The Coyotes of the Pond

“Ice it”, This past weekend I was introduced to this term, and I was unfamiliar with what it mean,t as well as the implications of the action that results from it. You can blame my inexperience in the realm of hardwater or you can blame my step father who introduced me to fishing, who instilled in me, a strict eat what you kill mindset. If you are unfamiliar to the term like I was let me explain, it is a term that describes the act of letting a fish freeze on the ice instead of returning it to the water. Specifically; this weekend I was implored to ice any Chain Pickerel that I caught, which in my mind, was both heartbreaking and absurd. Why would you want to kill these amazing fish? The answer that was given to me was that they eat other fish species more desirable to the angler. So, this blog will either give you some insight into how to catch early ice Chain Pickerel, or it will tell you how to avoid them. Either way; I implore you to sit down grab a cup a coffee and join me on another fishing adventure.
The location of this lake unfortunately must be kept undisclosed, because it was private, and the owners wish it to remain so. Regardless, I arrived at this lake to find my fishing buddies already drilling holes. I began to lug my fishing gear onto the ice, and quickly realized that an ice fishing sled was not the luxury that I originally chalked it up as. After several trips, and a good chunk of time later; I had deposited my fish finder, my traps, minnows, tackle, and jigging rod, in the center of my buddies spread of holes. It was then that my buddie exclaimed that there was a big fish in the hole he had just left that he could not get to bite. Eager to get my first fish of the season, I grabbed my jigging pole which had a 1/16 oz jig attached to a live minnow down into the unknown. I was so eager that I did not waste time setting up my fish finder figuring that I would know if a fish was down there. My line sunk to the bottom and I began ripping the jig up several feet aggressively to entice the predator that lurked below. After several hard rips, I let it set on the bottom. Sure enough I saw the line start moving laterally and my rod tip bent. “Fish On” I screamed like the idiot that I am, and I set the hook proper, which allowed me to feel the full weight of the fish. Boy, was there some weight to this. I fought this fish for awhile because my jigging rod is an ultra-light that is set up for trout. This caused the fish to play out line and pull drag a lot before I could get a good look at it. It turned out to be a good sized (19 inch) Chain Pickerel, and I hauled it out onto the ice. This is the point where I was introduced to the term icing as I was implored to leave it where it lay, struggling to breath, and slowly freezing to the ice. I made a compromise and decided to bring all of the good size pickerel home for the supper table. This would make my buddies, happy and my wife and daughter would get treated to some fresh fish.
After the initial catch I took the time to check the depth and the consistency of the bottom of the hole that I caught it from. It was 14 ft deep and had a good layer of milfoil that I pulled up with a jig. With this knowledge in hand, I began to check other drilled holes for that same combination. Sure enough, I found a few that matched that criteria and began jigging them. Let me tell you, the action became fast and furious. I caught pickerel after pickerel through these holes. It appears that early season chain pickerel roam in packs along weed beds in search of prey, and in this lake, they do this consistently at 14 ft. I continued to find schools of chain pickerel whenever the depth and bottom structure matched the above criteria. Which leads me to believe that pickerel are similar to wolves or coyotes in that they find suitable habitat and hunt in packs. If the wolves of the lake designation is relegated to pike than I can safely say that the pickerel are the coyotes of the deep. I feel safe saying this because like coyotes they are smaller than their bigger more famous counterpart, but they exhibit a lot of the same characteristics. For pickerel and pike it is that they roam in packs in deep water during the winter months, ambushing prey in a voracious manner.
After the day of fishing was complete, I brought home the Pickerel I had caught and prepared them for the dinner table by gutting and removing their heads and fins. I then poached them in milk, onions, and lemon until I could remove the flesh from the bones easily. Once the flesh was separated from the bones and skin, I  used a recipe online for fish patties that I found to turn them into fish cakes. They were delicious, in fact they were so good that I could not get a picture of the finished product before my wife and 16-month-old daughter gobbled them all up.
As always, I hope that this depiction of one of my fishing expeditions found you in good spirits. If it did not, I hope that you at least found something useful within its rambling. If you found neither than I guess at the very least I hope you find yourself with tight lines and good eats.

 

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