Perch, wind and desire: A rookie’s run at ice fishing

by Austin Kaus on January 13, 2015 · 0 comments

It began something like this:

My boss: “You’re going ice fishing.”

Me: “Great!”

My boss: “Have you ever been ice fishing before?”

Me: “No, ma’am.”

I had nothing against ice fishing. I’d just never really had a chance to experience it. My fishing gets done in the summer when the sun shines, when you wonder whether you should wear shorts or pants.

That’s not really an option with ice fishing, and it certainly wasn’t last weekend when I made my first trip on the ice with some writers, television people and equipment representatives. Joining the far more experienced crew, I arrived at Hidden Hill Lodge in northeastern South Dakota ready to see what I could pull out of an icy hole.

I love all parts of fishing (especially the eating part at the end), but I wasn’t sure what to expect. The weather seemed…cold, even for South Dakota. I unpacked my warmest clothes and headed outside, a student surrounded by gracious and experienced teachers.

We loaded up and drove northeast to Clubhouse Slough. My hosts had heard the fish were biting there, so we drove onto the ice. Part of ice fishing is maintaining a respectable distance, so we made sure to set ourselves apart from the other groups on the ice. It looked like it was going to be quite a day.

It was after taking my first step out of the pickup that I realized what we were in for. I saw the sun, but couldn’t feel it. We drilled our holes, set up our shelter and started fishing. The shelter and portable heater made things tolerable, but it was hard to escape the fact that the weather was mean outside.

I’m no stranger to South Dakota winters, but I did note that this particular day was intense. However, it didn’t matter. The word-on-the-ice that we were in for good fishing turned out to be true. I, a first time ice fisherman, pulled in eight perch in a few hours.

After a lunch, it seemed like it would be good to tear down, pack up and head back to the lodge for some warmth and preparation for an evening on the ice in front of the lodge. As we packed things up, we had a feeling the weather might not be letting up any time soon.

It doesn’t matter what fishing season you’re a part of or how hard a cold wind blows. Spirits are good when fish are being caught. I was pretty pleased to have pulled the perch I did. (To remind me of exactly what hobby I was involved with, my biggest perch was also the “one that got away.” Some parts of life are inescapable, I suppose.) We warmed up. My coffee cup got refilled and we set out on the massive body of water that sat in front of our lodge.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have quite the same luck. A different group of fisherman staying at the lodge had found a sweet spot on the lake and I just couldn’t replicate their success. While our group didn’t have as much luck as we had in the a.m., Craig Oyler, an Ice Team Pro, did manage to snag a beautiful walleye that night.

Corey Studer (fishing with NO SHELTER AT ALL) of Vexilar pulled in this walleye before most of us had our shacks set up. By the time I made it over for a picture, the fish was frozen. Between that and the wind, it was hard to tell where the fish ended and the ice resumed.

As the temperature continued to drop below zero, we decided to pack it in. The next day, I headed home with some cleaned perch and walleye and, more importantly, a new love for ice fishing. Sure, it’s a colder version of what I was used to, but that’s what made it unique. Anyone can (and should) give some non-winter fishing a try. It takes a strong constitution to head out on the ice on days when most people wouldn’t dream of using a car without letting it run first much less sit on the ice in a quest for fish. I basked in the joy that I’d confirmed that constitution in myself. The bellyful of perch I enjoyed from the warmth of my dining room didn’t hurt a thing either.

WAS IT WORTH IT?: Without a doubt. My first time on the ice was in some of the coldest weather some seasoned fishermen had ever been in. That’ll make you feel mighty tough.

WHERE SHOULD I GO?: There are great ice fishing opportunities all across South Dakota. For more information, click here to learn about the sites recommended by the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. Otherwise, hit up your local bait shop and ask where the fish are biting. Bait shops are a prime source of widsom and (often colorful) advice.

WHAT EQUIPMENT DO I NEED?: Like many things, you can go as minimal as you’d like. You’ll for sure need a rod, bait (we used minnows), an auger to drill a hole with and warm clothes. Was my first trip more enjoyable because of a depth finder, a shack, a heater, coffee and a sandwich? You bet.

CAN’T YOU JUST SHOW ME A VIDEO ON HOW TO DO IT?: Thanks to BBC Pop Up, I sure can.

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