Preston Vargo and Tommy Edwards have been lifelong fishing and hunting chums. Together, the duo have put their fair share of fins, fur and feathers on the tarmac. But, this ice fishing season has been far and away one of their best.
Like many ice anglers this winter, the Port Henry friends have encountered great ice conditions coupled with trophy fish. The icing on the cake, however, came Feb. 21, when Vargo put an 18-pound, 2-ounce laker on the frozen tundra of Lake Champlain.
Shortly thereafter, Tommy followed up with 15-pounder of his own.
"I've been waiting a long time for that one," Preston said with a quick laugh. "Tommy and I have been fishing together since we were kids, but we've never caught anything like this."
Preston said he and Tommy spent a ton of days tip-up fishing the Big Pond just north of Port Henry this winter and have had excellent luck with mid-sized lakers.
But, when the flag teetered skyward on one of Preston's tip-ups at about 9:30 a.m. that Saturday and he set the hook, he knew the fish on the other end was one of his best ever.
"The fish saw the hole at least five times," Vargo recalled. "It was a good 10-minute fight before we could get a gaff in it."
Vargo said the fish was caught along an underwater shelf where the water drops quickly from about 11 feet to 30. Suckers and shiners were the preferred bait of the day.
Edwards got his laker about an hour and a half later in nearly the same location. Both had been feeding heavily on our newest non-native introduction to Champlain - alewives.
"Tommy's was burping them up as soon as we got it on the ice," Vargo said.
The two fish measured 36 and 33 inches long, respectively. Vargo said he took his to Warrensburg taxidermist Carl Brainard for permanent display.
Interestingly, Preston said Barton Swan accompanied he and Tommy to the same location the following weekend and caught a 17-pounder of his own.
"We're always looking for that next size bigger," Preston said. "We're going for a 20-pounder next time."
But, if you think you're going to follow the two friends to their honey hole - think again. They dress in ice camo, paint their tip-ups white and double back on their tracks several dozen times before getting there.
Ok, not really. But, could you blame them if they did?
John Gereau is managing editor of Denton Publications and an avid outdoorsman. He can be reached at email@example.com.