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Rod, Gun and Game: Make new memories when ice fishing with kids, this winter

THE NEXT GENERATION OF FISHING — Ice fishing is fun for kids and adults, alike. My grandson and I enjoyed some special moments on the ice, during his first trip to walk on water. Photo by Forrest Fisher.

SPRINGVILLE  — Since this is the first year in quite some time that we have actually had a good winter for making natural ice on lakes, it’s high time we addressed fishing during the times that ordinary people can walk on water.

You do need to dress in warm layers, have good gloves, hand warmers and good boots with a heavy insulation layer between the soles of your feet and the ice. After that, look for the groups of people who seem to be clustered on the ice and try to fish near them, especially if it is your first time, or if you are not sure what you are doing out there yet.

A few years ago, my 3-year-old grandson asked me to join him at his pre-school “show and tell,” and asked me to talk about one of his favorite things – fishing.

That day, the little guy brought in his 4-foot-long Zebco® “Tigger” rod with pushbutton casting reel, his little blue Plano tackle box, all his bobbers, sinkers and hooks and a picture of him and me, taken by his father when he caught his first sunfish.

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 fella in the class. “This is me and my grandfather, he said, “and ‘dis is a fish I caught last year, on vacation.” Using a rubber casting plug, he went on to give a live demonstration of how he could cast. Then he looked over to me and said, “Me and my granddad are fishin’ buddies.” A piece of my soul had just been gold-plated. That was a few years ago, but I think I’m still beaming with pride from that moment.

At his young age, my grandson could probably best be described as a “talker.” He asked lots of questions and offered lots of answers, too. As I drove the youngster home after the class, he asked me about where the fish go in the winter time.

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 still regular lake water below the ice, where the fish live through the winter. I explained that most of the fish live on the bottom, in the deepest part of the lake.

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 – there were quite a few questions – 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 drilled the hole with an ice auger, a hand-held, drill-like device that made a 6-inch diameter hole in the 12 inches of ice we were standing on. I explained how a clip-on weight could be used to show how deep the water was. It was about 14 feet.

The youngster enjoyed using the ice scoop to clear the hole of ice chips and slush from digging the hole. He took to that job and owned it. It was a good thing, because it is a never-ending task.

We had a clear, blue, sunshine day, no clouds and no snow, air temperature about 20 degrees and a 5-miles-per-hour wind from the north. With the sun, it felt warmer, but we didn’t talk about the temperature.

We added a bobber stop and tiny slip bobber to the very thin and supple 4-pound test Berkley® monofilament “ice line,” a tiny ice-jig and about 1/16 ounce of pinch-on split shot a foot above the jig. We again used the clip-on weight to set the bobber stop, so the jig would be about 1 inch off the bottom. We added a mousie grub to the hook point of the tiny ice-jig and let the line fall into the depths below. As the line settled out, we both watched the bobber with total focus.

Most of the time, it takes two or three stops and digging new holes each time to find fish and get a strike. The bobber started to quiver and wobble, then it disappeared down the hole. My grandson yelled, “There it goes!” I picked up the tiny, 2-foot-long ice fishing rod and handed it to him. He had been practicing how the open-face reel worked and knew how to work the reel handle, to wind it in.

The lightweight, micro-sized, ice fishing 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.

An instant later, a 12-inch perch plopped out of the hole, right onto the ice surface. My grandson was beaming! “We better take it off the hook; we have to put it back into the water,” he added. I explained that we could keep this fish and have it for dinner later. He was suddenly deep in thought. He stopped talking, waited 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 slid the fish across the ice to the hole. My grandson used his boot to gently 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 so wide, as he answered. “Can we try that again?” We caught about six 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 and I did not want him to get cold, so I explained that we had some work to do at home and we had to go soon.

I was happy to discover that, after an hour, he wasn’t tired of all the work and the excitement, but I wanted to make sure he didn’t get cold and that he still had the desire to return. My father had always done that to me. On every fishing trip, right in the middle of catching fish, “It’s time to go,” he would say. I could never wait for the next trip.

We had already started talking about another day on the ice, for next weekend. When his two older sisters found out about the trip, I quickly discovered I was going to need a calendar to book future 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 passion and also allow for some gold-plated memories, if you’re lucky. We are always reminded that life is about attitude, aren’t we? This was an attitude-changing day, for sure.

On the last fish we caught, the little fisherman turned toward me and smiled, as he asked one small favor. “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 buddy, 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, looking ahead to the next time we could go ice fishing.

Step out there and grab some Western New York winter ice-fishing fun this year! With negative Fahrenheit readings on the mercury, you know we have adequate ice in most ponds and lakes. Take a kid with you! In New York state, there is no closed season for bluegill, crappie or yellow perch.

Outdoor calendar

Feb. 7-9: Coyote Hunt Contest, seventh annual, White Sulphur Springs Firehouse, Sullivan County, $2,000 grand prize for heaviest coyote, women’s and youth division, $40 entry. For more information, call 845-482-4987 or visit and click on news.

Send information for the outdoor column in Forrest Fisher’s column, 10 days in advance, to


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