It was seven degrees above zero last Saturday morning at 6:30AM.
Last year no one went ice fishing at Shakamak as there was not enough ice. This year the late January cold snap had made about two inches of ice, plenty enough to support a few eager fishermen.
At 7:05AM a hint of sunrise showed itself as a deep burgundy glow, just beyond the eastern horizon. By 8:05 I was to Anderson, Indiana. I pulled off for an Egg McMuffin and watched the sun come up. I took I-70 west out of Indianapolis and then south on 59 down to 246. 246 west runs into 159 south and that takes you into Shakamak State Park.
Our cabin wouldn't be ready until afternoon so I drove around Kickapoo Lake until I found Dan Madru's pick-up truck. Dan, Boyd Tarney, and Randy Furniss were already on the ice. Dan had a few bluegills around his ice hole, but the fishing was slow.
Shakamak State Park includes 1766 acres of some of the most beautiful and scenic property that southwestern Indiana has to offer. It is located about 25 miles southeast of Terre Haute. Shakamak is a Kickapoo Indian name meaning "river of the long fish," for the Eel River that runs through the local area. The original two lakes are Lake Shakamak, which was the first man-made lake in the State of Indiana, and Lake Lenape, which came along a few years later. The third lake, Lake Kickapoo, was completed in 1969. The lakes filled with water and have since become good habitat for bluegill, perch, and bass.
In the summertime they offer 400 acres of water for fishing boating and swimming. They have campsites in wooded areas as well as cabins, both primitive and modern. Our cabin was a two bedroom with kitchen and bathroom. The Park Rangers keep a few cabins open through the winter for people like us that like to ice fish.
We went to our cabin about 3 PM to unload our gear. It smelled of Pinesol and soap. We unloaded everything and then lunched on venison jerky and cheese.
Ice fishing requires a lot of patience. The fish are not heavy feeders over the winter months so it takes a bit of coaxing to convince them to try whatever bait you may be dangling in front of their noses. We were using bee moths, mouseys, and spikes. Newer ice fishing poles are only about eighteen inches long and they are lightweight so the slightest touch of a fish will provide a response. Bobbers are about the size of a lima bean and a fishing box that will hold a Coleman lantern is handy for keeping your fingers warm while baiting your hook or taking off fish.
Most of the serious fishermen use a depth finder designed especially for setting on the ice. One of the guys not only had a sonar depth finder but also had a miniature camera he could lower into the water and see whether his depth finder was showing fish or weeds. No matter what kind of equipment you have you still have to catch the fish the old fashioned way, which is setting over the ice hole and jigging your bait until an unwary fish goes for your bait. Sunday evening the depth finders were showing a lot of fish, but they weren't hungry. By dark, with only a few fish in the bucket, we loaded our gear and headed back to the cabin.
Dan fried some venison burgers and after being on the lake all day, the hot food was excellent. Four more guys showed up Sunday night making for a full bunkhouse.
Kelly Cearbaugh and Bruce had stayed out fishing until after dark and brought in some nice crappies. Rick and Steve Zehr managed to roll in by 10PM and added some more bunkhouse talk to the already enjoyable conversations.
Monday morning arrived at 7:00AM. Dan prepared a breakfast feast of blueberry pancakes, sausage and fried eggs.
Kelly and Bruce went to Lake Shakamak to try their luck, Boyd, Randy, Dan and I went to north Kickapoo while Steve and Rick headed for southwest Kickapoo. The sun stayed out for the first hour of the morning but then clouded over. We drilled our holes and began searching for fish. We got into some bluegills but there were only a few keepers. We could see other fishermen pulling in fish just a hundred yards away, so Dan went over and joined them. It helps to walk around ever so often, not only for information on fishing, but to get the circulation going. We met people from Columbia City and Huntertown. Everyone was friendly and talkative and it just felt good to be outside, enjoying nature.
A beaver was busy next to shore, keeping an area free of ice. It may have been a breathing hole, or maybe it was just an opening allowing him access to winter food. We could hear a Pileated (crested) Woodpecker making a racket in the woods and hundreds of Canadian Geese were honking on the far side of the lake. Every now and then a gaggle would lift off the ice and noisily move from one area to the next.
We all headed back to the cabin around 1:30 PM to get some lunch. Dan put a venison roast in the oven for the evening meal. After lunch the ice fishing improved. Dan caught the most, bringing in over a hundred pan fish, but only keeping 35. Ice fishing, like other types of fishing isn't so much about catching fish as it is about getting together with friends. We caught our share of fish and the catch always provides bragging rights for those who catch the most and the biggest, at least until the next trip when a bunkhouse full of guys will again get together to test their fishing skills and enjoy the winter weather.