Ice fishing with college students who help shape our outdoors

Before she went back to Unity College for the new semester Taylor and I made plans for a weekend of ice fishing, home cooked food and hanging out. She arrived home Saturday morning with Rebecca Zirlin, Grainne Dougherty and Connor Shaw. They unloaded the truck, changed into warm clothes and loaded the truck. Steve left with Conner to make the first trip into Patten Pond.

Everything went well…briefly. Steve and Connor unloaded the snowmobile, hooked up the JetSled and headed toward the pond. Connor, a Conservation Law major and already a registered Maine Guide, sat backward in the sled. They were going 10 miles an hour but he said it felt like 100 on top of the icy, bumpy crust. He’s young. He’s good for it. But then the JetSled and snowmobile parted ways and Connor caught up to the snowmobile. “Oh hey…” he said to Steve as he slid alongside the snowmobile. Steve hit the brake, Connor slid past him, and crashed. They were still laughing about it last night. Soon after, the snowmobile spit and sputtered and quit.

Taylor drove us to the spot we use for parking up on Democrat Ridge. I texted the snowmobile taxi to say we were ready to be picked up and learned we were on our own. Not knowing that the snowmobile wasn’t running, we left the other JetSled at home.

“The snowmobile died. We’re walking in,” I said to three young women who were completely unphased by the news. Taylor and Grainne fashioned ratchet straps into makeshift harnesses for a plastic bin filled with gear and the cooler. Rebecca and I carried the rest, and we made our way a half mile down the road and through the woods to the pond. I fell behind; my ice creepers were in a gear bin on the pond.

Steve and Connor had holes drilled when we got there and the girls got busy unfolding traps, baiting hooks and doing their thing. I walked around with the camera. They didn’t need my help.

Rebecca Zirlin, from Louisiana,  pulls a smallmouth bass up through the ice.

Rebecca Zirlin pulls a smallmouth bass up through the ice.

Rebecca double majors in Wildlife and Ecology. She’s from Louisiana and takes to the ice like she was born and raised in cold, snowy Maine. She dropped to her knees, pulled out a trap, and had it baited in the water with ease. “She’s done this many times,” I thought.

The first flag of the day went up within 15 minutes and produced a big yellow perch. “Flag up” sent the fishermen across the ice. Most of the time the flags were about as far apart as possible.

Taylor Follette and a 16" smallmouth bass

Taylor Follette and a 16″ smallmouth bass.

Taylor majors in Biology and Wildlife Biology. She caught a yellow perch full of eggs. She explained that the eggs aren’t ready to be fertilized; they’ll be opaque when they mature. Taylor released the fish and reset the trap. She was still letting line out when a bass took the bait.

I sat back close to shore, took pictures and watched off and on during the day. I had more fun watching them have a great time than I would have catching fish.

Connor didn’t pull a line. He was a gentleman who pitched in here and there, baiting empty hooks or getting hooks out when the fish swallowed the bait, and enjoyed watching the ladies catch the fish. He’s a Registered Maine Guide and a Conservation Law major. He’s an all-around nice guy.

Conner Shaw removes the hook from a smallmouth bass.

Conner removed hooks when fish swallowed the bait. This one had to be a keeper.

Grainne (pronounced Grahnya) Dougherty is a Conservation Law major from New Jersey. You wouldn’t know it to look at her here but this is the first big fish she’s held up for a photo. She pulls up fish like a pro, hand over hand, quickly and efficiently. This one swallowed the bait and was well on its way to the other side of the pond when she got to the trap.

Grainne and Conner with Grainne's 19" smallmouth bass

Grainne and Connor with Grainne’s 19″ smallmouth bass

Connor kept track of the line as Grainne pulled. The bass hit the bait and took off fast.

Grainne Dougherty caught and kept this smallie.

Grainne Dougherty caught and kept this 19″ smallie.

The traps were pulled after sunset. They caught 25+ bass, five or six yellow perch and several pickerel. Five bass that were 15″ to 19″, two pickerel, and one yellow perch came home with us. Three pickerel were left on the ice for an eagle that wouldn’t come down to the ice while we were there, and the rest of the fish were released.

Taylor, Grainne (back to), Conner and Rebecca

Taylor, Grainne (back to), Connor and Rebecca

Steve managed to get the snowmobile going (water in the gas tank) and was making a gear run back to the truck when it quit again. We carried and pulled the gear back up the hill. Keeping up with four young adults who are on the move all the time was good cardio exercise and I wasn’t pulling gear.

Back at home, I made pizza crust then cleared out of the kitchen while Connor fileted the fish. Rebecca moved in to see what a yellow perch had been eating. She removed the stomach, cut one end open and gently squeezed. The perch had 10 dragonfly nymphs in its stomach.

Dragonfly nymphs from the stomach of a yellow perch

Dragonfly nymphs from the stomach of a yellow perch.

It was a great day. Here’s my fish for the day.

We didn't take any chances on this goldfish making it into the water.

We didn’t take any chances on this goldfish making it into the water.

Robin Follette

About Robin Follette

Maine Press Association award winner, 2013. Robin's Outdoors, Bangor Daily News, third place in Sports blogs. I grew up with a fishing pole in my hand and have always loved the outdoors. From gardening to hunting and fishing, kayaking, camping, hiking and foraging, most of my time is spent outdoors. I teach outdoor skills as a volunteer instructor for Hooked On Fishing - Not On Drugs and Becoming an Outdoors-Woman. Pro-staff at The Limb Grip. My personal blog is here. I'm currently working on my first book, a collection of short stories based on my outdoors experiences.