Ice Fishing – Hegben Lake

Back in July, when we had just officially moved to Montana, I went up to a town called Belgrade to hit on a tennis “wall.”  There were two guys hitting on the court with the wall, so I asked politely if they would mind switching courts. Instead of switching courts, they invited me to join them, and I made my first two friends in Montana. Little did I know that six months later I would be standing on top of a frozen lake with one of them having my first experience ice fishing.

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In the summer this is all water!

Ice fishing…where to begin?  I guess the drive. I met my tennis friend in Big Sky and then we continued to head south, through the corner of Yellowstone National Park, to Hebgen Lake.  I saw a few bald eagles on the way to Big Sky, and then a herd of elk and a moose further south. The drive was beautiful with the snow covered trees and landscape.

What do you need to ice fish? Like many activities, you can probably buy as much expensive stuff as you want…our gear was pretty simple: 2 poles, a scooper (for cleaning out the hole), and a giant nail (I can’t remember what it is called) for chiseling out the hole. For the fish food, meal worms and grubs, and your standard grocery store plastic bag for the catch. That’s it!

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Carrying the “giant nail.”

So we get all set up, and here is the key – when you see your bobber go down, you have to quickly flick up with your pole…not pull up…flick up. Ideally, you want to do this while the bobber is going down. This sets the hook.  I am learning all of this when I see my bobber go down probably twice in the first 5 minutes. I’m too slow to grab the pole, and I kind of got yelled at (more on that later).  Eventually, I get the hang of it.  You also have to keep the pole right over the hole – I mean it – or you will get yelled at then, too.

You have to be ready to grab the pole when the bobber goes down!

You have to be ready to grab the pole when the bobber goes down!

At the end of the day we got our 5 fish, which is the limit. How long were we out there?  I think about an hour and forty minutes. We caught 5 fish, lost 2 or 3, and I definitely missed at least 1. So that means something was happening almost every 10 minutes, which is kind of remarkable. Apparently you can stand around a hole for hours and nothing happens, so it was a good day (I think this is why I got yelled at when I missed the first one – for all we knew that might have been our only chance for the afternoon).

My first one. I told it I was sorry. It was slippery.

My first one. I told it I was sorry. It was slippery.

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So, now I’ve eaten something that I caught. Very Montana of me, right?  It probably doesn’t really count since I didn’t clean it, but one step at a time…

Beautiful smoked trout!

Beautiful smoked trout!

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