Swans don't make noise when they fly... their wings do! The orange dawn light backed the silhouetted swans as I looked up to see what was forcing enough air to make this early morning audible. We knew it would be this cold. This recent north air has paralyzed the local towns but it also locked in the fresh water with the first ice of the season. "Don't breathe deep..it will freeze your lungs," I can still hear my Nana saying that to me in younger winters... Today she may have been right. Stark, gasping, cold. I n fact we shivered at the radios indication of -15 degrees, when we were on route... we knew it would be this cold. Bill and I always felt that if you worked hard to get to a place that held fish, you would have a better chance at getting them than the angler that fished from convenient places. Our theory had some epic catches attached to it, so we kept the practice up......and we kept the hard found spots to ourselves. There is a beaten path to Little Pond now, but when Bill and I "discovered" its potential for my upcoming quarry, it took a lot of energy and fitness to get in to it... Let alone get to it and fish. In those days, we had boundless energy and were at the peak of our fitness. To us, Little Pond, became our pond and we renamed it our personal title...
THE PIKE POND
Many years ago, the state of Conn. decided to try and stock some Northern Pike in a lake called Bantam Lake... they liked it there... and stayed. Well, most of them did. You see there is a river that leaves Bantam and eventually y empties into another lake much further down the state. Some Northerns found this escape route and glided down the river to new worlds ahead. Part way down this windy flow, some beavers decided to slow the water down and dam up a very meandering section of the river... and Little pond was born! The jaunt into little pond is one of swamp... brush... prickers etc. There were no paths and that was evidence of its poor access... except for Bill and I. After going in there many times to catch some nice bass, we began to have monstrous hookups... and break offs. Even in those days we figured out the scenario and realized that these toothy critters were going through our mono like butter. We began to enter this domain with steel leaders...and things changed. Lines still snapped... rods broke... and other assorted failures occurred which is common with such a powerful fish. We knew what lived in Little Pond now... and almost no one else did. We were anxious for the ice fishing season so that we could reach parts of the pond that were in accessible during open water. This day brought new, fresh ice... and we had geared up in advance for this endeavor... lots of steel and new 40 LB braided line for our tip ups. Our bait bucket had suckers that we 10" long and our intention was quite obviously to get a BIG pike. You learn how to Pike fish from pike losses. They will wreck your gear and your spirit. They are long...extra finned and furious fighters... that is no match for skimpy bass and trout gear. But with 10" baits... we were not bass fishing! The lost fish of the open water summer had taught us well.
The trek into the pond was rough and dark. Fifteen below zero and soaked with sweat at 6am was not what I wanted, but it was part of getting into Little Pond. Getting to the waters edge, it appeared like it may not even be frozen... but it had to be... the weather had been brutal for some time now....it had to be. In fact, it was. Black Ice is usually the first ice and comes from very very cold temps early in the season. So as the pond looked open, it was actually frozen CLEAR. With all the gear, tip ups... bait... augers... food... coffee... etc we cautiously took our first step onto this untrodden body of water. I love how my heart pounds when I am nervous....its cool. It was pounding. Neither of us spoke. The only sound was the before mentioned swans overhead. We could see the bottom, that's how clear the ice was. BLACK ICE. God I hope its thick enough. If we fall in this far from the car and with this clothing and gear, the ending will be dismal. Like I said, my heart pounded! "you think its 4 inches mike?". It sure didn't look it, but I said that it appeared thin because the clarity was so perfect from the black ice. But my heart still pounded.
I dug the first hole, and with less than four turns the auger plunged through the windowed surface. My gasp was silent. I carefully reached into the hole and with a thumb and forefinger spread, I touched the top and bottom of the ice... estimated thickness was 3.5 inches. There will be no running and leaps of joy today... we will walk with the soft gentle steps that these conditions demanded. I dug the rest.
The big suckers were so strong that we had to use rubber bands to stop them from triggering the flags. We both chuckled at the absurdity of such huge baits. The good part is that the only thing that would eat that is exactly what we were after. We would forfeit the pan fish bites for this bronze freshwater barracuda. We set up six tip ups and began the wait and our initial conversation since coming on the pond. Well, I guess we were right where we wanted to be... in an inaccessible body of water under the most extreme conditions... right up our alley!
Everything began to freeze... the holes skimmed over in minutes... the water in the bucket was freezing, the breathe was iced on our beards, the coffee turned to iced coffee almost before we swallowed it, and the dexterity in my fingers was that of a 70 year old many... God it was cold!
We had had some flags from the overactive bait and from the gusts of wind that came with this days sunrise...but they were all false alarms. We had come for the day or as long as we could stand it, so the wait continued. We threw fingers and Bill had the first "real " flag. The hit was mind boggling. The pike took the monster bait so fast that the reel on the tip up spit water out of the hole due to the rpms being put on it. This was the real thing. Bill got to the hole and waited for the fish to stops its run.
And he waited... and waited, and after stopping, the fish dropped the sucker. It was gone. We began the "what did I do wrong" conversation, and rebaited. Dunking another bait in the same hole, but with little e hope of a rerun. Huge pike have no predators. They rule. He came back. And the geyser of water erupted out of the hole again. This time, Bill nailed the fish during the run instead of waiting for it to ingest the whopper bait. Hook Up!
Pike will fight on top... especially in shallow water. This means that they can rub the braided line on the bottom of the ice hole and cut it. You must avoid this point of sharpness. Bill repositioned himself constantly during this battle and there were times that the pike was surely winning. With a spectacular move the fish spun 180 degrees and sent the line between Bills legs so that he was actually fighting this thing from the opposite direction... that is bad. As he switched hands with the line and the fish made another run, the action was interrupted by some dull, deep, drumming on the ice. Was it to thin... was it giving way...were we to excited...what was the drumming??? Bill made the crucial turn and was again facing the fish as he tried to bring it in. It was then that we realized the fish was the drummer because through the Black, clear, ice some thirty feet away was this magnificent 40 inch fish... right under the ice....as visible as if were in my hands... We were watching the battle first hand!... Through the ice... It was magic! When Bill finally got him to the hole I could only put one finger down the edge because his head would not go through the 7 and one half inch hole!
I got the edge of his gill plate and pulled him out with a suction noise that was like the pond was birthing this creature. What a fish... 18lbs... almost 40 inches. The moment deserved mounting and the fish hangs on Bills wall. Our theory of remote fishing paid off. Our heavy gear paid off. Our huge bait paid off.
Planning and opportunity=luck. The day was not over. Bill landed and released another 36 inch fish and I lost a huge war with a fish that broke the 40 LB new braided line... It may have been a cutoff on the ice edge but that whopper won the war. This first ice of the year was surely the right place at the right time.
We reflected in the car....huge pike...rugged entry...extreme conditions...glorious sunrise and intertwining with nature...camaraderie and a memory for a lifetime. This is the stuff that makes my heart pound......and, as you know by now, I LOVE IT......go walk on water....try ice fishing.