They called it Super Sunday, and it was. Not because of the lopsided championship football game that would take place that night. Not because a groundhog already had his day in the sun. For me, it was super because I was enjoying an outdoor activity for the first time since the deer season ended.
I’m not sure how I let so much time go without a hike, a photo safari, a bird hunt or other wintertime outing, but cabin fever had reached a dangerous level, and ice fishing was the self-prescribed cure.
Purchasing a dozen-and-a-half medium-size minnows and a small container of meal worms was a small investment, but enough to prevent me from having second thoughts. Word from John Moore, proprietor at Big Wave Sport & Tackle in Mahopac, that local waters had a layer of about six inches of ice was assurance that I could look forward to a safe day.
The destination was my “home” water, a 20-acre Putnam pond that I fish often from a 12-foot john boat. Getting out on that pond during the winter is always exhilarating. The comforting feeling of being home is tickled by the feeling that someone’s done something to the place. The lily pads were gone. The trees lining the shore were bare. The green landscape was white.
After walking a couple of hundred feet onto the pond, I put my hand auger to work, more to test the thickness of the ice than drill a hole for a tipup. In a couple of minutes water burst up through the new opening and the side of the hole showed a safe 6-8 inches.
Not to let a good hole go to waste, I did decide to set up the first tipup there and hoped a flag would pop up during this midday outing. Not convinced, however, that this was the hotspot, I moved on toward the middle of the pond, where the water was deepest. Walking was easy on the snow-sprinkled surface that provided easy traction. In my right hand I carried an Adirondack packbasket full of tipups, jigging outfits, gloves, fish attractant, line, an ice-fishing skimmer, the meal worms, a small first-aid kit, a towel and little tackle boxes of lures, hooks, split shot and a bell sinker. In the other, I carried the auger and my pail of minnows.
Over my shoulder I slung the short, foldable stool that I carry on turkey hunts. I selected each prospective spot on a hunch and methodically went through a routine. Drill the hole. Skim the slush ice. Set up a tipup. Place a bell sinker on the hook. Drop the line to the bottom. Visually mark a spot on the line that would put the bait a foot off the bottom. Move a button previously strung on the line to that spot. Replace the bell sinker with a minnow, hooked just ahead of its dorsal fin. Lower the bait through the hole until the line runs to the button. Set up the tipup so that if the bait is taken and the line runs off of the underwater spool, a long metal strip tipped with orange surveyor tape will spring up, indicating a fish has likely taken the bait.
At a spot where I could watch all of my tipups, I cut another hole and set up my stool. Here I would sit while I mechanically jigged a little metal lure tipped with a mealworm.
Was I freezing? The sun, when it showed itself, pointed its rays toward the white surface, and its warmth radiated my face. In the 50-degree temperature I was sweating. I took off my jacket, and let the insulated bib overalls, chamois shirt and thermal undershirt protect my upper body.
The flag that suddenly popped up in front of me caused more heat, first from my running to the hole and then from the action that followed. I lifted the tipup and held the line as I let the emptying spool of line slip gently through my hand. When the line stopped moving, I tugged and felt the four-season thrill of resistance. This time I didn’t have a rod between the fish and me. In less than a minute hand over hand I brought a solid two-pound largemouth bass to the surface. With the season on bass closed, I unhooked him promptly and slipped him back into the hole from which only seconds before he had emerged.
This pond also holds Eastern chain pickerel, for which the season is open during the winter. Bass, however, are protected during the winter months.
After an hour of monotonously moving my jig up and down, I unexpectedly felt weight at the end of the line. Setting the hook and turning the handle of my ultralight spinning reel, I soon had the fish near the hole. The gaping mouth showed me this was another bass, smaller than the first, and not the pickerel I had hoped for.
An hour more of sitting, hoping, scanning the panorama of whiteness, jigging and waiting was all I needed to feel complete satisfaction, knowing that I’d reconnected with the outdoors.