The last year has been anything but ordinary. The 2020-2021 ice fishing season was no exception. Early ice came a couple of weeks later than usual, driving on safe ice came a month later than usual, and the strange weather patterns had the fish shut off more often than not. While the hard water season may have been short, it didn't leave me disappointed by any means.
This year I set out to do something I had never done before... Tip-Up fishing. My first day on early ice at the beginning of December brought me success in that venture as I caught my first "ice fishing" Northern Pike, my second day brought me my overall personal best Northern Pike, and the rest of the season brought me a newfound obsession with Tip-Ups. Most of the time I spent on the ice this year was chasing flags. Well, more like waiting for them, I guess. While the season was short and the bite on the Tip-Ups wasn't as hot as it was in all the stories I've heard, I still consider myself proud for going out and trying this technique. With that comes a question I am often asked... Why didn't I ever try fishing with Tip-Ups before? Well, that answer is simple. It's mildly embarrassing to admit, but for most of my life, I was afraid of unhooking Northern Pike because of their sharp teeth. I finally faced that fear last year when I learned to take Pike off the hook by myself. I earned some battle scars but I got over my apprehension of those toothy creatures. However, I still don't recommend letting your thumb slip while holding one. When they chomp, they shred. Lesson learned the hard way with that one... A couple of times. Oops.
Besides that, I also had another experience doing something else I had never done before; solo ice fishing in a portable hub. While this may not sound exciting or impressive to most people out there, this was a huge accomplishment for me. I had never ventured out on early ice alone with the intention of setting up the hub and fishing all day by myself. I faced that challenge, and while the wind may have won that round by collapsing the shelter on me in the dark, I still got out there and did it. Even if all I had to show for it were two broken lines, two lost jigs, plus a grainy underwater camera photo of a 38"+ Pike, it was a great experience.
The other hard water goals of mine were less than eventful. One had been to target Walleye on the ice. I was able to do that once or twice over the season but had no success. Another had been to target Jumbo Perch up in Northern MN, but with the late ice conditions becoming very dangerous very fast (not to mention an unexpected COVID-19 quarantine,) I was unable to get up north to chase those jumbos.
Overall, the highlight of this year's ice fishing season happened over the New Years' weekend. We managed to get most of my family out on the ice for some Tip-Up fishing. While the flags were slow, not one person was skunked (well, minus my brother in law but he caught a nice bass while jigging for crappies with my niece and nephew.) I even got to see my sister, Tiffany, catch her first Tip-Up pike. This was the first time that I can remember that the whole family was out chasing flags together and it made for a great start to 2021.
Looking back at all these moments from this winter reminds me exactly what the sport is all about. Making memories to last a lifetime. The older I get the more I realize how important it is to live in those moments and to drink in every second. No matter how bad of a year it is on the water or how short the season is, if you made memories and have stories to tell through the years, that is all you need.
Even though the 2020-2021 ice season has wrapped up now, I am very much looking forward to open water. I've already hauled my kayak out of storage, cleaned out the boat, organized my tackle bags, and started planning my goals. Fishing opener can't come soon enough.
What are some of your memories from this hard water season?