There’s a joke that claims, “ice fishing is for people who can’t afford a boat.” And it does make sense. Ice fishing allows everyone equal access to lakes and ponds. It’s one of the many reasons I love it.
In early February, I invited a group of friends in the Maine Women Hunters group to fish Lower Range Pond. I had never fished it and had heard paltry reviews about it. According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife fish stocking report, it is regularly stocked with 11- to 15-inch brook trout and brown trout.
The night before our get-together, my fiancé, Travis, and I studied the depth map. It was fairly shallow, and there was a long, sandy beach near the parking lot of the state park. There was a 40-foot deep hole, so we planned to set a few traps there for browns, and the rest along shore for brookies. I had low expectations.
We arrived long before sunrise and walked to the predetermined area. Travis drilled his five holes first, then gave me the auger. He taught me many ice fishing tips and tricks over the years. He used to advise me on where to drill my holes, but one trip I insisted that my female intuition told me to set my traps in a different area, and that day my intuition proved correct.
Since then, I rarely ask him and if I do, he chides with, “Use your women’s intuition.” That morning on Lower Range I asked him and got his usual response. I rolled my eyes at his jest and followed my gut.
I sounded the depth of my holes and set shiners halfway down the water column. Before my last trap was set, I had a flag. I landed a nice, 18-inch brown trout. I was pleased. The pressure was off. I didn’t get skunked.
By the time my five traps were set, my friends arrived, and they needed an auger. I offered to drill all 20 of their holes, and while I was doing so, Travis called.
“You’re up,” he said over the phone.
“Ok,” I sighed. I was slightly annoyed because it was a long jog to my trap.
Travis and my friend Jeanie were waiting for me at my trap when I arrived, panting from the run. I slowly pulled the line in.
“It feels bigger than that 18-inch brown. I feel head shakes,” I said as I brought the fish up easily.
“Maybe a big bass,” Travis said. He was on his knees next to the hole, ready to help get the fish out of the hole, if necessary. “Big brown! Big brown!” he said when he saw the fish.
The fish read the script and didn’t give us any trouble coming out of the hole and onto the ice. My friend Jeanie cheered.
“That’s a mounter,” Travis said, approvingly.
It was the biggest trout I’d ever seen, let alone caught myself (other than a lake trout, which tend to be really big). It was 24 inches long and weighed five pounds!
I was ecstatic and took the opportunity to tease Travis about my sixth sense, which I did anytime I caught a nice fish.
“It’s like in ‘The Karate Kid’ movie when the apprentice surpasses his mentor in skill,” I teased as he said he was proud of me and gave me a kiss.
Hours passed on the ice. Jeanie cooked beaver backstraps and Lorri made venison stew. Flags stayed down.
Around one in the afternoon, the flag of my trap that caught the five-pound brown went up again. I asked Travis if he wanted to reel it in, since he hadn’t caught anything, but being the ice fishing purist that he is, he declined.
“It kind of feels like the fish wrapped the line around a branch and I’m bringing up a branch,” I reported as I started to bring in line.
Three minutes later, I got a glimpse of the fish — a big brown again! But this fish wouldn’t turn its head toward the hole. Instead, he kept swimming by it.
“Let him tire out,” Travis coached.
I was nervous.
My friend Tom teased, “Christi, you’re shaking! This fish is bigger than five pounds!” he predicted.
Four minutes into the fight, we realized something was not right. Was the fish tail wrapped?
“It’s hooked in the dorsal fin,” my friend Anna said, just as I noticed the same thing. It would never fit through the hole because of how it was hooked.
“Can you just grab it?!” I snapped at Travis.
My heart raced as adrenaline ran through my body. I pulled the leader line, and Travis was able to grab the fish by its tail and bring it through the hole and onto the ice.
It had a gorgeous gold belly, with a mix of dark brown and red spots. It had a kype (hooked) lower jaw, indicating it was a male. It must have whacked my bait fish with its body, and that’s how it got foul-hooked in the dorsal fin.
It explained why it felt like a branch initially. Bringing in a foul-hooked fish causes more drag because the fish is not vertical. It was 24 inches and 5.5 pounds. I released it back through the hole.
Two five-plus-pound brown trout from the same hole, the same day. My intuition was right again.