A miracle on ice: Sometimes the fish that got away, didn’t

Local angler Justin Maxwell shows off the trout that almost got away with columnist Jordan Rodriguez’s favorite ice fishing rod at Lake Cascade.
Local angler Justin Maxwell shows off the trout that almost got away with columnist Jordan Rodriguez’s favorite ice fishing rod at Lake Cascade. Special to the Idaho Statesman

Some fish stories have to be seen to be believed.

If only Al Michaels had been there to narrate the luckiest catch of my life so far.

The day began much like any ice fishing trip. I led students from my recent Ice Fishing 101 class up Idaho 55 to Lake Cascade. It was a beautiful day; the fish were biting, and spirits were high.

A couple hours in, we had iced a few nice trout and a pair of jumbo perch. As lunchtime approached, I noticed a bite on one of our anglers’ rods and tried to alert him. He turned around, but it was too late — his rod holder had toppled over, and the rod had disappeared through the ice.

I’d never seen a rod get pulled completely under before. I guess there’s a first time for everything, right?

An hour or so later, I noticed a light nibble on one of my poles. I set my jigging rod down and was preparing to flag down Justin, the youngest member of our party. He’d been running around helping everyone else land their fish all day, and I wanted him to reel this one in.

Before I could even call Justin’s name, my rod and its holder lurched forward and began tumbling toward the hole. I took two big steps and Superman-dived, bashing my knees violently against the ice. The entire apparatus was under water, so I plunged my left arm — glove, coat and all — down the hole, somehow managing to grab the rod holder.

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

Soaked, bruised and stunned by this sudden turn of events, I took a moment to collect myself.

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

Not five minutes later, one of my other rods got a bump. I grabbed it, felt a solid take and set the hook. Fish on!

As I reeled my catch toward the surface, something unbelievable transpired. My tiny, single-hook jig came into view just below the ice. There wasn’t a fish on it, but I still felt something kicking at the end of my line. Then it hit me — the jig had hooked my stolen rod!

I grabbed the lure and, sure enough, a single strand of fishing line was draped over the hook. I pulled on one end and up came R2, covered in weeds but otherwise no worse for wear.

Miraculously, the fish was still there, too. I reeled the rod thief in, and Justin scooped a feisty, 14-inch trout from the hole.

“R2!!!” I yelled in disbelief. “It wasn’t your time, buddy. It wasn’t your time!”

The group had gathered to watch the drama unfold, and they looked just as stunned as I was. Justin’s dad, Shane, summed it up best.

“What a story!” he exclaimed. “You’re going to have to write about this one. Although if I wasn’t here to see it myself, I don’t know that I would believe it.”

And that is one of fishing’s many virtues. Keep a close eye on those ice rods, and tight lines!

Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing Idaho waters since he was a teen. Share your fish stories, adventures, tips and tricks at