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First Ice 2021

new ice on a freshly frozen lake
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The time has come in Alberta’s north! There has been just enough cold weather over the last few weeks that we have just enough ice to safety explore smaller ponds.

Ice safety is essential at first ice, on this trip I am travelling with a small group and we are taking every precaution, including: floating ice fishing apparel, cleats, ice picks, and a spud bar. I also made efforts to travel somewhat light, I still had my electric ice auger instead of the manual auger because we wanted to cut a sight hole but other than that extra piece of kit, I kept my gear to a minimum.

As some of you may know, my preferred first ice species is trout. The local trout ponds are always the first to freeze and will usually freeze with a solid layer of clear ice. Another reason I like chasing trout at first ice is that the trout are always shallow and there is no need to go far from shore, I’ve caught big trout in as little as 6 inches of water.

A week earlier, Uncut angling came out west to Alberta and put brook trout in the spotlight. Since Aaron made that video it seems everyone wants to catch a brook trout, so why not jump on the bandwagon and land some brookies myself! So instead of my usual first ice trip to Black Nugget, I opted to travel with my friend in search of one of the most colourful trout around.

I hopped in the truck at 6am and after a short stop to pick up HuyFishin, we were off. The spot we were heading to is a little known lake with a small population of stocked brookies. I have only fished for brook trout two or three times before and always in open water, so I was feeling pretty excited to get a chance to chase them on the ice.

Once at the lake we came across two others who had already set up their spot and were having some luck, one of which was YouTuber KitDBaiting! Check out his video below.

The lake was smooth as glass, so the first thing I did was don my ice cleats. If you’ve done any curling, you will know just how smooth the lake ice was! A few feet from shore I plunged my spud bar into the ice and after three solid hits, water started to seep through. Some years of experience has taught me what safe ice looks like with my spud bar and three good hits tells me we have about 4 inches to work with.

Kit had already been fishing a while and advised that further out the ice started to get thinner. Since I didnt want to crowd our spot I ventured out a bit further and my spud bar confirmed that about 50 yards off the shore the ice started to get thinner, from 4” to 3 then to just 2″. At 2 inches, I backed out pretty carefully!

I started off drilling a few holes a few feet from shore to roughly 20 foot from shore. The first hole I drilled had 3 feet of water and I caught a brook trout almost as soon as I put a hook down the hole. 

With that exciting confirmation, HuyFishin and I got to work. One of the reasons we came all the way out there was to cut a sight hole. I had never tried to fish from a sight hole and after watching a few Uncut Angling videos it looked like an exciting way to catch trout.

The action was non-stop! The brook trout seemed to come in pairs or schools and we would have double headers more often than not. HuyFishin prefers vertical presentations, such as spoons, while I typically prefer horizontal presentations, like swimbaits for trout and each of us stuck with it. It’s tough to say who caught more fish (it was me) but we both had a blast!

A few days before heading out to this lake I stopped at my local Fishin’ Hole to talk shop. As I got chatting with one of the managers, he pointed out some new 2″ Mr Crappie tube jigs that he thought would be killer for brookies. So, naturally I bought a pack and paired it with a lead 1/16 oz tube jig hook to try out. Thanks for the advise, Rob, I can confirm the tube jigs were the hot ticket!

Strike King Mr Crappie 2″ Tube – Cajun Cricket colour

The sight fishing hole was cool and being able to swim a lure horizontally around the hole gave us another way to coax the fish into biting, but I can’t say I’m a fan. Near the end of the video, my friend nearly fell in. With how smooth the ice is and the layer of water on top it was treacherous to walk around without cleats – he got lucky!

I am sure I’ll try another sight hole in the future, it would definitely be more fun in clearer water but making a sight hole is not something I am going to make a habit of. There are just too many risks for my taste: falling in, dropping gear and leaving a hole big enough that someone else could fall through just leaves a pit in my stomach.

If you are going to cut a sight hole, make sure you mark it out well with tree branches. Try to make it as obvious as possible that there is something different in that area. Not everyone on the lake is there to fish and other recreational users may not be aware of the increasing popularity of sight holes and the dangers this type of fishing present. Or, do the safe thing and don’t cut one at all!

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