180 Ice Holes

February 10, 2011 by  

Our Outdoors: 180 Ice Holes

By Nick Simonson

180 ice holes make an area about the size of a football field look like a giant slice of Swiss cheese. 180 ice holes feel like a P90X doubles workout day followed by a lactic acid soak for the shoulders, back and triceps, even with a lightweight auger. And 180 ice holes smell like blue exhaust, which lingers in the nostrils until fish cleaning is done and the first hand of poker is dealt for the night. But when the topic tossed about over the antes, full houses and folds is 13-inch crappies, hump-headed bluegills and how all the effort was worth it, 180 ice holes don’t seem so bad.

Ice Fishing for Crappie
Ice Fishing for Crappie

C.S. Lewis once wrote that nothing ever happens the same way twice. And while fish relate to similar structures, bends, holes, and other features under the ice year after year, no two seasons are ever alike. This weekend last year, I cut a mere 20 holes and set my buddy up on the first in the series, directly over two red lines on my sonar screen. I explained the basics of the Vexilar and the spring bobber rod and his first slab crappie was on its way up just a few moments later. We set the house up on that hole, and didn’t move all day, catching a number of fat crappies spanning the 11- to 13-inch range and bluegills topping ten inches, with almost effortless regularity.  Like Prince Caspian compared to The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, the story was almost completely different on our return to the lake. The characters were the similar, the mission was same (save the world, of course, and catch some monster panfish) but the place we had returned to was vastly different than the one we left last spring. We struggled to find fish in the usual haunts as a blanket of thick snow covered the ice, where last year it was an easy drive to any spot on the lake the entire winter. The drifts were so thick and powdery this time around that a snowmobile was necessary to access the spots we fished, now isolated from the main road plowed onto the lake.

We chased the tiny blips on the sonar from 16 feet to 18 feet to 21 feet and beyond, each time punching more holes in lines that weaved out toward deeper water in a desperate searching pattern. I grimaced with each three inch perch that took my tiny jig and barely bent my spring bobber. I took heart when a nice bluegill came spinning up the hole. And when we set up over a pod of the slab crappies the lake had become known for, we fished them as fast as we could, because as quickly as four fish were on the ice, the four holes they came from went cold.
Another twenty holes yielded nothing. Fifteen more, a few ‘gills. An hour later, we began to lose heart when we thought the fish we sought were gone for the day. I worked one last line, preparing to pull the plug on the outing after we agreed the drought had drug on too long. A fish worked its way up the screen to my Genz worm tipped with spikes and the spring bounced. I set the hook into a brick that bobbed and whirled under the hole. The shine of green and gold sparkled off the edges of ice hole as the 12-inch crappie came up the cylinder and into my grasp.
I called my buddy over and we took turns dropping our offerings down and pulled up three more slabs along with two impressive bluegills and everyone’s spirits rose when the group set up on the new line. We worked the area hard for another hour, landing a few more crappies and a bevy of sunnies before it cooled off. I punched one final line of holes and stopped over the second-to-last one and pulled up the final crappie of the day, nearly eight hours after we had started.
I had spent about as much time fishing as I did punching holes, as the duties of jigging, checking, moving and setting up shifted between the members of our party; and the teamwork, persistence and two auger tanks worth of mixed gasoline, combined to pay off with what we deemed a success, considering what we were up against.
Though the ibuprofen and the multivitamin after our endeavor played a big part in silencing my screaming shoulders, the golden filets of some hard-earned panfish undoubtedly helped me forget the 180 holes it took to catch dinner. As I missed the river card on the last hand of Hold ‘Em, and folded my four-card flush, I volunteered that I’d be happy to do it all over again the next day, or anytime for that matter…in our outdoors.


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