Ratchet straps, cargo hooks and fence posts: Not your typical ice fishing gear

I have this buddy who claims to LOVE fishing…But apparently he doesn’t consider ice fishing to be in the same category, so after a poor night’s sleep a few years back he decided to stand me up for a planned day out on the ice…Instead, he suggested we do something more amusing…like some mid-winter yard work projects…

I went fishing. I am sitting out there in my chair enjoying a hot cup of coffee and a donut, watching a bald eagle swoop down on the ice for my leftover bait. (Apparently, bald eagles prefer 1-inch shiners, over large yellow perch…Who knew?) I get the umpteenth flag of the day and stroll on over to check it out… not really in a hurry because I had been wasting bait on perch all day. In fact, I had already moved 2 of my traps, because I was getting yellow perch every couple of minutes or so in those holes, and I would rather drink coffee, than deal with yellow perch.

Before I go much further, I need to point out a few facts of the trip. First, when I bought my gas auger from a friend a few seasons before, it could have used a tune-up, and I planned to have it in the shop at the end of the season. That day it was a bit more stubborn than usual, so I decided to take advantage of the warm weather we had been having, and use some holes made by whoever had been fishing my spot the day before. This guy had a 10-inch auger. Now that is important, so don’t forget.

The second thing I want to point out is that the entire lake was covered in areas of about three inches of standing water, so it was pretty wet.

Lastly, the folks in charge of knowing what is best for the summer time phosphorous level of the lake had left the floodgates on the dam open that year, a little longer than they typically do, so the water level had dropped about two feet in the past week.

So anyway, I mosey on over to tend to my flag, and I see that the fish isn’t taking any line, he’s just kinda sitting there, probably chewing on my bait with his little yellow perch lips…Bastard!

I take a look down the hole, and see the line is played out to one side, and the button I use to mark the depth isn’t visible, and since there is only three or four feet of water, under the 12 inches of ice, that means the fish initially took a lot of line when it took my bait.

Slowly I lifted the trap and line out of the water, setting the trap down beside me, and sure enough, I can feel the vibrations on the line telling me there is a fish, so I set the hook, and pull up a nice little pickerel in the 18-20 inch class.

I was going to let him go, but he swallowed the hook pretty deep. As I was reaching into my back pocket for my pliers, I saw another flag pop up on the trap situated about 15 feet away.

These are Polar traps, and they have a little spindle that sticks up, so you can see if the fish is taking line, and this one wasn’t taking very much, so I decided to finish getting the pickerel off the hook before tending the other trap,

All of a sudden the fish starts taking line, and POOF! The trap DISAPPEARS! GONE!

“AH! ….. HOLY (CRAP)! ….. What the?” I exclaim as I drop the pickerel to the ice, and run over to the now vacant hole where my trap had been moments before.

I look down the hole, and there it is! My trap! Sitting peacefully in the mud, bright green flag visible on the muddy bottom about five feet down. The main part of the trap had slipped off to the side as it sunk, and was out of reach under the ice.


That was about the time I heard some splashing behind me, and I glance over my shoulder in time to see the still hooked pickerel slither back into the hole I pulled him from, dragging my trap with him!

“NO FLIPPING (only I didn’t actually say flipping) WAY THAT JUST HAPPENED!” I bellowed…It echoed along the shoreline of the entire lake.

I am pretty sure the people eating their lunch in the parking lot on the far shore heard me. See…My Polar traps are only about a foot and a half or so across…And with standing water on the ice, it seems they EASILY fit down a 10-inch hole! Apparently VERY easily!

Fortunately I only live a couple miles away, so I packed up my three remaining traps, and head home to find some sort of six or eight-foot length of pole to see if I can snag the traps.

I found one of those telescoping poles you use to hang Christmas ornaments in trees with… but the hook was broken off a few years ago in an incident involving a string of lights, a good deal of fishing line, a very windy day, and a passing car that was going about 50MPH as it snagged the slack fishing line tied to a string of Christmas lights…but that is another story. A favorite of my in-laws…

So anyway, I get the pole, head back to the lake and out onto the ice. When I get to the first trap, and I stick the pole down in the water. The very first thing that happens is a barrage of rusty bubbles come up from the sections of the telescoping pole, and I can now no longer see the bright orange trap on the bottom. I can feel it, but no way can I see it, so I move it closer to the center of the hole, and go back over to the second one, hoping to give the water a chance to clear.

This time instead of rusty bubbles, there is a geyser of rusty water pouring out, as I get that trap centered on the hole.

Not able to see bottom, and realizing that it is unlikely this pole is going to work if I could, I decide it is time to devise another plan. So I went back to the van to see what I could come up with.

The first thing I grab is a ratchet strap and cargo hook. Second, is something everybody typically carries… A fiberglass electric fence post..Perfect!

I rig the strap to the post, and head back over to the sunken ice fishing trap and realize there is NO way I can reach the bottom without getting my hands a little wet…

And by “hands”, I mean my arm all the way to the shoulder, so I strip down to my T-shirt, lay down on the ice. Fortunately this hole had been made on a snowdrift, and was on the dry side, and plunged my arm into the hole.

I swirled the fence post around and around waiting to feel a little weight on the line, (all the while my over active imagination is thinking of all the creatures lurking beneath the ice that might consider my pasty white arm to be a tasty treat…) once I sense that things are pretty tangled up, I slowly raise the contraption up, and sure enough, I have managed to twist the strap around the trap, and the hook had snagged the strap! It worked! I had saved one of my traps!

Meanwhile there is a group of young adults fishing a couple hundred yards away, and I can hear them conversing amongst themselves as to what I might be doing. My triumphant shout, and little dance must have confused them even more!

I do the same thing on the second trap, and I though I still can’t see through the mud, and rust from my first attempt, I manage to snag that trap too, before my arm went totally numb from the icy water.

You can imagine my surprise when there on the line was about 583 lbs of weeds, along with the little yellow perch that pulled the trap into the water more than an hour previous! The pickerel managed to free itself.

That little incident was the incentive I needed to get my auger fixed! Four of my traps were in 10-inch holes that had been increased by warm weather, and open water flowing into, and out of them.

Had the water been deeper, I could have lost all four traps, and it would have cost more to replace those traps than it would to just fix the friggin auger in the first place!

And my buddy thinks yard work is more fun than ice fishing? HA!

Doug Alley

About Doug Alley

I grew up in Bath, Maine in an upper lower class family with 3 step sisters, a step brother, and a little sister. After high school I spent 3 years serving in the USAF at Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage AK. I've competed in, and won, demolition derbies. I've competed in, and never won, stock car races. I am the 47-year-old father of an 11-year-old boy who is pretty sure he is smarter than I ever was. We live on a little less than an acre of land in a 1973 mobile home in Stetson with my wife Jen, some cats, a few chickens, and rabbits, and a couple of goats. I hunt, fish, camp out, dabble in photography, gardening, and I cook in variable degrees of near success.