Fishing in my sleep

We’ve been ice fishing for about a week now, and I’m happy to report that our trout harvest has already quadrupled our previous record, set two years ago.

I’m less happy to report that our previous record, set two years ago, was one. One rainbow trout.

Half this year's catch. Top is a rainbow, I think. Bottom? Speckled?

Last winter we were skunked altogether, but that’s not quite as ignominious as it sounds, since a relatively warm winter provided precious few fishing days on our pond. Even so, I can report that sitting around all day, watching your tip-ups not tipping up, is demoralizing. Since that has been my general experience of ice fishing, though, I was prepared for it.

And we’ve seen a lot of that. Our friend Bob (whose wife, Suzie, caught the monster perch that elicited so much comment a few posts back) went so far as to say that, during the day, that’s what ice fishing is. The fish feed early in the morning and late in the evening. In between, there’s a lot of sitting around, watching your tip-ups not tipping up.

So, this year, we’re trying the novel strategy of trying to catch a fish when the fish are most amenable to being caught. We’re fishing overnight.

The tip-ups go out during the day, and we keep a close eye on them, but most days nothing happens until sunset, when we often get a flag or two. And maybe, if we’re lucky, a fish (they often get away with the bait). We keep watching them until we go to bed, but I don’t think trout feed much after dark.

The best part is the morning. Sunrise on Hamblin Pond, and a tipped-up tip-up. So far, we’ve had at least one flag every morning we’ve left tip-ups out. Although killing and gutting a trout before coffee isn’t my first choice, I’d rather kill and gut a tour before coffee and have a trout than not kill and gut a trout before coffee and not have a trout.

Morning and evening, that’s when you catch trout.

So how do you explain the guys who were fishing just down the pond from us?

There were four of them, men who grew up on the Cape and had been ice fishing all their lives. As we were setting up our tip-ups, about mid-day, we watched one of them pull what looked like a huge fish up through the ice.

“I gotta see that fish,” I said to Kevin, and we went over to say hello and check out the fish.

Now, it’s possible that visiting your ice-fishing neighbors to get a good close look at their catch is bad form. If it is, I don’t want to know about it.

Luckily, they didn’t seem to mind.

“Nice fish!” I said, as we got close enough to see that it was, indeed, a beautiful brown trout, fat with roe.

The guy who caught it grinned and held it up for inspection. “It’s going in the hold over there,” he said, and headed over to where his friends and his gear were. We went along, and watched as he slipped the fish into a kind of live well they’d cut in the ice, where it joined two others.

I couldn’t decide which I was more impressed by, the fact that they’d caught three trout mid-day, or the clever well they were keeping them in.

Our ice is about seven or eight inches thick, and they hollowed out a hole, about two feet by one foot, five or six inches deep – as deep as they could cut it without breaking through to the water. Then they punched a hole in the floor so the water filled the hole. Voila! Live well!

I was so taken with it that I asked them if I could take a picture, and went back to the house for my camera. When I got back, I ended up talking to them for quite a while about fishing, and growing mushrooms, and raising turkeys, and first-hand food in general.

And – get this – they gave me the brown trout! The big one! With the roe! They all seemed to like fishing more than actually eating fish. I said thank you and took her home.

The fish and the roe (which I brined) are in the refrigerator, waiting to become tomorrow’s dinner. And the tip-ups are out, so there may be another before morning.

12 people are having a conversation about “Fishing in my sleep

  1. That’s pretty impressive, considered from a respectful distance. I don’t think I’m cut out for ice fishing. The whole idea of bashing and deliberately making a hole in something that’s keeping me from an icy death is just not something I’d care to pursue. Call me a sissy. But I love the fish well. Very clever and practical, if indicative of a death wish. Maybe if I lived in northern Canada, where I could logic my way into really trusting the ice… Maybe PA is just far south enough that my mistrust makes good evolutionary sense…

  2. Tamar, my experience with ice fishing in my youth was that my father, his friends and all the new friends who he was going to meet that day on the ice were more interested in the event than the fish. They also liked tricking out their little huts and showing off their gear…oh and the beer, let’s not forget the beer!

    One day he left me in charge of 8 tip-ups and went off to the bar with his friends, on his return I brazenly told him I had released the 2 fish that were caught…I’m pretty sure he didn’t care at all. Actually I think they all laughed and broke some shrimp out of the freezer.

    I think there are fishermen and well, fishermen. You are in it for the fish, they are in it for the comraderie. I bet you totally made their day by admiring their skills.

  3. I would have to chime in with Karen on the camaraderie of fishing- fish is secondary. My grandfather used to go fishing with his buddies, and usually brought back a pretty good catch. But when hunting, he never brought home anything. My mother suspected that he didn’t like to kill animals and that he just liked to tromp around in the woods with his buddies.

    Congrats on your fish!

  4. You are a tougher woman than I! But then again, it was nearly 70 here yesterday and our almond tree is starting to bloom, so maybe that’s affecting my outlook on ice and snow…

    Their live well was ingenious! And how cool that they shared.

  5. The living well was beautiful! What a clever idea…

    The gentlemen with the fish remind me of my husband. It was wonderful that he shared and I hope it is an excellent meal.

    We have rabbit dogs (3 beagles) and my husband loves to take them to run rabbit. A group of guys now get together to hunt with the dogs as the dogs clearly make rabbit hunting much easier. Over the past 3 years I have gotten only one or two rabbits… my husband always ends up giving them away! I told him this year if I don’t have some rabbits in the freezer I am giving the dogs away ;)! It worked. This is the year I have gotten the most rabbits from the hunting trips.

    I have gone hunting before with them. I love watching the dogs work but the snow and cold are not my idea of a fun morning…

  6. Kate – The standard-issue recommendation is 4 inches of ice to ice fish, and we don’t go out on less than that. We also have very safe conditions, in that we’re just yards from our house, there are two of us, and we have a rope. We should also have the spikes you use to get yourself out of a hole, should you fall through, but we’ve been neglectful. If you’ve got any interest in fishing, just wait until you have a comfortable margin — 6 inches, say — and go with someone experienced.

    Karen — It didn’t occur to me that it actually might please them that I came and admired their fish and their well, but you’re probably right. That’s probably why I ended up with the fish.

    Kim — Good eye! That is, in fact, an old Chouinard ice axe, and we have another just like it. If someone’s willing to pay me hundreds of dollars for either of them, it’s a deal!

    Paula — If you’re right, and I suspect you are, he’s in very good company.

    NorCal — So says the woman who gets up at 3:00 AM to hunt ducks! Your almond blossoms have me green with envy.

    Lauren – Rabbits! I do want to get rabbits, but it’s tough to do without dogs. We have a friend who has a flock of beagles, and I’m hoping to get invited some day.

  7. You are well and truly hooked, Tamar.

    The live well idea is ingenious, if — as Kate pointed out — a bit disconcerting, especially if one was out there at night.

    Your post reminds me: When I was a kid, my father (uninterested in fishing, but sympathetic to my proclivities) invented a device for keeping a hole open in the ice. It involved a small circle of copper pipe, each end hitched to a length of garden hose, to make one big loop. It was filled with some kind of liquid with a lower freezing point than water, which circulated through the loop of its own accord, bringing 33 or 34 degree water up to the surface. Of course, the hose that hung suspended under water could have led to a tangled fishing line….

  8. LOL. I thought you should know it’s value as a collectible before you dropped it through the ice! Just go to Ebay and do a search to find out their current value. I have one too and was going to sell it until I became friends with Tom Frost (Chouinard’s partner). See: I did the original website.

  9. Tamar, are the trout you are catching “sea run?” I always heard sea run trout were even better tasting than those without access to salt water. The picture of the browns in their live well is awesome!

    • Jamie — They’re not. They’re hatchery trout. I’ve been told that the conditions in our pond are not hospitable enough to trout that they reproduce. I don’t think I’ve ever had a sea run trout, but I’ll be on the lookout for opportunities.

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