Mike Palka and Eldy Birnie have turned ice fishing into a family sport and semi-competition.
The Eagle Creek couple started ice fishing 15 years ago and now go out three times a week each winter. They both love it, but Birnie seems to have the upper hand. Palka said he once saw her catch nine fish in 20 minutes while it took her hours to catch just one.
“One time she caught a fish that came off the hook, went down the hole, and then jumped back out of the hole into the ice. From then on I called her the fish whisperer,” Palka said. “She catches more fish than I do, she loves to fish.”
The southern Cariboo lakes make the area a perfect winter sports paradise. Generally, all you need is patience, warm clothes and a bucket, Palka said.
“I started with a bucket and a small fishing rod, but some people just use fishing line and a stick,” he said.
Over the years, however, he began to add more comforts to the home, loading the snowmobile with a tent, a space heater, a barbecue and a fish plate and an ice scoop to keep the hole from it freezes
Depending on what they hope to catch, Palka and Birnie will set up in the middle of the lake (for Kokanee) or on the edges, Eastern Brook Trout.
His favorite fish include Kokanee, Eastern Brook Trout, Kamloops Rainbow Trout and Burbot. Each requires a different fishing line to catch. For kokanee, the best-tasting fish, Palka said his line needs to go down at least 30 to 40 feet, while for trout, as little as 12 feet will do.
For bait, Palka uses shrimp or worms for most trout and mealworms for Kokanee. He and Birnie grow their own mealworms for this purpose. He also uses flashers and lures to attract fish. Sometimes, he will coat his bait with tuna oil.
There are fish in nearly every lake in the southern Cariboo, and Palka said the fishing has been particularly good so far this year, thanks in part to the warm weather.
He and Birnie have a few favorite spots, including Bobbs Lake, which is only 20 minutes from home and has native and Kokanee fish species such as rainbow trout.
He and Birnie were fishing on Bobbs Lake Valentine’s Day a few years ago. He brought a portable barbecue and cooked his catch and some home fries.
As they drank and ate with a bottle of wine on ice, he said that the lake was the talk of the day.
In general, all lakes are well stocked. Flounder can be found in Canim and Ruth lakes, although Palka tends to avoid Ruth due to its large volume of windfish.
Horse Lake, on the other hand, has the best-tasting Kokanee and is usually between one and two pounds, a perfect eating size.
Snag Lake is a shallow lake, six to 10 feet deep, ideal for catching eastern brook trout. Palka remembers going to that lake on a clear, cold day. He could see the fish swimming under his feet, which was a “really strange feeling”.
“When you’re fishing for eastern brook trout, you can look into the hole and see them come up on your bait, that’s the exciting part.”
He recommends that people going ice fishing this season pick up an inexpensive fish finder at a local game store. That will help them figure out the right depth to catch fish, though Palka said 20 to 25 feet always works for him.
“My biggest tip would be to check the thickness of the ice before you go out. You need a minimum of three inches, but with four inches it’s safe to go pretty much anywhere on the lake.
100 mile house
Sitting on top of an ice fishing bucket, Mike Palka waits for a bite while ice fishing. (Photo by Eldy Birnie)
A roll of ice-caught fish. (Photo by Eldy Birnie)
Mike Palka likes to bring a tent with him when ice fishing to stay warm. (Photo by Eldy Birnie)
Mike Palka cooks a freshly caught fish on his portable barbecue by the lake. (Photo by Eldy Birnie)