Weather in the Upper Midwest is very extreme. Temperatures can vary 120 degrees from the hot, humid summer months to the bone chilling winters.
Fly fishermen in our region have the benefit of spring fed streams that allow for trout fishing even when temps dip below freezing. Sometimes however, temperatures get to the point where fly fishing is downright dumb. Sure, you can physically do it and maybe even trick a fish or two into eating, but when it’s ten below, the misery outweighs the potential reward.
My first few winters fly fishing, I would go almost every weekend, all winter longer regardless of the forecasted high. As my experience has grown, I’m learning when to put the waders on and when to not bother. This past weekend was a don’t bother kind of weekend with overnight temps dropping to -15 and daily highs barely breaking 0. So instead of wading through frigid streams while constantly scraping ice of our rods, only to cast frozen flies, we tagged along with my lifelong buddy Aaron and fished on top of the ice instead of in it.
Aaron has been ice fishing for northern pike his whole life and has really dialed it in over the years. Like any successful fishermen, the time put in isn’t always evident to others, but Aaron has pulled countless large pike through the ice and seems to do so consistently.
Abigail and I met up with Aaron at 7:30am this past Saturday, anxious for a full-day on the ice and hopeful to catch a few quality pike. The recent cold front created a solid 14 inches of ice, so we hoped in Aaron’s GMC and started the drive out to our destination.
We promptly set up the portable shack once we had arrived at our spot on the frozen landscape. With wind chills still well below zero, we quickly drilled the allotted 2 holes per person, setup the tip-ups and retreated to the shack where the smell of our warm coffee greeted us.
It wasn’t long before one of the small, red flags went up. Aaron and I made a mad dash across the ice. We didn’t break any speed records, but considering we were wearing bibs and large boots, we moved well. As we approached the flag I noticed that the little spool was spinning, a sign that a fish was likely on the other end. It wasn’t long before I was battling my first pike of the year; hand over hand until it’s face surfaced through the 10” hole.
The next 7 hours were spent keeping warm in the shack, peering through its vinyl windows waiting for one of our 6 flags to fly. In total, we set down our coffee to chase a flag over 20 times—15 ended with a fish on the ice including my personal best and Abigail’s first pike through the ice. These were truly solid fish and a total blast to catch.
As the day wound down, we were exhausted and hungry, so we packed up camp and headed off to a local BBQ joint to put back some of the calories we burned off chasing flags. A perfect way to end a great day on the ice.
When temps dip below 0, there is no need to stay indoors, or freeze fly fishing. Switch up your tactic and you may have a day to remember.