Winter Fun, Ice Fishing

Reader Contribution by Ed Essex
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Three years ago we moved 250 miles away from home to the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere. The only neighbors we see are lights shining at night on the next mountain over. We’ve kept busy learning how to live off grid, grow fresh food all year long (even in this harsh winter climate), raise chickens, maintain 3 miles of access road, and in short, learn how to survive in a whole new world. On top of that we are learning a new business we run from our home.

We average 8-10 hours per day seven days a week which leaves very little time for fun so you might imagine how excited we were when friends (Will and Gail) called and said they would like to come to our neck of the woods and bring their snowmobiles and go ice fishing! Ice fishing and snowmobiling were both something Laurie and I had never done before.

Five days before the “Big Day” I went to the Doctor for a routine checkup. That’s the only place I went. The next day I became violently ill. A few days later Laurie caught it as well. It turned out to be the Norovirus. That was by far the worst flu I ever had and worse yet, it was going to ruin our big day on the lake. Because we were still not feeling well, they had to go without us.

A month later our friends decided to try it again. Wouldn’t you know it? The night before the “Big Day” we had a storm and a lot of new snow. We were snowed in!

I got up at 5:00 and was out the door at first light to plow the road so we could get out of there and go have some fun. The plowing went well and we were down the mountain at 10:00 AM and headed for the lake. Finally!

We met our friendly tourist guides at the lakes resort. There was some kind of Snowmobile Poker Run that day and the place was jammed with snowmobiles and riders. They must have wondered who I was. I’ll bet I was the only one there who had a snowmobile suit from Montgomery Wards from 1985. I had purchased it to ride my new 4 wheeler in the winter way back then. Here I was 28 years later wearing it again and actually climbing onto the back of a snowmobile!

My friend Will took me out onto the lake to go scout for existing holes. We only had a hand auger to drill holes with. I got up to 40 miles per hour and that was fast enough for the first time. After finding a few holes we headed back to pick up the ladies and our gear.

We loaded fishing gear, a hand auger, and chairs for the four of us. Most of it was carried by hand by whoever was in the back riding double. Out on the ice we went and headed down the lake.

When we got to our spot, Will and I started auguring holes. The ice was 16″ thick. It took about 8 minutes per hole except I used a couple of old holes and re-drilled them a little faster.  

We baited our hooks and sat down to wait………………and wait………………and wait. Not much biting at first. I finally caught the first fish after an hour or so. A 14″ rainbow trout. I then caught a Kokanee trout (landlocked Sockeye salmon) but that was it.

We had a really nice visit with friends we hadn’t seen for a few months. The weather was beautiful and about 3:00 pm the fish attack began. We had three on at the same time! They were all Kokanee and ran about 12′ long. Beautiful thick bright fish. I was so busy baiting Laurie’s hook and taking care of her fish I finally pulled my line out of the water. It was fast and furious for over an hour. It never did end but we just had to get started for home because the horses and chickens needed to be fed and it’s best to go up our road in the daylight this time of year. We had caught 14 fish between the four of us.

We packed everything up and headed back to the resort. Once everything was put away we went inside the restaurant and treated ourselves to a rare meal out – Prime Rib Dip Sandwiches and an ice cold beer. The grill for the prime rib was located just outside the entrance door in the compacted snow. Inside the fireplace was going full bore with 3′ long logs. Our table looked out over the ice covered lake and the steep forested slopes beyond.

We finally headed back up the hill at dusk to our little homestead where we were greeted by the horses, chickens, dog and two cats. They were all very happy to see us.

After unloading our gear and taking care of the animals I built a fire in the masonry heater. It wasn’t long before we had our own nice warm fire to enjoy and to help us reflect on what a wonderful time we had that day and how much we appreciated our friends for sharing their knowledge and time with us.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website and