Can noisy kids scare away the fish when you are ice fishing? I think that is what happened on Friday the 13th, while we were enjoying a little early winter fishing on Causey Reservoir. The fishing had been good all day, but it faded fast when we brought some rowdy kids onto the ice.
Causey is a narrow, deep reservoir on the South Fork of the Ogden, up the mountain from Pineview. Thin, dangerous ice covered most of the water. But back on the south arm, where the reservoir isn't so deep, the ice was a good four inches thick.
Three people were fishing on that arm when we pulled up. We watched for a minute as they pulled in fish after fish. They were using salmon eggs and the fish were biting down near the bottom, in water 20-25 feet deep. The fish were small, only six or seven inches. But there seemed to be plenty of them, and they were hungry.
Two of the people decided to leave just after we arrived. We talked to them briefly as they loaded their gear: "We've caught 30 or 40 fish, they said. We've moved around, trying to find bigger fish, but the little ones are everywhere. You can't move far because the ice is dangerous. Basically, there is thick ice where you see snow on top. Don't go any further."
I spent some time at Causey in the early fall, and I had a couple spots staked out where I thought some bigger fish might be hiding. Up the canyon a bit, along a cliff face. But there was no chance of getting over there this trip. We couldn't even get to the rocky spots near the road — the ice was just too thin. So we walked out to the middle and dropped our lines down holes in the ice.
Causey generally offers good fishing. It supports a large population of small rainbows and a few larger fish, including some cutthroats and browns. The little rainbows are fairly easy to find, and they provided all the action on this trip. We didn't have a chance to hunt down bigger fish.
Ice fishermen have plenty of tricks and techniques — if the fish are finicky you sometimes have to entice them to bite. And you've got to work things a little differently if you are stalking big fish. But we didn't need to do anything special this time. For little rainbows you won't find a more effective bait than red salmon eggs fished below a bobber.
Location and depth are usually critical factors when ice fishing. From a hole in the ice you can work only a small, vertical column of water — if you're not right over the fish you will miss them. During the cold months trout become lethargic and often won't move more than a couple feet to pick up a morsel of food. But location didn't seem to matter this time — the little rainbows were everywhere.
Depth definitely made a difference. Most of the action came a couple of feet off the bottom. I put three sinkers on my line, tied an ice fly on about a foot below the sinkers, then added another on a dropper a foot further down. I stuck a salmon egg on each fly and then lowered the line until the sinkers hit bottom. Then I reeled in a couple feet of line, so the lower hook was a few inches off the bottom. I clipped a bobber to the line and sat back to see what would happen.
My strategy is to look for fish near the bottom first, then reel in a couple feet, then a couple more feet, until I've worked the entire column of water. At each interval I let the bait sit still for a few minutes, then jig it a bit if I hadn't had a bite.
But these rainbows were hungry and began nibbling on the eggs as soon as they settled into place. The fish didn't bit hard. Just played with the bait, making it hard to know when to set the hook.
Many experienced fishers choose not to use a bobber when ice fishing. Instead they hold the line in their fingers and let the subtle tugs tell them when to jerk. It can be a more sensitive method, if you're not wearing thick gloves, and usually improves your reaction time.
But bobbers work well, and I usually use them when fishing with kids. I usually set my rod down and put my hands in my pockets, trying to stay warm. Yea, that reduces reaction time, but it's a worthwhile tradeoff. As long as you stay close enough to grab your rod in a second. As long as you keep your eye on the bobber. You've got to set the hook during that brief time after the bobber has been pulled under the water and before it starts floating back toward the surface.
We had two seven-year-old boys with us on this trip and their reaction time wasn't great. They danced around, sometimes yards away from their rods, and then raced back when we yelled that a fish was nibbling. The bobbers would go down, then come back up, then the kids would yank the rods and wonder why they didn't catch fish.
The boys were easily distracted, and before long they were skating about, running here and there, and then they started jumping up and down on the ice — to see what would happen. And yelling at the top of their lungs.
It was about that time that the fish stopped biting.
I've never worried much about noise when ice fishing. I've seen crowds of people — including noisy kids — pulling in one bluegill or perch after another. But not jumping up and down while fishing for trout in fairly shallow water. I'm sure shock waves echoed down through the water.
I don't know for a fact that our noisy kids ruined the fishing. It could be that the fish — after being ravenous all day — just decided to stop biting a few minutes after the kids arrived.
At any rate, Causey has been hot fishing so far during this young ice season — at least most of the time.
Waters are often very good for a few weeks after they first freeze, and then success slows. Most waters are freezing now. The higher, smaller reservoirs should already be solid. Many of the larger, more popular waters, including Strawberry and Otter Creek, may have safe ice on bays, but may have dangerous ice in deeper areas or over channels. Be very careful.
You can't second guess the weather. A few cold nights and everything could be solid. But a warm air flow could weaken ice and cause problems.
Normally, only a few waters offer safe ice fishing before Christmas.
The week between Christmas and New Years Day is often a good one for ice fishing. The kids are out of school. Most waters are newly frozen. It's a chance for one last hurrah on your 1991 license.
Get out and have fun.