As many of us across the Ice Belt have been waiting for the temperatures to drop, the smaller lakes, higher in the Black Hills, have been slowly locking up. After receiving information from a few friends who had ventured out onto first ice on one of these smaller ones this week, I knew I had to get out as soon as possible. The information and photos had me almost shaking to get out. But I never venture out on first ice without taking someone with for obvious safety reasons and this trip called for taking all precautions. Luckily, a friend of mine who really wanted to try out his brand new Vexilar FL-18, was brave enough (or crazy enough) to say yes to going out there with me.
My excitement for the trip could hardly be contained. My wife probably thought I'd lost my marbles as I was hurriedly getting gear ready to go the night before. I hadn't even spooled up any reels yet as I'd figured it'd be another week or so before I could get out. I quickly spooled up two with fresh Berkley Ice Fluorocarbon line in 4 pound test, dragged the sled out of the storage shack, organized my Ice Armor Lift suit with gloves, beanie, T2 Toothpick and line nippers and double-checked to make sure I had my ice spikes, safety rope and cleats in the bucket. I also threw a spare set of clothes into my truck just in the case the worst should happen. I highly recommend having these back-ups in your vehicle should you ever need to throw on dry clothes quickly. First ice is nothing to mess around with despite the excitement.
When we arrived at the lake, the ice was nearly crystal clear except for nearly 30 holes made there two days before by my other friends. We discussed our safety strategy as we loaded the sled up and went over proper use of the Clam emergency throw rope I had with us. I would be the first one to venture onto the ice and test it. We stayed close to shore as we walked across it, seeing if the ice would crack, creak, or flex at all. It did not. It was so clear you could see the plants and algae beneath it, even as I walked out into the deeper water. Even spotted a few trout swimming around.
That first hole drilled with my Clam conversion kit was a great feeling. The ice was strong and it was time to get a line wet. Our Vexilar transducers went in and our ice season had begun! We used Clam Drop Kick and the new Snow Drop jigs tipped with Maki plastics and over the next couple of hours, we graphed several fish, missed some, and only caught a few small brook trout, but we didn't care. For us, it was just great to finally be back on the ice! Now that the first ice itch has been scratched, I will now focus on getting the rest of my reels and rods ready for the season and ensuring that all other gear is ready to go. The forecast calls for colder temps and more lakes will start locking up very soon. Be sure to take all precautions as first ice approaches. Despite the late start, the ice season is finally upon us.