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    Learning to Love the Chase

    I have been fortunate enough to catch a few big fish in my lifetime. Still, I’ve never been so excited or felt a rush of relief like the one I felt when my 10 year-old son landed his big Pike just a few weeks ago. That relief and the absolute elation was evident by my loud cheering and by his stunned silence and case of perma-grin. "Now I know what Jiggy meant,” Carson would say later on the ride home. "You work hard and when you finally catch the big one it makes it more awesome".

    His statement goes back to last winter and the opportunity to meet Ice Team Member and Across the Ice Belt host Jeff Anderson, better known to many as “Jiggy”. Carson had the chance to meet Jeff while he and fellow Ice Team member Craig Oyler were filming a Lake Trout episode of Across the Ice Belt. A few weeks before they were to meet, Carson disclosed to me that he had some questions he really wanted to ask Jeff. “I want to know what it takes to have your own show,” he told me.

    Knowing that the kid has a love for telling stories, I started making it a habit to pack my GoPro on every fishing trip. On a lot of the trips, we would make a short video on the ride up where I interviewed him about the trip. I’d ask him what he was trying to catch, what techniques he was going to use, or what his plan for the day was. It kind of became our “thing”.

    The day he got to meet Jiggy was cold and windy. Actually, it was mostly just windy. The fishing conditions were tough. Carson and I started the day out fishing out of the Gold Run area of Deerfield Reservoir. It was there that I felt we had the best chance to catch fish and do so while staying out of the wind. Pretty much like I figured, the fish were stuck tight to the bottom. It certainly wasn’t the kind of bite that you want going on when you’re trying to get a kid on fish, that’s for sure.

    We packed up to move on. It was along the way that Carson got to meet Jeff. The meeting was relatively short in duration, but the impact that the meeting had on my boy is still being felt. Carson got to ask his questions. “How do you become a pro-fisherman?”, “What does it take to have your own show?” and “What is it like to catch big fish?” were the questions he had been holding on to for a few weeks. Jeff graciously took time to answer all of them. That day became a huge moment in Carson’s young life.

    Weeks later, Carson and I were faced with the prospect of an early end to ice fishing season. With my wife and daughter out of town for a weekend, Carson and I made one last strong push to cross one of the major goals off of his list: Put a Pike bigger than 24-inches on the ice. The kid has a love for catching Pike and 24-inches was his personal best. We had worked on it quite a bit but just could never seem to get him over the hump. We planned a long three-day weekend. We felt like we had the time, the plan, and the spots to meet his goal.

    We caught a ton of Pike that weekend. We caught two or three that were right at 24-inches but had yet to get “my wallhanger”, as he would call it. The weekend came and went and the goal of an over-24-inch Pike went unmet. I remember standing on one of our spots looking at six tip-ups scattered all over with the sun beginning to set on Sunday afternoon. “Buddy”, I started out, “What do you think?” His response somewhat surprised me. I expected disappointment, maybe even tears. “It’s alright, Dad” he said. “We can just come back and try when the lake opens back up,” he said.

    As life has a tendency to do, things got busy. New work responsibilities, baseball and more baseball took the place of long fishing trips. Baseball season ran right into football season and, before any of us knew it, the spring and summer were just memories. He never gave up on the chase, though.

    Three days after football season ended, my wife and daughter once again embarked on a girls-only adventure and Carson and I embarked on a weekend long chase to break the 24-inch ceiling. Saturday and Sunday came and went. While we caught lots of fish, the big Pike once again eluded us. Sunday night we sat down and regrouped. I looked at some maps, some weather and, then, I made a call. I solicited the advice of a good friend and fishing buddy. We hatched a plan to make one last run at a big toothy critter.

    The plan was simple. We decided that, with the girls due back Monday night around 8, we only had a small window with which to work. The plan was to pick Carson up at school at 3, drive fast and fish hard. We would simplify our tackle and make it easy to make big moves if we didn’t have success in a relatively short period of time.

    We made big moves, covered a lot of water and spent just short amounts of time at each spot before we moved. With the sun again getting low, I started the “what-if” conversation. “What-if we don’t get him again, kid,” I asked him. “What should we do next?” He sat awhile before he answered. “Well,” he started, “I think we wait for it to ice over and try again.” It wasn’t but a few minutes later that his bobber disappeared. Like a pro, he waited to make sure we would get a good hook set. Once the hook was set, the fight was on.

    The fish on the other end of the line was peeling drag at a pretty good clip and it really didn’t occur to me until a little more than halfway into the fight that Carson was doing battle with a big fish on a rod and reel set-up for catching mostly Rainbow Trout. Just about the same time that particular notion dawned on me, I realized that enough line was off of the reel that I could read the writing on the spool. I figured that we were within 10-15 revolutions of being completely spooled.

    The fish tired enough that Carson was able to mostly get the upper hand. When the fish was within 6 or 8 feet of shore it made another big run. After a few seconds, he had the fish within netting range. What happened next was pretty awesome. I’m not sure I have seen a bigger smile on the kid’s face. That’s saying a lot given that he smiles constantly.

    When we changed up our tactics and tackle, I neglected to throw a tape measure in meaning we didn’t get a length on the fish. We both know that it was well over 24-inches which, ultimately, didn’t really matter to either of us. All that mattered to us was that we love the chase. Had we been successful every time out, had we not had a couple nice fish break off or spit the hook, or had we not had to wait and work for this particular fish, the moment may have not have meant as much. All of the little lessons and the bigger picture may have been lost on us completely.

    Much was actually gained during those ‘unsuccessful’ trips. Carson has shown that he is learning to read a lake map, look for structure and spots that hold fish. Already, at a young age, he’s learning to pick fishing spots based on areas that are more likely to hold fish at a given time as opposed to spots that simply look good because there’s a spot to sit, or are easy to get to. He’s becoming a student of the game.

    It isn’t just his love of the chase that has taken off. At school, his teachers report that he has really put in the work on his writing and his ability to tell stories. For me, as a dad, that is probably the biggest and best benefit of his newfound focus.

    As a dad who coaches his son in a variety of different sports, I know full well that sometimes a different coach has to get into his head from time to time because, by nature, he learns to tune me out. That’s why I’m so appreciative of Jeff Andersen and Craig Oyler for their time and sharing their love of the chase with Carson. It’s one of the best things about Ice Team, in my opinion. The love that those guys and gals have for sharing their knowledge and growing the sport of fishing- particularly in young people- is truly awesome.


    Black Hills Bites Fishing Tip

    Do your homework. With first ice finally arriving, take the opportunity to set some goals. Figure out what fish you’re after and start looking at maps, structure, and even old fishing reports. There are a number of great map resources out there. The South Dakota Fishing Map guide is a good resource. It does have limitations with regard to water levels. However, it’s a good place to start when you’re looking for potential structure on a new body of water.

    Mike’s Maps is one of my favorite resources, particularly with regard to East River bodies of water. Mike’s Maps is based out of Huron, SD. Their maps are marked with different waypoints and structure areas to help you break down water. You can visit their website here.

    Heading into the season with a game-plan will help you have more success on the water this winter. This is particularly helpful when fishing on large or unfamiliar bodies of water. Look at maps, locate structure and find more fish.

    That’s all for this edition of Black Hills Bites. Enjoy the early ice and be safe. Fish on!

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