I HAVE a strange obsession with ice, particularly its existence among those water bodies that I like to fish.
In the spring I am on constant watch, patrolling favored spots to see if the ice has disappeared. In the fall, I follow the same routes, with the same enthusiasm looking to see where ice has formed. April marks the end of ice fishing season and November marks its beginning.
As mentioned, I am equally obsessed and honestly have no favorite. The way I look at it, the end of any fishing season always marks the beginning of another.
Last week, I found what I was looking for. Almost all of the small ponds that I investigated had skimmed over with ice. I knew it was close. A nerd like me has been taking water temperatures for the last few weeks and as these small, shallow ponds hovered in the low 30s, I suspected one cold night would be the final factor in creating a frozen pond.
Whenever this happens before Thanksgiving, I keep my enthusiasm in check as I have seen many water bodies lose their ice and open back up. In this case, the weather forecast has me confident that the ice is here to stay. Cold days and colder nights are forecast for as far as meteorologists can see and I’m confident that, barring some unforeseen climate condition, the ice fishing season has begun.
My favorite early-season destinations are not by coincidence these small, shallow ponds that freeze first. Little potholes like this seem to be landlocked but many are connected to larger rivers and streams. The ecology of these is fascinating as water floods in the spring, recedes in the summer, and disappears in winter leaving these ponds isolated.
In a unique yet predictable way, they are refreshed annually with water and fish, the most common species to take advantage of this journey being the yellow perch.
Yellow perch are the perfect early-season ice target for many reasons. The strongest trait for their survival is the varying habitats that they occupy. They can live at any depth, tolerate a wide temperature range, and can find food anywhere. The translation for fishermen is that almost every farm pond, river setback or oxbow will have a perch fishery. They are a schooling fish and, once found, can be caught on a variety of baits. The action will be exciting and then, as the fish move on, it will disappear. A good perch fisherman must be on the move.
I am obliged to mention the risks of early-season ice fishing and will do so with one sentence. Don’t go out until the ice is thick enough to support you. Following this simple rule will keep one from harm and allow you to take advantage of early season opportunity. It is this time of year that I carry an iron bar with me, affectionately called a “spud.” This allows me to test the ice as I walk and is often adequate for chiseling the holes that I will fish through. No heavy auger or drill is necessary in November.
I always mourn the loss of summer and view the first few snowflakes with a genuine loathing but it all signifies the changing of our water bodies and the fishing opportunities that they offer. The ice fishing season will be long and full of varying opportunity, but it will eventually end bringing the birth of a whole new fishing season.