This November, my Godson Gavin turned eight years old. It’s hard to believe that my bobber fishing buddy from five years ago had become a little person aware of his surroundings and excited to try new angling on the ice. And so it was this weekend as we set out for our first ice fishing trip of the year together.
“I want to start with a spoon,” he told me once I sent his younger brother’s minnow spiraling down the hole before the attached split shot popped his foam bobber into the upright position.
In a matter of moments, he clicked the bail open and the silver Swedish Pimple fluttered down through the water column, flickering red, then yellow then green on its way around the Vexilar display before disappearing into the deep red bottom line. With a click and a crank he pulled the lure a few feet up the display and a red line followed; it wasn’t long until his rod was doubled over with the weight of a healthy ten-inch crappie.
We worked our way through a dozen crappies of various sizes as the two boys watched the depth finder intently. As fish would move in between the three of us on the bench in the little sled shack we’d call out who, between my Godson and I, was going to go up or down to try and trigger a bite, while we watched his little brother’s bobber intently when the fish would stall at the live-bait offering on the sonar’s circular display.
“I want to switch to the spring bobber rod,” my Godson stated, “because you can see the fish bite before you even feel it,” he concluded authoritatively.
I rigged up a medium-light spring bobber rod with a Lindy Fat Boy and tipped the glow-red lure with a maggot. Down he sent the offering, and it wasn’t long before – just as solidly as his previous statement was delivered – his spring bobber bent toward the hole after a fish rose up aggressively from the bottom. He wrestled the fat 12-inch crappie up to the rim of the hole and I made a quick hand landing as the fish breached the surface.
“There was no doubt about that one,” he said with a smile as he posed for his hero picture with the biggest fish of the day.
He would turn a few more handfuls of fish with his spring bobber rod before we had to wrap it up and head in for the night. At no time did he revert to the bobber rod which had been his staple for the last five seasons. It was a sure sign that he had made the connection between watching the electronic display and executing the patterns necessary to catch fish that he saw on it, moving beyond the bobber to find success.
That time comes for all anglers, whether on the ice or open water. Bobbers, split shots and hooks become spoons and jigs; the basics are built upon to provide more excitement, more success, and more specialized ways to catch fish, each method providing developing anglers with a greater understanding of biology and the sport of angling. I remember when my focus went from the red-and-white float twenty feet off of the dock for perch and sunnies, to slinging a red-and-white Daredevle for the aggressive northern pike that patrolled the weedline farther out, making the connections in a different season than my Godson, but learning the same lessons.
As we packed up the gear and made our way back to the truck, he walked through the post game on each fish, calling out where it was in the water column and how he got it to bite with a quick snap, a jiggle, or just a long pause. I smiled and laughed at his stories that went on into the evening, knowing that he, like a crappie ascending to a slightly-wiggled ice jig, was making his way up the learning curve…in our outdoors.