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Delayed New Year

You may have heard me say before that my calendar is a little different.  Most folks recognize January 1 as New Year’s Day.  My “New Year” starts the first day I walk onto the ice for the season.  “New Year” can start some time in December, or maybe later than that.  This year, unfortunately, it has been later, too much later.

I was hopeful “New Year’s Day” was going to be around the end of December.  At that time, I was in parts of the state that had good ice, but then there was a little blizzard that blew through and ruined any plans I had to fish.

So, I had reached a point where I was getting grumpier by the day.  I had to do something about that!

Although we have some good ice in most parts of Nebraska now, I made a trip to more western and northern points where the ice was thicker and had been present longer.  I cannot tell you how good it felt to strap the creepers on my boots and crunch onto the ice the first time.  The crisp, cool air, quiet, the winter landscape–I felt like shouting and running to my first spot!

Some good fishing buddies were already there, so I exercised some decorum and hiked over.  I said a few quick “hello’s”, and learned a few fish were biting.  Quickly, I drilled the first string of holes and got down to business!

I like to designate a fish each year as the “New Year’s Fish”.  The first few through my ice-holes were relatively small; not worthy to be christened with that title.  No, a fish caught later was worthy of being New Year’s Fish 2020:

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Zack Cox photo. Thanks, Zack!

To kick off the new year right, I strung together a couple, three days on the ice.  During that stretch, I fished several waters and tried to dry off a variety of fish.  With no rambling and in no particular order, let me show you a few pictures of my partners and some of the fish caught.  We released them all.

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Tom Doolittle photo. Thanks, Tom!

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That is the way to celebrate the new year!

Let me make a few observations of what I saw on the ice. . . .

For me, it was “first ice”–my first trips on the ice this winter.  However, I fished on ice that was anywhere from 9 to 15 inches thick, which was anything but “first ice”.  A couple of spots had an abundance of old holes drilled which again was hardly “first ice”.  The bite on first ice is usually good, some of the best of the ice fishing season.  We did have days and periods where the bite was very good, but then there were times when it was much tougher, more like mid-season.  That’s fishing.

Now, with good ice in more eastern parts of the state, one might expect a “first ice bite”.  That has not been what I have been seeing.  The duration of ice cover may suggest it is first ice, but the calendar says late January, and the fishing has been like mid-winter.

When we have a late freeze-up, I wonder if it slows fish activity?  A cap of ice actually stabilizes conditions below the surface.  With a late freeze, and high winds (which we always seem to have) the water mixes and cools even more.  I suspect that when we finally do get good ice, the bite is relatively tough because of that.  After a late freeze, the bite may get better over time instead of right at first ice.

Of course the big question right now is how long will our ice last?  What I have seen can withstand a few days of thawing, but as always you must make sure it is safe EVERY TIME you walk onto it.  One thing for certain is that in Nebraska we will experience all the extremes in weather.  “First ice” to “mid-winter” to “late ice” might be compressed into just a few weeks.

You better fish while you can!

I am going to!

About daryl bauer

Daryl is a lifelong resident of Nebraska (except for a couple of years spent going to graduate school in South Dakota). He has been employed as a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 25 years, and his current tour of duty is as the fisheries outreach program manager. Daryl loves to share his educational knowledge and is an avid multi-species angler. He holds more than 120 Nebraska Master Angler Awards for 14 different species and holds more than 30 In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards for eight different species. He loves to talk fishing and answer questions about fishing in Nebraska, be sure to check out his blog at outdoornebraska.org.

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