Winter fishing gods played a cruel joke on Glen Kivett last Sunday at Sprague Lake.
The Spokane angler caught a bright, hefty 19-inch rainbow trout almost immediately after dropping a jig through a hole in the ice around 10 a.m.
That gave him hope – a chilling virtue for an ice fisherman, especially with the temperature in the teens and a frigid Polar Express wind barreling down the lake.
Hope’s as dangerous as an illicit drug. It numbs the common sense that would logically persuade an otherwise unimpaired angler to return home where icicles don’t form under drippy noses.
Six hours later, Kivett and his son, Barry, and friend Don Summers, still had only that one fish among them. It was frozen like a brick on the wind-polished ice.
Luckily, they were not.
“We heard it was going to be 4 degrees so we didn’t make up our minds to come out here until this morning,” Summers said. “When we heard it was going to get up to 20, we said, “Whoopee, let’s go!”
Kivett managed to rebait a maggot on the hook of his tiny ice jig even though his cold fingers were functioning with the dexterity of frozen sausages.
Ice kept reforming over his opening through the lake’s 6-inch ice cap. He’d use a strainer to skim it out but ice would reform within minutes, eliminating the effectiveness of his goose-quill bobber until he countered by firing up a small propane burner a few inches from the hole.
The bobber was 3 inches long and slim as a pencil to detect the slightest touch from a fish below.
“Most of the fish bite very lightly,” Kivett said, “but Barry had the darnedest time with one big trout. We could look down the hole and see it just swimming by and whacking the jig time after time without biting it.
“Barry’s going to come back with a smaller Swedish Pimple and catch that guy. A lot of times when they do that, you can get them to bite if you immediately offer something smaller.”
On the ice last Sunday, however, nothing but goose bumps happened immediately.
Tying on a new jig was a pain in the cold.
As one distant angler stood up, the wind began sailing his chair down the lake.
“You have to anchor everything,” Kivett said, pointing to the large plastic sled he uses to bring all the gear onto the ice.
“I had to jump on that goofy thing once in a big wind and got blown the length of Avondale Lake because I didn’t have it anchored.”
A heavy hooded parka and thick pants were Kivett’s fortress against the cold, but his hands had to venture out of gloves as he baited hooks and tended line.
He sat on a plastic bucket and leaned over a metal bucket specially designed with a rod holder, draft holes in the bottom and a tube in the middle that held a few inches of glowing charcoal briquettes.
During one long lull in the action, Kivett detected a twitch in his bobber. “All my attention was on that bobber, waiting for another tap,” he said, describing the ice angler’s version of a good hunting dog on point.
It’s not clear how long his fingers were too close to the glowing coals, but either the smell of burning flesh or the pain eventually alerted him that his Thinsulate gloves were melting around his fingertips.
“That’s enough to break your concentration,” he said.
Summing up the day, Kivett was philosophical.
“We had our chances,” he said. “Barry lost one, and Don had one part way out the hole when it came off and I had one two-thirds of the way out the hole when it came off.
“I’m already working up plans to make a little scooper net I can slide down into the water and bring out with the fish so it can’t go back down the hole if it spits the hook.”
He pointed out that a couple of fishermen nearby had started fishing an hour earlier. “They had only one fish, too, and they had a fish finder.
“They told me they had fish under them at various depths all day long. Fish were deeper in the morning and in the evening they were closer to the surface, but they just weren’t biting.
“So we’re coming back Wednesday,” he added, noting that he had black blisters on his the tips of his fingers, but no frostbite.
“We’ll have all the right lures and the electronics and we’re really going to bring them in one after another.”
The curse of hope prevails, again.