Young Winston

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Winston jigs for perch through the ice on the Ottawa River at Petrie Island.

I got out for some ice fishing last Wednesday afternoon on Crappie Bay on the Ottawa River at Petrie Island–it was February 5th. It was panfish I hoped to catch through the ice. Crappie Bay holds black crappie, bluegill, pumpkinseed and yellow perch. I brought wax worms for bait and an array of rods and reels fitted with bare hooks and tungsten jigs. I felt a little apprehensive as the memory of my last ice fishing expedition to Crappie Bay came to mind. It was a debacle! Everything that could possibly go wrong did. I will spare you the details as it is a long story, but trust me; the ice fishing expedition was a disaster. Also, I had the newly installed drill on my ice auger. I learned from my hunting buddy Mike that the previous drill I used is the wrong model. The old drill lacked the torque to power the auger to break through the ice adequately. With cautious optimism, I set out on the ice to see what fortune would bring.

There was no one else on the ice–not surprising, I suppose as it was the middle of the workweek–when I lugged my gear out to the first spot I tried. I got the ice auger off the sled and set to work drilling the first hole through the ice. What a thrill and a relief it was when the auger, powered by the new drill, cut through the ice like a hot knife through butter. I dropped the transducer through the hole in the ice and found the depth about 19 feet. I hoped there might be some crappie suspended in the water. I dropped a line and jigged for a bit. I had one bite before long, but the fish got off as I tried to reel it in. Things got quiet after that. The crappie were not interested in the wax worms I used for bait. I have some plastic baits but do not feel assured enough yet to try them out. I decided to move to shallower water to try my luck on the perch and pumpkinseed.

I moved to a familiar spot and drilled a hole through the ice. I checked the depth with my flasher–it was between 7 and 8 feet deep. I drilled a few more holes in the vicinity and tried my luck. Nothing much happened in the first couple of holes, so I kept busy hole hopping. Eventually, I found a good spot. The perch and pumpkinseed started biting. Most were on the small side and returned to the river. Before long, though, I caught what is likely the biggest perch ever. I quickly snapped a photo of the perch before setting it free. I make a point of releasing the larger panfish I catch as I hope they will live to spawn come spring and pass on their genes to a new generation of panfish.

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A yellow perch, a personal best for me, that I caught through the ice on Crappie Bay.

Not long after the fishing picked up for me, a young man approached me on the ice. He introduced himself; his name is Winston, and he told me that he is interested in taking up ice fishing. He asked me if I would mind giving him some pointers. I replied, asking if he would like to give it a try with one of my rods and reels. He happily accepted my offer, and I set him up with a rig complete with a spring bobber, a tungsten jig and a wax worm for bait. I explained that you want to let the line play out until the jig reaches the river bottom. When the jig reaches the bottom, you reel up the slackline so that the jig sits just off the bottom of the river. Then you gently jig and watch the end of the spring bobber. When the bobber dips, you try to set the hook and reel in the fish. It was barely thirty seconds before Winston hooked and reeled in a big perch. After posing for a photo with the perch he caught, he set it free. Winston is a seasoned fisherman–he fishes for bass and panfish through the spring and summer months–and prefers to catch and release.

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Winston poses with the first fish, a nice perch, he caught through the ice on Crappie Bay.

Winston and I fished for the rest of the afternoon until the sun started to set. By then, the fish stopped biting. We caught a lot of fish between us, mostly perch with some pumpkinseed and a couple of bluegills. While we fished, Winston told me about his experience in sport fishing, and we discussed getting out fishing together again. Winston is an advanced sport fisherman–he uses baitcasting reels along with spinning reels in his fishing expeditions. I am still getting the hang of fishing with a spinning reel. Once I feel I have mastered fishing with a spinning reel, I will give the baitcasting reel a try. I understand that fishing with a baitcasting reel requires a high level of finesse to avoid getting a birds nest. I struggle with tangles in my lines with my spinning reels all too easily, so I imagine fishing with a baitcasting reel will be a steep learning curve for me.

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Eight perch ready for filleting at home after an afternoon out on the ice.

By the end of the afternoon, I had eight nice perch on the ice to bring home. The perch fillets will be tasty when I batter and fry them in peanut oil. I had a great afternoon out on the ice. For once, I had a fishing expedition without a high drama erupting! The only fly in the ointment, and it was minor, was when a jig separated from the fishing line in the mouth of a perch I reeled in. I retrieved the jig from the perch and set the fish free. I would retie the jig later at home. It was a stroke of good fortune that Winston saw fit to introduce himself. I am so happy that he enjoyed himself on his first ice fishing excursion. I hope that the two of us can get back out onto the ice again before long.

Posted by Geoffrey

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