AAHH, this is the time of year when it's really fun and often a challenge to go ice fishing.
If you get a day when the ice is still safe, the sun is out and wind is down, it's like heaven being out on the ice. I love the freedom to roam and the chance to fish with bare hands and to try various means and methods to catch a March fish!
There's a small pond in the White Mountains foothills that is a nice place to ice fish in March. Sometimes getting on the ice is a bit "wishy/washy," but the water is shallow enough that it's not over your boots if you do punch in.
But if it's a really warm day, you could (and we have) get a bit damp coming off the ice, but the reward of being able to ice fish under these conditions makes it all worthwhile.
We fish this small pond during the open water season, both early and during some of the late spring and summer. On the ice in the late season, you don't have to contend with much traffic on the ice and the close inspection you get from camp owners and other anglers.
Our quest is to bring home a couple of "eater" rainbow trout and whatever white perch we may be blessed with, but that's not always how we turn out. But if we have enough yellow perch to make a meal out of those fine fillets, that works! And if we get a couple of hefty white perch to go along with the yellows, that really makes it work.
Our secret is no secret to the regulars who fish this pond, but it took us a few times to get it right. It's night crawlers and/or regular trout worms that the fish in this pond like through the ice. Which is surprising because during the open-water season we've caught lots of nice trout on both live shiners and lures that mimic them such as the f-5 and f-7 floating rapalla lures. But good old worms and crawlers will out-fish live shiners or smelts in this pond most any day.
We do like to set tip ups in likely spots such as the edge of drop-offs and also off points that kind of make for a "pinch-point" for fish that follow the shoreline. And we'll move around quite a bit with just a hand-held auger and drill holes to fish with a small and whippy jig rod, using both small jigs, worms or crawlers. If we do hit what seems like a hot spot during our roaming, we'll move a tip up or two into this area, but what seems like an almost sure bet often produces a lot less action than you have anticipated.
This place has a few big brown trout from some earlier stocking but don't think brownies are still put in there. We've never caught a small one, but we have caught them as large as seven pounds when open water fishing here, and that big one was taken on a live-trolled shiner. Never caught a brown trout there through the ice.
Another place we like to fish is a similar-sized pond that is also below the White Mountains but in the pine barrens of the eastern part of the state. Like the pond we first wrote about, it has some great rainbow trout. But we've never been able to catch much on worms or crawlers, and that could be because this pond is full of small yellow perch on which your worm bait won't work.
This place has a nice smelt population, and if you can use a live smelt and have patience, you probably can catch a trophy rainbow trout. One of the most incredible memories the Dickster has about fishing there is when we were set up in our portable shanty and had a set of light smelt lines trying to catch some bait. We had some old frozen smelts that we had saved from a previous fishing trip - probably purchased from a bait dealer. So we baited up our smelt lines with tiny bits of cut smelt, and every once in a while we'd catch a small smelt or two, but the action was pretty slow. Seeing a light hit on one of my lines, we set the hook and could feel that we'd hooked a smelt. Working hand over hand, wouldn't you know a huge rainbow trout grabbed that hooked smelt and we were in a bit of a mess.
We got the trout up into our hole and went for it with a trout landing net. It got caught in the smelt line hooks, yet we still had that rainbow trout on a line. But the big fish threw the hook and slowly sunk out of sight, under the ice.
After that day, our motley crew of ice anglers, including a son-in-law and a couple of nephews and grandsons, managed to catch a handful of those huge rainbow trout. The key was to go out very early in the morning, using fresh-caught or bait-dealer live smelt.
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.