When I was a student at the State University of New York at Cobleskill, during the late winter, there would be ice fishing derbies held every Saturday at Vlaie Pond.
I was fairly new to ice fishing at the time having only ever really used tip-ups as a kid. However, two of my housemates were more experienced when it came to jigging for panfish. The first few times we went ice fishing, I had to borrow a jigging rod from one of them. After fishing during the week after class a couple of times, we decided to try our luck in one of the derbies.
We got to the Pond after it was light enough to see, loaded our stuff into out 5-gallon buckets and headed out to a point in the pond. As we got out on the ice, we paid our derby entry fee and noticed a few groups of anglers that had driven ATVs onto the ice. One such group ended up setting up not that far from us, using their ATV to quickly set up their tip-ups and then using it to rush towards them whenever fish set them off.
My housemates and I set up near where we had caught some fish before. We shared a hand auger and ice scoops so we couldn’t set up that far from each other in case we needed them. I started out using a small Swedish pimple and I jigged it pretty aggressively. After a few minutes, I decided to switch up my offering.
I tied on a green and orange jig then topped it with a mousie. I let the jig go to the bottom then reeled in a couple of times so it was suspended above the bottom by a foot or so. Now I jigged less aggressively and let the rod sit still for seconds on end as I watched the spring bobber for the slightest movement. After a couple of minutes, the bobber moved and I se the hook. I reeled in a nice sized bluegill and threw it on the ice next to me. Even though I am allergic to eating fish, my housemates wanted to have a fish fry so I figured they could eat what I kept. I checked on the mousie on the jig and it was alright so I sent the jig back into the water. Almost immediately another bluegill grabbed the jig and I reeled it in.
Pretty soon all three of us were catching fish without more than a few minutes between bites at the most. We had a nice sized pile of fish going when one of our friends who was helping with the derby came over to see how we were doing. He saw our pile and asked what we were using. After chatting for a minute we asked about what time we should go have fish measured because it was a bunch of timed sessions with the biggest fish in each time slot winning a prize. We had crappie and bluegill that we thought would stand a chance of winning. Then he told us that only perch and pickerel counted for the derby! We felt like such dummies for not reading all of the signs at the registration area because we wanted to go claim our spot on the ice.
After a few minutes of cursing ourselves for wasting the money to enter the derby since we planned on jigging for panfish the whole time, we decided to get over it and just keep enjoying ourselves. As the day progressed, we ended up catching enough fish to almost fill a 5-gallon bucket. Included in our catch we two very healthy bullheads, a fish that any of us had even heard of being caught through the ice.
Now I look back and think about the three of us sitting on 5-gallon buckets on the ice with no shanty, no fish finder, and no heater for more than half of the day and I think about how we did it. But hey, a lot of things happen in college or even in high school that you look back on with disbelief later in life!