While I was at the Dakota Angler Ice Institute, a couple of friends shot me photos of themselves on some of the smaller ponds around the Hills with them on the ice. The colder stretch had put 4" of clear ice on some of them and I decided that I was going to get out as soon as possible, even if it was just for a couple of a hours.
Between talking about ice fishing all weekend and then seeing those pictures I had a serious ice itch that needed to be scratched and it didn't matter if the fish were small. It was time to drill an ice hole.
So, I arranged with my buddy Matt to go out with me for a couple of hours a few days after the Institute. I had to work later in the morning, so it was going to be a quick trip. Having only a couple of ice rods spooled up from the summer, I grabbed my K-Drill, Vexilar FLX-28, jig box, and plastics folder and was ready to go.
But before I left, I also made sure I had my spud bar, ice picks, boot spikes, safety rope, and life jacket as well as a spare change of clothes because it is only first ice right now and there's no guarantee that you might not take a cold bath going out early like this.
I also always wear my Clam Outdoors Lift Suit on early and late ice to ensure that, if I do fall through, I will stay afloat with my head out of the water. You can't take any chances on first ice.
As always, those first steps onto hard water were great as I plugged away with the spud bar, checking on the ice conditions. Next, that first hole drilled followed by the drop of the Vex transducer and turning it on. Sweet, sweet sights to see six months since the last season ended.
The trout were somewhat active, but not hitting too aggressively. Luckily, my St. Croix Avid Glass rod was one of the rods I kept spooled up from the summer and the flexible tip showed the bites while the light action rod was good to drive the hook into their mouths. I caught several rainbows, most of which were on the small side, but I didn't care. I was on the ice and happy as a clam.
Always, always take proper precautions on early ice. There's no such thing as 100% safe ice at any time of the year, particularly during this time. The days are not consistently cold and ice thickness can vary greatly. We have days right now that are warm followed by days of near freezing.
It'll be a bit yet before the bigger lakes start freezing up and the smaller ponds need to be walked on carefully. One 60-degree day can weaken what's there enough to make it not safe. So, if you have first ice currently, take every safety device you can bring and always, always bring a buddy.
Some great fishing lies ahead as the temperatures continue to drop, but no fish is worth going through the ice for. Use your head and be safe out there.