When it comes to fishing through the ice, my buddies and I like to maximize our potential to catch fish by setting the maximum number of lines we legally can. In many of my winter fishing spots, that means four lines apiece. We usually reserve one ice hole apiece in the shack for jigging or bobber fishing … we set our other three holes with HT Enterprise’s Polar Tip-Ups. The HT Polar Tip-Ups are economical, almost foolproof and heck on fish. Setting them can be heck on your hands at minus 12 degrees in a 20 mile-per-hour wind too, but hey … ice fishing is all about braving the elements, right?
One of my friends used to be a professional fishing guide in the northern plains and he is a master at setting the HT Polar Tip-Up for maximum effectiveness in varying conditions. His approach is to drill the ice hole in a shallow snow drift after scraping a trough in the drift that’s parallel to the wind. After cleaning the slush out of the hole (often with his bare hands) he clips a several-ounce weight to the hook (attached to the line that’s spooled on the Polar Tip-Up) and runs the line through the hole to the bottom of the lake or river. He pulls the line up about 3 inches and marks it with a small split-shot right where the line and spool meet (this makes it unlikely that you need to check the depth again for that hole). He next pulls up the weight and hook, removes the weight and baits the hook with a live minnow or chub … depending on whether he is after Walleye or Northern pike. With the hook back in the water, the Polar Tip-Up is placed in the trough and the spring-loaded flag is tucked under the trigger.
After setting the Polar Tip-Ups, all you need to do is head to the shack to warm up and dangle a line or watch a bobber in comfort. Look out the window now and then to see if you have a flag up … when the fish takes the bait, it releases the trigger and the spring-loaded flag pops up. It’s all very exciting. Etiquette requires one to call out “flag up” whenever a flag is, well, up. Mild pandemonium ensues as heavily insulated less-than-coordinated guys scramble onto the ice for that adrenaline-building 100-yard (or more) dash to the ice hole.
Once the hole is reached, etiquette requires one to call out “still turning” if the fish is still taking line from the spool. Once the complete entourage has trundled out to the hole, the hole’s owner may carefully pull the Polar Tip-Up from the ice, gently caress the line and slowly take up the slack. Once significant resistance is met, a tighter grip is required and a small tug should set the hook. If it is a big pike, the line will go racing out again. If it is smaller there will be just a bit of tugging. Either causes another adrenaline release. With any luck, the fish is eventually maneuvered head-first into the bottom of the hole and in a final effort will come shooting up through the hole and onto the ice. That’s when the speculation on size and weight begins … and when the entourage begins to move back to the comfort of the shack. It’s also the place where fish stories are born.
I know I promised it today, but I will report on the luxury ice-fishing shack tomorrow. Stay tuned.
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.