On January 14, 2012, it was 48 degrees and sunny when we pulled into our secret ice fishing spot at Strawberry Reservoir. Really, in mid January? This can’t be ice fishing. Twenty minutes earlier at a small-town gas station we spent $20 on the afternoon essentials: chips, donuts, drinks, sparkle PowerBait and tiny chartreuse and white jigs. As we buzzed past Deer Creek Reservoir, we wondered how in the world we could possibly ice fish on Strawberry when there were boats trolling just half an hour away.
Our party consisted of three generations from grandpa to grandsons, friends and neighbors. Grandpa Johnson is a critical part of our annual ice fishing excursions. He’s our resident storyteller, fish finder, hook setter (gives ’em the old “Roland Martin yank,” as we call it) and expert in catching polar bears through the ice using peas. That old polar bear joke still makes the new generation chuckle.
Upon arrival, we paused our discussion about sports, favorite school subjects, exaggerated fish stories and texting lessons for grandpa. We piled out of the truck and donned the warm gear. I loaded the sleds and buckets and off we went, headed for the frozen layer of promise covering the Soldier Creek arm of the lake.
Patchy snow dusted fifteen inches of solid, clear ice. By 1:00 p.m., the arm was dotted with ice fishing shelters, snow machines and both vacant and active fishing camps. Our friends new to ice fishing tentatively stood at ice edge and watched as some of us strode confidently onto the lake. Conventional wisdom says four inches of ice will support anglers, five to eight inches carries heavier gear like snow machines and ATVs and eight or more inches can handle a car or small pickup. The first time walking onto an ice-covered lake really makes an impression; the thought of falling through overpowers the tactile senses trying to confirm that you are actually walking on top of water. A couple hundred yards later, even the most tentative of our group replaced their unfounded fear with hopes of hauling in a few lunkers.
We battled through some spotty action for the first three hours, then between 3:30 and 4:00 the bite picked up, and our impromptu ice football game slowed down. Between 4:00 p.m. and dusk, the action was fantastic! We landed several fat rainbows and a couple of nice cutthroat. See snippets here.
There’s something magical about drilling a hole at your feet, fishing in an eight-inch circle of water and pulling a beautiful trout up through the solid floor. But for us, ice fishing isn’t just about the fish; we’re in it mostly for the memories created in between the catches. If we do happen to land a lunker, it gives us more to talk about in the far too many days between fishing trips.