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Pole Rescue

Angler Justin Maxwell shows off the rainbow trout that almost got away with columnist Jordan Rodriguez’s lucky ice fishing rod at Lake Cascade.

We’ve all heard our share of crazy fish stories. But some simply have to be seen to be believed — like a recent adventure on Lake Cascade that I have nicknamed the “Miracle on Ice.”

Earlier this winter, I taught a community learning class called Ice Fishing 101. As part of the class, we spent a day putting our lessons to use on the ice. Our group enjoyed a beautiful day on Lake Cascade, with sunny skies and a steady bite.

Around lunchtime, I noticed a bite on one of our angler’s rods and tried to alert him. He turned around, but it was too late—the fish had dragged the rod out of its holder and down through the ice. It was the first time I’d ever seen a rod disappear.

It would not be the last.

A little while later, one of my poles got a bump. Before I could even put my jigging rod down, the rod and its holder lurched toward the hole. I Superman-dived in an attempt to save the pole, bashing my knees and elbows against the ice. The entire setup was under water, so I plunged my left arm down the hole, somehow managing to grab the rod holder.

Sadly, the holder came up empty. My favorite, lucky ice rod—nicknamed R2 for its blue-and-white resemblance to the Star Wars droid—had been dragged to a watery grave.

I couldn’t believe our luck. I started the day having never lost a rod, and now we’d lost two in less than an hour.

“Oh well. That’s fishing,” I told the group. We’ll get the next one.”

I didn’t have to wait long. After about 5 minutes, another of my rods started bouncing. I hustled over and set the hook.

As I reeled the fish up, my tiny white jig came into view beneath the ice. There was nothing on it, but I still felt the thrash of a fish. Then it hit me—the jig had hooked R2!

I grabbed the lure and, sure enough, there was a strand of fishing line attached. I pulled up and retrieved R2, covered in weeds but otherwise no worse for wear.

Incredibly, the would-be rod thief was still attached. I reeled up a feisty 14-inch rainbow trout as the rest of the group watched in awe.

“What a story!” one student exclaimed. “If I wasn’t here to see it myself, I don’t know that I would believe it.”

The Miracle on Ice taught me a valuable lesson: I now flip the anti-reverse switch on my reels so that if a fish grabs the bait and runs, the handle will spin backwards rather than allowing the fish to pull against a tight line. In theory, this should keep R2 and the rest of my rods from going swimming again. I just have to remember to flip the switch back before setting the hook.

Ice season is winding down, but if you do squeeze in one more trip, keep a sharp eye on those rods. Tight lines!

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