You would think as long as I have been ice-fishing, some lessons would have been learned a long time ago. Yes, that should be true, but sometimes I am a little dense. How many fish have you lost at the hole? If you have been on the ice for awhile, I am betting more than one.
It happened to me already this ice season; hooked a nice largemouth bass, I am guessing 18-inches plus, spent some time playing it, finally got her up into the hole, started to pull her out, hook popped loose. Then we looked at each other, it took the fish a few seconds to get its bearings, I reached into the water and tried to grab her. If you have been on the ice for awhile, you know what happened next–I fumbled, could not get a grip on the fish, and as I tried to grab, I pushed the fish down and eventually she figured out she could turn her head. “There she was, gone!” All I got was a cold hand and wet sleeves.
If you think about it, it makes sense. As a fish is hooked and “played”, it does not put as much weight, stress, on the hook, or on the line, while it is in the water as it does when it is pulled from the water. Pulling a fish through an ice-hole brings it through that water-to-air interface and the additional weight on the line causes the hook to pull loose, or in the worse case, causes the line to break. We would not think of lifting a fish of any size directly up out of the water, supported only by the line and hook, when fishing in open water. Why do we do it on the ice?
Even with fish much smaller than the breaking strength of the line, even with panfish, that instant they are pulled out of the ice hole can cause the hook to come loose and back they go. Many times that is not a big deal with small fish, or on a day when lots of fish are iced, but you can be sure that the bigger the fish the more likely it is going to happen, and the more the heartbreak when it does.
So, don’t be lazy! Got a nice fish hooked below the ice? First, get the transducer out of the hole. Next, get ready to get a hand down there and grab that fish in the ice-hole, before you pull it directly up onto the ice. Clean the slush from around your hole, that will make things a lot easier. Reach, grab a place that will not harm the fish, maybe behind the head, maybe the lower jaw, maybe carefully into a gill cover (avoid the gill arches themselves!), or just slide the fish onto your hand, lift and then slide ’em onto the ice.
Once you ice ’em, do NOT lift them up by the lower jaw or gill cover because then the entire weight of the fish will be supported the lower jaw, or gill cover. They ain’t made to support all of that weight there.
Use your hand, enlist a partner, slide them onto the ice, and then you can remove the hooks, carefully hold them horizontally, both hands if necessary, snap a picture, and get ’em back down the hole.
Do as I say, not as I do!