There is nothing quite like taking a youngster out to ice fish when the fish cooperate. Be prepared for big smiles!

  • Keep It Simple
  • Don’t Stay Too Long
  • Bring Plenty to Eat and Drink

By Forrest Fisher

There is nothing quite like taking a youngster out to ice fish when the fish cooperate.  Be prepared for big smiles!
There is nothing quite like taking a youngster out to ice fish when the fish cooperate. Be prepared for big smiles!

A few years back, when my 3-1/2 year-old grandson asked me to join him at his pre-school “show and tell”, I didn’t know how much fun that could be.  My little buddy talked about one of his favorite things – fishing.  He brought his 4-foot long Zebco “Tigger” fishing rod with pushbutton casting reel, his little blue/beige colored Plano tackle box, all his bobbers, sinkers and hooks, and one more thing that just touched my soul – a picture of him and me taken by his father when he caught his first sunfish on vacation last year.  A moment to live for!

The size of his ear to ear smile in the picture made everyone else in the classroom smile too.  “Wow, look at that BIG fish,” said another young guy in the class. “This is me and my Dziadzia (Polish word for grandad)”, he said, “And ‘dis is a fish I caught last year on vacation.”  Then, using a rubber casting plug, he went on to give a live demonstration of how he could cast.  He then looked over to me and said, “Me and my Dziadzia are Fish’N Buddies.”  A piece of my soul had just been gold-plated.  It’s been a few days since then, actually it’s been a few years, but I’m still beaming with pride from the memory of that moment.  The outdoors does bond people together for a lifetime.

Even back then, my grandson could probably best be described as a “talker”.  He asks lots of questions and usually offers lots of answers too.  He is a joy.  Anyway, as I drove him home after the show and tell, he asked me about where the fish go in the winter time.  Young minds at work.

I told him the whole story about how water gets cold when winter comes and it eventually freezes on the top.  The ice forms a hard thick layer and there is water below it where the fish live through winter.  I explained that most of the fish live on the bottom in the deepest part of the lake.

Collin asked, “Don’t they get cold?”  I explained that fish are not like people, fish are the same temperature of the water they swim in (they’re cold-blooded).  So when the water gets cold, the fish get cold too, but they don’t freeze, they just slow down.  They eat less, but they do eat in winter.

I should have known what was coming next, but I never even thought about it.  “Well, why don’t we go fish for them in the winter too?” He asked.  I told him that lots of people fish in the winter by drilling a hole through the ice and fishing a little jig and bobber for fish on the bottom.  “Can we go, can we go?” He asked.  How could I say no?

The next day after clearing it with his mom and dad, off we went to a small frozen pond that I knew had crappie, sunfish, yellow perch and black bass in it.  We walked over to an area of the pond that I thought was the deepest and I showed Collin how a clip-on weight could be used to show how deep the water was.  It was about 14 feet.  He wasn’t too thrilled about any of the technical stuff, he just asked, “Can we fish here?”  So we did.

We had about 7 or 8 inches of ice and I showed Collin how to use the ice scoop (hand skimmer) to clear the hole of ice chips and slush from digging the hole.  He took on to that job and OWNED IT.  He liked to “clear the ice” with the little shovel we brought too.

For STO 01312017, FISHING and LOVE OF SPORT, Picture 2of2We had a clear blue sunshine day, no clouds and no snow, air temperature about 25 degrees and a 5 mile per hour from the north.  Not a bad winter day in WNY.  With the sun, it felt more like 35 degrees.

Then we added a bobber stop and slip bobber to the very thin and supple 4-pound test Berkley “ice line”, a tiny ice-jig  and about 1/16 ounce of pinch-on BB-shot a foot above.   We again used the clip-on weight to set the bobber stop so the jig would be about one inch off the bottom.  I didn’t bother to explain this part of the set-up to the youngster.  He wanted to fish!  We added a mousee grub to the hook of the tiny ice-jig and let the line fall into the depths below.

As the line settled out, Collin watched the bobber with total focus.

Of course, most of the time, ice fishermen will concede that it takes two or three stops and digging new holes each time to find fish and get a strike. We lucked out.  The bobber started to quiver and wobble, then it disappeared, Collin yelled, “There it goes!”  I picked up the rod and handed it to him.  He had been practicing how the open-face reel works all day and knew very well how to turn the reel handle to wind in the line.

It was bit of a struggle as his face was straining a little.  He was excited and I bet a little scared at the same time.  I imagine not ever having done this before, he might have been wondering what he might have down there.  The lite-weight, micro-sized ice rod was bent double and a wiggling fish was definitely on the end.  I coached him to keep reeling and he was doing a great job, slowly turning the handle over.  Collin was on the edge of a new moment.

An instant later, a 12-inch perch plopped out of the hole right onto the ice surface.

WOW!! Look at that Dziadza!  “We better take it off the hook Dziadzia, we have to put it back into the water.”  I explained that we could keep this fish and have it for dinner later.  He stopped talking, waited, looked sat me, looked at the fish and then said, “Can we let this one go?”  I smiled at him and said, “Sure we can!”

We both worked to carefully remove the ice jig from the lip of the fish and then we slid the fish across the ice to the hole.  Collin used his boot to help the fish find the hole.  Once there, one flip and the perch swam out of sight, back into the deep.

“Good job,” I told him. “Was that fun?” I asked.  “Yup,” he smiled wide and wider as he answered.  “Can we try that again Dziadzia?”  I began thinking, oh Lordy, I HAVE been born a lucky man.

We caught about 6 more fish in the next hour.  A black bass, another yellow perch, and several bluegills.  It was a great day for first time ice fishing.

Without reaching the point of “Can we go home now,” I told Collin that we had to go back to see Grammy now.  He wanted to stay.  I was happy to discover that after an hour he wasn’t tired of all the excitement, but I wanted to make sure he didn’t get cold and that he still had the desire to return.

Even before we reached the truck, we were already talking about another day on the ice for the next weekend.  I realize now that as I get older, I have less time to get older.  This stuff is fun!!  I suddenly want to eat the right foods, get some exercise, live healthier and make sure that I can stay on this planet for a very good long time.

You see, I know that when his two sisters find out about this, I’m going to need a calendar book for noting the next ice fishing dates.  Ice fishing with children is more than fun.  It is an experience that can open the door to a lifetime of outdoor adventure and also allow for some gold-plated moments in time, if you’re lucky.

Did I mention that fishing with kids will make you younger too?  We are always reminded that life is about attitude, aren’t we?  This was an attitude-changing day for sure.  My life changed that day.

On the last fish we caught, Collin turned to me to ask one small favor.  “Dziadzia, can we keep this one?”  I said, “Well, we don’t have enough to make a meal because we let them all go, why do you want to keep this one?”  He said, “For show and tell next week.”  I grinned.  OK Collin, I have an aerator at home and it will keep the fish alive until then.”  Mr. Bluegill went home with us in a 5-gallon bucket and off we went, bright-eyed and cheery-tailed, looking ahead to the next time we could go ice fishing.

Give yourself the opportunity.

Hey folks, the ice has had a hard time getting here this year in many parts of the country, but it will get here.  Step out there and grab some winter ice-fishing fun.  Take a kid with you!   In many areas of the country, there is no closed season for many species of panfish and they’re easy to catch.