Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Ice Fish Like a Kid Again

By the end of an extremely long day suffering through cold temperatures, without even a wind flag to show for a “monumental effort”, I was beginning to question why I had even decided to come on this particular ice fishing trip. As predicted, the temperature fell steadily throughout the day and as the sun dipped below the horizon, a bone chilling north wind kicked up spin drift further hampering the laborious task of picking up ice traps and trekking the mile back to the truck.
To say I was disheartened, by the inactivity of the day, may have been an understatement and while the sport is called “fishing” and not “catching”, it was painfully obvious, as I trudged through the blinding blizzard, that something fundamental had changed in my understanding of the sport of fishing from when I had been a child. At some point in my road to adulthood, I had come to believe that catching BIG fish was more important than catching LOTS of fish.
I was three years old when Dad took me ice fishing for the first time on a small body of water in Washington County called Vose Pond (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 37, C-1). This small pickerel pond sits just a short snowmobile ride from my childhood home and hot fishing action was always guaranteed. Throughout my youth, I enjoyed many such outing with my family ice fishing on various pickerel and perch ponds throughout Down East, including some of my fondest memories ice fishing Conic Lake (Map 36, C-5).
As I grew older, however, I began to evolve beyond this “childish” view of ice fishing and instead of desiring to catch lots of fish, I decided it was more important to catch one big fish or perhaps none at all, if that was the price needed to catch a trophy. This practice to suffer through long, cold hours of fishing for that one glimmer of hope at a trophy continued for years until that bone chilling day, trudging through that blizzard when my childhood memories of ice fishing transported me back to a time when ice fishing wasn’t about a trophy fish, it was simply about catching tons of fish.
Helping me along on this renewed path are my two children, who at 8 and 10 are simply not going to enjoy sitting on the ice for hours without some degree of excitement. This means that in order to provide for them a fun day of ice fishing, they need some degree of diversion and that means catching LOTS of fish. Fortunately, finding lots of fish isn’t a problem if one isn’t picky about the type of fish they are targeting.
Washington County contains many bodies of water that breed healthy Yellow Perch and Pickerel populations and anglers looking for a fun day need only fish these waters to be practically guaranteed non-stop action. Last season, the tribe and I fished one particular yellow perch filled body of water and logged 135 flags! While every flag certainly did not yield a fish, we caught enough yellow perch where by the end of the evening I was tired of cleaning them!
Speaking of cleaning perch, this chore has always been one that I certainly did not relish until I researched perch cleaning methods on the Internet. Google “How to clean a perch is 10 seconds”, for an interesting video on how to quickly prepare freshly caught perch for the frying pan!
A gregarious species, yellow perch often travel in large schools, making fishing for this delectable treat exciting once anglers can locate them. Rarely taken from water more than 30 feet deep, yellow perch prefer living in shallow waters so targeting areas with water less than 30 feet is necessary. Begin by cutting a lot of holes as this helps to quickly determine where the perch are hiding. Jig a hole for 5-6 minutes and then move to the next. If using ice fishing traps, start with lines set at different depth and once fishing start hitting adjust lines to best target the same depth at which fish are biting. Because perch travel together, one hole can quickly yield multiple hook-ups. Once a flag goes up, a caught fish is immediately placed on the ice and using a jig pole the anglers drops a small lure down the hole. Schooling perch quickly hit the jig and are rapidly pulled out and iced. This really saves on live bait, especially when the perch are voraciously feeding!
Yellow Perch are a relatively diminutive species of game fish, so anglers shouldn’t expect to catch many fish over 5-8 ounces. Occasionally, healthy perch waters will yield large adults weighing 10 ounces but this is much less common. Any Yellow Perch over 1 pound is a real beauty and always be on the look out for any fish that will beat the monstrous 1 pound 10 ounces behemoth taken out of Worthley Pond in East Peru, it currently stands as the state record.

Many Washington County waters contain healthy Yellow Perch populations. Here is a listing of some of the most prolific: Barrows Lake, Bowles Lake, Fulton Lake, Greenland Pond (Big), Fifth Machias Lake, Otter Lake, Upper Oxbrook Lake, Pickerel Pond, Possum Pond, Rand Lake, Roaring Lake and Sucker Lake.

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