STETSON, Maine – Like he did so many years ago when he lived in New Iberia and fished the Atchafalaya Basin, Mark Stroud checked out fishin’ holes Wednesday on Pleasant Lake in front of his house near Stetson.
His fishin’ holes, however, are true fishin’ holes. Before Stroud wets a line, he must drill a circular hole through approximately 12 inches of ice.
Someone pointed that out later that day and he agreed with the witty observation.
“That is a real fishin’ hole! It really is. Absolutely,” Stroud said after a soft chuckle.
Cold even for fair weather anglers
The 62-year-old retired nurse anesthetist is an avid ice fisherman and averages 8 to 10 trips each winter. Ice fishing isn’t for the faint of heart or for fair weather fisherman.
“The coldest I’ve gone fishing is the first time I went ice fishing, before I moved on the lake. It was about minus-15 degrees, plus about a 10-mile wind,” he said, noting it still was very frosty inside an ice shack.
Stroud, who considers himself a fair weather ice fisherman now and stays off the lake if the high for the day is forecast to be single digits, went on an unseasonably warm day Wednesday with the temperature at 40. That was a glaring exception to the norm.
“It’s been fun. I’ve only been ice fishing five years,” he said, adding that was two years after he moved to his lakefront home in 2016.
Previously, Stroud lived in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, where he moved in 2001 from New Iberia. He resided a total of 11 years in the Queen City of the Teche – 1987-1989 when he worked at the old Dauterive Hospital and, after a few years in Hot Springs, Arkansas, again from 1991-2001 when he worked at Iberia Medical Center.
The Lake Charles native retired at 61 after 20 years as chief anesthetist at Mayo Regional Hospital in Dover-Foxcroft. He and his wife, Deb Jacob, a Greenville, Mississippi, native, have five grown children.
Stroud visits his home state and old hometown as often as possible to fish with an ex-neighbor, Mike Sinitiere, in and around the Atchafalaya Basin. Stroud also visits his sister, Marlene Reed, who still lives in New Iberia.
Going from ice to Basin
He has a three-week vacation planned starting Feb. 7. He’ll sample the fishing with Sinitiere and other friends at his old, much warmer fishin’ holes in and around the Spillway.
Sinitiere fishes with him here when he gets a chance to go to Maine. His last trip was in September 2020.
Soon after Sinitiere’s return 2 ½ years ago to New Iberia, Stroud said in a story in The Daily Iberian, “I keep telling him he’ll have to come up and go ice fishing. I bought all the gear.”
Indeed. Stroud had a stroke of good fortune to get the ice fishing gear – a 3-foot long jig rod with a small spinning reel and nine traps, also known as tip-ups, at a bargain price. Traps typically average $25 each but can be purchased as low as $15 and as high as $50.
“A guy had bought all that and didn’t like it (ice fishing). I bought it all four years ago,” Stroud said.
Stroud certainly likes it and uses it when the ice thickens to at least 3 inches to walk on and pull a sled filled with his gear and at least 6 inches to drive his four-wheeler on and pull the sled.
“If it’s safe enough to get the four-wheeler out then I can go all around the lake,” he said.
He can’t get to some of his favorite areas for fishin’ holes yet because the ice isn’t thick enough, he admitted, ruefully.
Safety on ice can’t be emphasized enough, he said, noting two fishermen died this winter after they fell through the ice.
Average water temp 32
Pleasant Lake’s average water temperature in the winter is 32 degrees. Nevertheless, bass, crappie, Northern white perch, yellow perch and perch still bite.
Even largemouth and smallmouth bass?
“Absolutely. They actually do,” Stroud said. “The best day we ever had was when we had 42 flags go up and we caught over 30 bass.”
Strangely enough, rising barometric pressure affects those gamefish under the ice as much as it does anywhere else after the passage of a cold front, he said.
“Things that affect fish in open water still affects them in the wintertime. I’ve had days spent out there where I’ve caught only one or two post-cold front,” he said.
His personal best largemouth bass while ice fishing was in the 4-pound range the winter of 2020-21. He has lifted 3- to 4-pound class smallies, too, through the hole in the ice.
When Stroud targets bass, he looks for rocks and grass shallower water, 4- to 7-foot deep.
As for the crappie, known as sac-a-lait in South Louisiana, he said about Pleasant Lake, “Ah, it’s loaded with crappie. There’s no limit on them. They’re considered an invasive species. You can catch as many as you want.”
Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife ice fishing rules limit a single fisherman to fishing no more than five holes at once. Stroud often fishes four holes with traps and one hole with the jig rod.
Stroud, who strictly fishes with live minnows, usually drills holes 10 to 15 yards apart at different depths. Whatever depth yields the most bites is the depth he concentrates on.
“Today everything was in deep holes. I didn’t get anything shallow,” he said a few hours after that Wednesday trip. He caught eight fish in 10- to 14-feet depths.
While some ice fishermen use marine electronics, even the old flashers, Stroud relies on a 2-ounce that clips onto the hook and lowers it to the bottom, then measures the depth on the line. The key is to fish a minnow 1- to 2-feet off the bottom.
He uses a propane-powered auger to drill the hole with a 10-inch circumference.
Catches, releases bass
Stroud said he practices catch and release with bass and pickerel but keeps white perch and crappie.
“That white perch is as good as a crappie,” he said.
Ice fishing’s days are numbered. “Ice out,” the disappearance of ice from the surface as a result of thawing, usually occurs in mid- to late-April. So Stroud will have the opportunity to make a few more ice fishing trips when he returns from his visit to New Iberia and South Louisiana in early March.
After that, it’ll be time to roll the boat lift back into the water in front of his house, get his 21-foot Ranger powered by a 250-h.p. Evinrude G2 ready for its long stay on the lake and also prep his aluminum Vexus, which he uses as a “travel” boat to his favorite smallmouth bass lakes and rivers in the Northeast.
Then he’ll be ready to check his fishin’ holes again in the winter of 2023-24.