Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Losing the Whitefish

Making the walk
It started as a gorgeous day. Beautiful sunrise. Pretty cold, but we needed the cold to build the ice. This winter has been difficult on the ice. Warm days have not been kind to making ice on Lake Champlain. I knew with the weather we had had for the week the ice would be in better shape. 

I got out early and set tip ups in hopes of finding a Master Angler pike/pickerel hybrid. I was in a high percentage spot for this species. I was following up on a lead from several people and hopeful. I had done really well here the weekend before. Lots of flags on tip ups. And my good friend Mike would be joining me later on. 

All the holes were drilled, the tip ups set, and I got into a rhythm of jigging for pike. I haven't had a ton of success jigging so far, but it is fun to pass the time doing it. Nothing happening. A bright sunny, cold day. Mike joined me and I popped a few more holes and he set up his tip ups. We started checking the tip ups, and moving a few. When it is cold you have to chip the ice out around the tip up so it doesn't freeze in. At some point I need to make hole covers to make it easier on myself. 

Around 11 Mike started up a stove and cooked us a hot lunch. It really hit the spot. But not a single flag (no tip ups had bait taken). The pike just weren't on at all. An idea struck me and I asked Mike if he would be willing to bring in my tip ups and associated gear. He said that he would be happy to drop it off at my vehicle. I had been given some intel that a guy had hooked a whitefish about a mile from where we were the week before. I could tell that the pike fishing wasn't going to improve and morning fishing the next day proved that to be true as well. So the whitefish hunt began.

I have a harness for dragging my flip over sled. It makes things a lot easier since I have my hands free. I had to walk out to a spot I had thought looked good on Navionics. Navionics is an app that provided a bathymetric map of the bottom of the lake. It is incredibly useful for ice fishing and has helped me find the locations that I want to fish. I would be using charts instead, which would get me in a general location but not the pinpoint spots that I really need. While it isn't perfect, it makes a huge difference. 

I got to the place that I was interested in. It was a small flat near a drop off. It spoke to me. I set up and started fishing. I was using a dropper set up with a Berkely Power Nymph on the top and a heavy tungsten jig on the bottom. The jig had a Maki Plastics Jamei on it. Those things are super wiggly and look pretty similar to a Hexagenia nymph. I know that whitefish love to eat Hex and other critters on the bottom and I thought it seemed like a good combo. 

I got into some perch, some pretty nice ones, but the bit was slow. Then I had a light take and when I started reeling I could tell that this fish was different. It had a lot of weight to it and the fight was much stronger. It didn't pull off line but it did "throb". The rod pulsed as the fish was fighting against me. I took my time getting it up. I threw back the top to my flip over and pulled the sonar puck out of the hole. I didn't want to take any chances. 

Then it was there. The fish was at the hole... it broadsided the hole. It was a massive whitefish. The fish I needed. I kept the rod high with my left hand as I took my glove off with my right. Then it was off. It was off. It sat there under the ice. The ice was pretty clear, only about 4". I could see it clearly not 4 feet away from me. I dropped the jig back in the water as a pathetic attempt to hook the fish, but after about 10-15 seconds, it just swam off. 

Wow. I had it and I lost it. And it was big. The fish took up either side of the hole, so it was at least 6" deep. I could see the entire fish under the ice as well. My guess would be between 24 and 26 inches. I need 22" for the Master Angler Program. I had the fish I needed and it got away. But, I learned from the experience.

I have analyzed what happened. When the fish got to the hole and broadsided the ice the line pulled the jig out. I should have played it longer. When I checked the jig, it wasn't super sharp. I will be checking the points on anything I fish from here on. And I shouldn't have worried about my glove. Just jump in there and get the damn fish. 

The good sides that came from this. I upgraded my auger to an 8". The surface area of a 6" hole is about 28 square inches. An 8" hole is 50 square inches. Big difference and should help tremendously. I know another location. I have already returned there, no other whitefish but a couple of salmon. I will be back there soon (this coming weekend...). I have learned a lot of what not to do but also more about what to do. 

I will have that Master Angler whitefish this year. I am confident of that. Then it is on to the hybrid... 

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