hits it with some of his bee's wax bowstring wax), some waxed linen cord, (the floss can be used as a leader if you are using the cord) a few different weight sinkers (you can cut some lead off ammo for your rifle but believe me, pre-shaped sinkers are better). If you absolutely have to look totally period or primitive, you can take you hooks and trim the barbs off them, heat them a tad and beat them with a hammer until they are flat, cut off the eye, file them to get rid of sharp edges, (you can even dip the shank end into hide glue or pine tar to prevent it from cutting your line or leader. I often leave the barb on as it can mean the difference between eating or starving - Bill C says he just says to hell with it, he leaves the eye on too), and trust them to bring in your all important food when you desperately need it.
You will need to know a few knots - especially if you are going with eyeless hooks. Knots are hard to explain so I'll leave those up to you to research, practice and grow proficient at. Look in your fish stores and you can pick up a knot card that will show you the way. Remember, it's a terrible thing to get a nice bite and pull your line up and find nothing but coiled leader where you hook used to be.
Now that you have hook, line and sinker and have chopped or knocked, or beat a hole in the ice find yourself a nice bendy bow stick about two feet long. Put a lightweight sinker on the end of the line. Drop it into the hole and let it sink to the bottom to determine the depth of the water. Mark your line about a foot above the hole. At this point you have several options. You can leave a baited hook down there with the sinker or; you could tie another piece of line with hook and bait about six to eight inches above the sinker and leave the sinker on the bottom. Or you can gang tie more hooks along the line. Tie you line to the pole with a few half hitches and wrap the excess line to the back of your pole. prop it up on a forty-five degree angle, weight the back end so it doesn't fall over, and you are fishing.
Keep an eye on your pole. I have had my pole nearly pulled through the ice hole, so don't turn your back on it. The most success I've had is just sitting and jigging - that is just bouncing your bait up and down a half inch at a time, then letting it hold still for a bit to see if anything has been attracted and will bite. Fish will take a bait into their mouths and if it doesn't feel right they will spit it out. The instant you feel anything, set the hook but don't yank it up so hard it would lift Moby Dick.
Just in case you aren't going to be able to sit and watch and jig, try getting a stout stick at least twice as wide as the hole, tie some hooked and baited line to the center and let it down for the fish to hook themselves. Don't put too much weight on the end because if the fish feels too much resistance he will spit the bait right out. Now go and chop another hole. If you are using just a bendy stick, concentrate as you hold it, close your eyes to more closely feel what is going on under the ice. At the slightest feel, set the hook. If the fish begins to really tussle with you, stand up and pull the line straight up out of the hole - hopefully with the fish firmly attached.
I feel sorry for those who don't have ice. Take some time off and come visit and I'll introduce you to ice fishing. Remember that the greatest thing you can do is to introduce a kid to any phase of our sport. It is something that will affect their lives (and yours) forever.

Howdy Davis


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updated  07/10/2009   

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