When I initially wrote this blog post it looked like we were going to have a long and prosperous ice-fishing season. Now, not so much. . . . However, this is something I still want to mention, something I want some ice anglers to think about; with some cold weather, you might be able to put this into practice yet this ice season. If not, there is always next year.
Gaffs are a tool that can be used to land fish. Not a lot of anglers in Nebraska use gaffs, but occasionally I have seen them in use especially by ice anglers. I have not used mine in years, but I do have a homemade version that I used to use for landing big fish through the ice.
I have to tell you that my gaff only got used rarely. As I recall, it was used for the biggest channel cat I ever caught through the ice, a fish over 18 pounds (on 4-pound test line, by the way), but even then after getting the gaff in that fish my uncle still had to take off his coat, roll up his sleeves, stick his arm in the water and turn the catfish’s head so we could get it through the hole.
Most of the time, my old gaff got used as a reference to show the size of a fish, or more often to reach down ice holes and extract aquatic vegetation on which my bait was snagged.
I never use a gaff anymore, because if you want to release a fish, you sure do not want to go poking holes in them. Yes, a gaff can make it easier to get a big fish through an ice hole, and yes, I know a person can be careful and gaff fish through the lower jaw where it will cause little damage, but still, for catch & release fishing, there are a lot better ways to handle fish.
Big fish can be landed through ice holes, and it can be done without a gaff. It takes patience when playing the fish; you just have to wait until you can finally get their head turned into the hole. Once you get their head in the hole, the rest of the fish has to follow. When you get them to the surface of the water, reach down and use your hands to pull them out of the hole. Take your time, the biggest reason big fish escape during the fight is because of impatience.
Now I said that I rarely see anyone using gaffs at anytime in Nebraska. However, let me tell you why I bring this up. . . . We have had some reports of ice anglers using gaffs to land fish, especially large pike, during tournaments, tournaments in which the fish were supposed to be released. Upon seeing that, there were some folks who thought the use of gaffs in that situation was inappropriate and I would agree with them. It was even suggested that we should by regulation eliminate the use of gaffs for ice fishing in Nebraska. We considered that, but there are so darned few people who use gaffs, that we did not think that was necessary. I believe this is another instance where we can achieve more with some education than we can by regulation.
So, if you are doing some ice fishing and you are catching some relatively big fish that you intend to release, take your time, work ’em into the hole, and forget the gaff!