I posted the video on Facebook that night when I got home and it got a ton of comments from fellow crappie anglers. My dad, David Rouse, also saw it, and he called me at 2 a.m. to ask me all about it and see if I wanted to go again the next day.
Since I took a few days off for my birthday and didn’t have anything to do, I thought that sounded like a pretty good idea, and it gave me a chance to try out my new 24-inch Eagle Claw ultra-light ice fishing rod. I’d been waiting on the 2-pound Trilene Micro Ice line that I’d ordered for it to come in the mail, and it did that afternoon.
When I got to the dock, my dad had already been there a while and had a ton of gear spread out on the bench. Apparently, he was raring to go. He had a technique that he thought would get the crappie to bite, but I was doubtful.
As many crappie as there were under that dock, getting them to bite is a whole other story. I’ve tried just about everything, ranging from regular-sized crappie jigs to flies to just straight worms on a hook.
We tried fishing the spot where all of those crappie had been suspending the day before, but after an hour they had yet to show up on the screen. I was fishing with a small ice jig on my ice pole with a bit of worm on the tip of the hook. On my other pole, which doubles as my Midwest Finesse pole when I go fishing with Ned Rigs, I had a small jig head with a minnow hooked by the mouth. It sat several feet below a skinny panfish float while I fished the ice pole in deep water near the structure.
I decided to explore the area a bit with my camera, and soon I found a large group of crappie hugging close to a submerged Christmas tree for cover. We moved our poles to the spot, fishing with four different lines within about a foot of each other. It wasn’t nearly as large as the thousands of fish that literally surrounded my camera the night before — we’re talking maybe 100 this time — but there were some good keeper-sized crappie in the group, so I figured it could be a productive spot. I kept the minnow on the bobber several feet above the crappie, hoping one of them would come up and investigate it as it swam around. The jig head helped get the minnow down in the water column a little bit, as it would come up near the warm surface water when fished on just a snell hook.
I got the camera down so it was basically sitting inside the tree looking out at the fish, and moved my lure around until I got it right in front of the camera. I watched several fish come up to it as I bounced it lightly in the deep water, but if I moved it too much they would take off in the opposite direction.
As I lightly jigged it and some more crappie came up to take a look, my camera all of a sudden turned sharply and fell a bit so that it was facing toward the tree.
Flabbergasted, I grabbed the wire connecting the camera to the screen and tried to adjust it so I could see my lure again, but it had disappeared.“Josh, you’ve got a bite!” my dad said as the bobber with the minnow on it took off running toward the opposite side of the dock.
I jumped up and ran to the pole, which I had situated on the rail of the dock, profusely shouting obscenities along the way. I got to the pole and yanked it back for the hookset, and suddenly the line on my ice pole that I had dropped started flying out of the reel at a high speed, as well, making a whirring sound as whatever was on the end of it took off.
Worried it would line out and pull my brand new pole in the water, I pointed at it and yelled “Get that!” to my dad while I continued to fight whatever was on the other end of my finesse pole. It felt heavy on the line, but didn’t explode like a bass, so I thought I’d hooked into a nice channel catfish or even an 8- to 10-pound blue cat. During the fall, I was catching them like crazy on crankbaits at a nearby spot on Lake Shawnee, so I knew they were in the area in big numbers.
I was shocked, however, when the fish surfaced and I saw the familiar pink lateral line of a rainbow trout. It was easily the biggest trout I’d ever hooked into — 4 pounds, if not more. Even funnier, it had two lines running out of its mouth, one of them connected to my tiny ice pole. As best I can figure, this particular trout must have been hiding in the Christmas tree spying on the crappie and knocked my camera down when it lunged for my ice jig. As deep as my line was on the ice pole, it would’ve had some slack line, so it must have then swam up and took my minnow, as well. Greedy little sucker, isn’t he?
The trout were last stocked in the lake in October, and range from about half a pound to about 8 pounds. Even more are scheduled to be stocked at noon Feb. 24 from the main boat ramp on the east side. The lake then will be closed until March 3 to give the fish time to acclimate, which is a real bummer for me as I’ve been going out there just about every week since September. Hopefully the water will be open at a few of my other spots.
Now I just had to figure out how to get the trout up on the dock. The dock sits a couple feet above the water, and the railing made it nearly impossible to just flip it up onto the dock. What’s worse is that, though my finesse rod was spooled with 10-pound braided line, it had a fluorocarbon leader attached to it to decrease the visibility of the line near the lure. This meant that the line, while nearly invisible, was much weaker and had a much lower stretch than mono, so if that big trout decided to take off again it would likely snap. The Trilene ice line was an even worse situation, as it was only a 2-pound test. I was surprised it even held on as long as it did without breaking.
I got down on all fours and tried to reach down and grab the rainbow trout behind the eyes while holding its head a bit out of the water with the line, but it was a bit too tough to maneuver my 7-foot rod from that position. I sat my pole down and tried to grab the line to pull it closer to me — I knew it was a risk, because if the fish flopped it would surely break — but I needed to get a good grip to haul in that slippery fish. If you don’t know, rainbow trout are covered with an extremely slick, oily mucus that makes them difficult to hold onto. In hindsight, I should have just lipped him, but I didn’t want to damage the fish.
I grabbed him by the back and he slipped out of my hand, snapping the line with a turn of his head. I thought he was gone for sure, but then I turned and saw my dad straining to keep hold of him with the little ice pole. I couldn’t believe that dinky line hadn’t snapped yet, and I’d definitely recommend it to ice anglers or anyone fishing light line for crappie. If it can hold up to that, it’ll hold up to anything a crappie can dish out. Trout aren’t known as a particularly hearty fish, but they are quite strong and perfectly streamlined. I once had an 8-pound trout jump up to my eye level while bank fishing.
However, my tough little line finally gave way after another big jerk from the trout, and the lunker disappeared into the dark depths below. I couldn’t have kept him anyway, as my trout permit had expired — I thought perhaps it would have retroactively been added to the list of permits and licenses that became valid for 365 days from the date of purchase — but it would have been nice to have snapped a picture of the big fish before letting it go back into the water.
It was a thrilling experience, though, and I still had “trout fever” for a few hours after that epic battle. I renewed my trout permit that night, and am hoping to get another big one like that hooked soon, as well as some crappie. I may not have completely landed it, but I’ll still consider it the first fish I caught in 2018, and I’m hoping that means more good things are on the way.
As a side note, I went to the heated dock again this week with my buddy Brendan Handy. You may remember, he was the guy who caught the giant 26.5-inch drum last fall at Lake Shawnee. We had a few bites but no luck; however, a nice angler gave us a big trout he caught outside the dock. It weighed a solid 4 pounds, about the same size as the one I had caught earlier. We took a photo to show readers how big it was, and then since we didn’t catch anything else I let him go so someone else can catch him.
My dad asked me after I posted the photo on Facebook if that trout still had my lures in its mouth. He must have spit them out.
NEXT TROUT STOCKING
The next Lake Shawnee rainbow trout stocking will take place from noon to 1 p.m. Feb. 24 at the main boat ramp. About 7,000 pounds of trout will be stocked from Crystal Lake Fisheries in Ava, Mo. Fishing will be closed to the public until March 3 to allow the fish time to disperse. For more info, call (785) 251-6800.