It wasn't uncomfortable when I first stepped out of the truck. It was rather exhilarating. That, over the course of the next several hours, however, would change.
I look forward to ice fishing with mixed emotions. Sitting and waiting for the bay to freeze in November and December, it's easy to romanticize (if that's the right word for it) gliding across the snow and ice, drilling a hole and pulling a huge perch through it. It's quite another to realize you really have to layer up because below-zero temperatures await you on what might as well be the frozen tundra.
Such was this day on Lake Champlain's Bulwagga Bay. It was in the minus 20s when we set out. That was back when winters were cold – and we walked out to our ice fishing spot (uphill both ways!). A little sun would have helped warm things up a bit, but the morning dawned a bit cloudy and we were responsible for our own warmth, thank you.
Truth be told, Steve and I cheat when it comes to ice fishing and you can, too. Gone are the days spent sitting on a 5-gallon bucket with nothing to block the wind than your tried and true Woolrich coat. We moved to our spot amongst the other shanties, drilled a couple of holes in the 18-inch-thick ice and popped up the portable shelter. Once inside, Mr. Heater Buddy soon took the frost away from our breath.
I have ice fished a couple of times using the bucket method and, if I'm telling the truth, it gets real old – and cold – real quick. Give me the shelter, the warm glow of propane and I'll sit there forever.
Which is what we did on this particular day. Bulwagga was giving up some of its keeper perch and before long Steve and I had enough for the freezer. We'd even pick up the occasional smelt, which I thought was kind of silly. It's tedious work, catching smelt one by one; especially after having netted them in the Finger Lakes tributaries in the Southern Tier. But that's not how we do it up here... a smelt for the bucket it was.
Occasionally, the sun would peep through the clouds and we could sight-fish through the hole. It doesn't happen often, but when you can see the fish swimming around underneath you, coming up to your jig – and maybe even taking it – it's a blast. So is hauling up that first fish of the season. And the next. And the next.
And, really, you don't need all that fancy equipment, although there are many guides in the region who will gladly outfit you with all you need. But dress warmly. Like I said, it's exhilarating – at first.