Something must be wrong…I had a GOOD day of fishing!

I’ve said it before…”If I claimed to be a lousy fisherman, I would be bragging!” and I PROMISE! It is the truth! With a rod and reel, I would be lucky to get so much as a nibble from the proverbial fish in a barrel if they hadn’t eaten in a week!

But that is open water fishing…This is ICE fishing season. On the ice, my luck improves dramatically! Yesterday I decided to head for my favorite fishing hole on Sebasticook in Newport.

You won’t find me going after trout, salmon, or even bass really. Nope. For the most part, I am happier than a cat eating curds to fish for pickerel!

Even better would be some monster sized northern pike. I, for one, will be happy when the state biologists give up the fight to eradicate them from Pushaw near Bangor and accept that they are here to stay.

Anyway! Saturday seemed like I would be doomed from the start. My slow Internet connection made the simple task of obtaining a license to fish, take over an hour and I wasn’t event out the door to get bait until 9:30. When I pulled into the parking lot of The Trading Post it was full. It seemed everybody was heading onto the ice to go fishing yesterday.

One guy was heading for Plymouth Pond, and the clerk told him that when he had driven by earlier it looked like there were about 100 people out there.

The clerk asked where I was going, and I told him I was after pickerel out of Sebasticook…He looked at me like I had a horn growing out of my head. Apparently, most people head to Sebasticook for the white perch, crappie, and cusk.

Once I made it to the lake, I was shocked to see the parking lot full of vehicles, and heartbroken to see that somebody had set up a fishing shack smack in the middle of my favorite place to fish.

When I saw the conditions of the place where you get onto the ice I began to get concerned. Sebasticook Lake has water quality issues in the summer, so in the fall they drop the water levels dramatically. I won’t pretend to understand the science…All I know is that depending on the amount of water released from the dam, fishing my spot can be a washout with thick ice, and almost no water.

Last summer’s drought and other variables made it so that the water level is higher this year. Add that to warm weather and rain, apparently, the water levels have increased since freeze up, resulting in thick chunks of broken ice floating on the water. People riding ATV’s, snowmobiles, and those big 4 wheel drive buggies back and forth didn’t help.

I felt like a polar bear hopping from chunk to chunk. One chunk settled to the bottom, and I feared I would go over the tops of my Gortex combat boots, thankfully I was spared.

The next chunk, probably 10 feet in diameter settled on a rock on one of the edges, causing the iceberg to pitch sharply threatening to dump me into the lake with all of my gear.

Somehow I managed to maintain my balance…My father-in-law would ask at this point if anybody had gotten it on video. Picture this…6ft tall. 300lbs. Gas auger in my left hand. Golf bag full of gear over my right shoulder. A folding camp chair tucked under my right arm, and a bait bucket in my right hand, sliding backwards on a chunk of ice while still trying to maintain forward motion. I’m thinking that video would certainly have gone viral!

No matter! I was on the ice, I was still dry, AND I now knew that my boots don’t leak! I could feel a cushion of water between the leather, and the waterproof liner!

The best part was that despite the number of people on the lake, I had my favorite spot to myself. The owner of the shack hadn’t been out there since before the last snow.

Everybody else at the place was out in the 30-50 foot deep section, so far away I could scarcely see them. I only knew they were there because I could hear their snowmobiles, and ATV’s.

I drilled my first hole, scooped out the ice, checked the depth, and marked it with a button on my line. I lowered the button a foot from where bottom was indicated baited the hook and set the trap. I was fishing!

I paced off 40 or so steps to the next spot, using the trees, and rock formations across the lake, to recall the general location of favorite holes, set the second trap, repeating the process until all 5 traps were fishing!

With the important part done, now it was time for the “chores” of setting up camp. First and most important was to find a central location where I could see all five traps for the ritual chant I had been taught decades ago, by a man who had learned it in his youth…Taught to him by, he claimed an Indian guide.

As a youth I was skeptical, I suspected he had perhaps taken a few too many sips from his flask…I later learned that it was my skepticism that had soured our luck that day.

The next time we went fishing, he had done the chant while I was up at the truck getting warm, and wasn’t there to ruin it. He caught 2 nice salmon in a row before I even made it back onto the ice when I saw the flags pop up. (They were my traps…But he claimed them because of the chant…Nice guy)

So what you do it this…as I said, you select a spot where you can see all your traps. And you HAVE TO BELIEVE!  Then you plant you feet slightly apart, and bring your arms up to your chest like a baseball umpire ruling a base runner “SAFE!”. You then wave your hands over the area your traps are set in, and look at each trap as you speak very clearly “EEWAH-EE-KADIBLEY… EEWAH-EE-KADIBLEY… EEWAH-EE-KADIBLEY! SHOOM!” At the “SHOOM!” part your hands should be at the center of your chest, and in one motion should extend the whole range of your traps…Again, like the ump declaring a runner safe, as you say, matter of factly, “Now the flags are gonna start popping.”

You can repeat this after every flag, but you might want to give it 15 minutes or so…otherwise you might find yourself overwhelmed!

I did this on my way to where I had left my chair and thermos, beside the first trap I had set. As I walked I realized it was in much closer to shore than I realized at first, and I decided I should move it out further. I no sooner completed that thought when I saw the flag pop up.

I made my way over to the trap watching to see if the little spindle on top of the trap was moving or not. But it wasn’t. After the fish had grabbed the bait it stopped. I looked down into the hole in the ice, and the line was off to one side and appeared tight. There was no sign of the white button in the brown water, indicating that the fish had likely taken 2 feet of line or more.

I reached into the water and held the line in my fingers. I could feel the fish there. Holding the line, so as not to spook the fish, I took the trap out of the water. Then I gave the fish a little tug. He tugged back, so I set the hook. I could tell there was some size to it, but when I finally saw it, I knew I wouldn’t just be pulling the fish up out of the hole.

It was a pickerel and a pretty respectable one at that! As it swam by the hole, it was nose down, scraping its two inch wide back along the ice as it made a run for the bottom.

I gave him a little line. I needed him to tire, so he would be nose up when I was ready to pull him out of the water. It was really less than two minutes I expect, but it seemed a lot longer.

I don’t use steel leaders for these sharp-toothed predators, so I fully expect every time I bring in a decent one that it will snap the line on my number 6 hooks. But isn’t that part of the fun?

Once the fish was out of the water, I considered releasing it, so somebody else could have the same experience, but he was hooked deep. I had left my hook pullers in my fishing shack, which is still sitting on my lawn waiting for me to find some help to move it to the lake. I would have to get the hook out with my fingers!001






Blood was shed instantly…MINE! First on the thumb of my right hand, as I held the fish’s mouth open, and then on my left index finger as I pulled it out of a mouth designed to hold things in. In the end, I got the hook removed.018

I reset the trap and headed to my camp chair, for some pictures of the fish, and a cup of coffee. The coffee would sit cooling in the cup because I no sooner poured the milk when a flag went up on the furthest trap out!006

This fish was angry at being hooked, and it was taking a lot of line. The spindle on top was twirly madly. When it stopped, I took the line in hand as before, but the fish didn’t wait for me to give the first tug. It made a run, and I set the hook. I would see it to the hole 4 times before allowing it to run back to the bottom again or risk losing it. Each time it came to the surface, water swelled up out of the hole, and onto the ice.

In the end, this fish had lost the battle too. There was no doubt I was keeping it. It was heavier, longer, and wider than the first fish. If I had disposable income, it would be at the taxidermist’s shop right now. It was barely hooked.030

Before the trap was baited and set again, the flag went up on the trap closest to shore again! This time, it was a smaller pickerel, if you can really call a fifteen-inch pickerel small. It was hooked good and clean in the upper lip. I retrieved the hook easily and returned the fish to the lake in less than a minute.

About 1 pm is when the eagle chow moved in. That’s what I call yellow perch. Eagle chow.

If I am being honest I will have to admit that the yellow perch is one of my favorite diet foods! First of all, there is all the exercise involved with catching them. When a school of them moves into your fishing area, you would be wise to move the trap you catch them on, because that is about all you are going to catch in that hole. And because their mouths are kinda small, you will use up all your bait fast!

The other reason they are one of my favorite diet foods is that I don’t eat the frigging things! That’s why I call them eagle chow! I leave them on the ice for the eagles! To me, they have an off taste. To me, they taste…? Grey. You know? Like dust.

Other people LOVE em! They tell me I don’t know what I am missing! Well, I have seen them with worms coiled up in their fins, and tails. I have been cut to pieces by their gill plates and stabbed by their sharp dorsal, and pectoral fins. They are bonier than a grave yard. amd I am HORRIBLE at filleting. So yeah…I am pretty sure I am aware of what I am missing!

Some people ask why I don’t simply throw them back. Simple, I don’t want to catch the same fish five minutes later. I would rather sit on the ice all day in sub-zero weather, and heavy winds without a single flag, than catch yellow perch.033

The eagle chow kept me so busy between 1 and 2 pm this warm Saturday afternoon, that I was about to call it a day. Only two of my traps were fishing, because I had caught perch on the other three, and I was too busy to rebait them. I had some important stuff to do…Like, write my name in the snow with some recycled coffee!

At right about 2:15 I would most certainly have called it a day, but it turned out the perch had slowed down dramatically, and the next 2 flags were again giant pickerel. 1 more hooked deep, and one more returned to the lake to eat some baby ducks come spring, and grow bigger for me to fight next year!029

The only thing that could have made yesterday a better trip is if my boy had decided to come with me. But his generation isn’t the same as mine. I didn’t have video games, and computers to keep me occupied on cold Saturdays, he does. But because it is important to me that he get outside once in a while, I will make sure he goes fishing a time or two during school break.

One thing is certain. I wouldn’t trade yesterday’s fishing, for all the trout fishing in the world! I hope the rest of the season proves as fun!

If you have never tried ice fishing before, I suggest you give it a try! It can be expensive if you are all fans and stuff, but in a future blog, I will give you some tips for ice fishing on the cheap!

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.