Monday, January 21, 2013

Pike Fishing Done Right

This weekend I had the good fortune of being invited on an ice fishing trip with two work buddies. Now I'm no big ice fisherman. In fact, my only other experience was a long cold day with no fish. And frankly at the end of the day I was left wondering: Why does everybody love ice fishing so much? Needless to say, I was hopeful this trip would be more fruitful.
So, my goals for this trip were to 1) have a good time 2) learn what the ice fishing craze is all about and 3) bring home some pike for dinner. In fact, as I left the house in the pre-dawn dark, Whitney's words to me were: Have fun, Be safe, Bring home some fish! 
The morning dawned clear and crisp, temps around 15. We headed west and after about an hour's drive pulled into a local favorite spot for pike on the Noxon Rapids Reservoir. We walked out a short ways on the ice and drilled our holes. The ice at that point was over 7" deep, so there was no question about the stability. Further out where the river current is stronger, the ice is much thinner, and it would be a very bad idea to walk across. We set our tip-ups (limit two per person) with smelt for bait and then enjoyed watching the sunrise.

tip-up rig for pike on the Noxon Rapids Reservoir.
After a time, sure enough the tip-ups started to flip! My tip-up went first and I approached it excitedly, but pretty soon something seemed wrong. The reel wasn't spinning and the line had gone limp. I pulled up the line to investigate and there was my poor smelt with a hunk missing. This pike was a wily one, because instead of taking the whole fish, it had just taken a bite and moved on.
The next bite was the group down the ice from us and they pulled up a nice pike. Soon after one of my friends pulled up his first pike of the day, a nice 23 incher. 
Not long after that, it was my turn again. One of my rigs flipped and as I approached the hole I could see the line spooling out. Then it stopped, "he's eating the bait, just wait" said my friends. A long minute later the line started spooling out again, slowly and then faster. "Set your hook"! I reached down, got a grip on the line and gave it a yank. The line got taunt and then the pull was steady. I got him! I pulled up the line hand over hand and soon the pike was in sight under the ice. One more pull and it was up on the ice. I had landed my first pike! The guys then showed me how to remove the hook, being careful not to cut your hands on the pike's thousands of very sharp teeth.  
My first Northern Pike, a decent 18"
The day continued with steady action and beautiful skies. The afternoon sun warmed us nicely and the day of good company was very enjoyable. Eventually the shadows got long and the air got cold and it was time to go. We were each successful and had nice pike to show for our day's effort, four in all ranging from 2 lbs to 5 lbs.  

When I got home it was time to clean the fish and get it ready for dinner. Since pike are a little different from the fish I have caught in the past, one of my friends offered to show me how it was done. He smoothly filleted his fish, removed the skin and cleaned out the bones that were in the fillet. After that it was my turn, and although I was much less smooth, I got the job done with a little direction. He then generously gave us his pike, so that we had more than enough for Whitney and I. 
clean fillets ready for dinner
Whitney was excited for the fish and made a terrific dinner by breading and lightly frying the fish, and adding brussel sprouts and salad as sides.
If you get a chance to go ice fishing do it! I had a great time enjoying a day with friends. I learned that ice fishing really is a blast, and with minimal equipment a person can be set up pretty easily. And, I brought home delicious fish for dinner and enjoyed eating the meal as much as I did catching it. With some warm clothes and a little knowledge, it's a great time and there is nothing like fresh fish, straight from the lake or river to your plate.

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