Friday, February 20, 2009

Some Late-Season Ice Fishing Thoughts

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Ice fishing is much more than the tired old phrase that stay-at-home people say about ice fishermen. You know the one: “An ice fisherman is a jerk on one end of the line waiting for a jerk on the other end.”

Ha, ha, ha! That old saying has been around long enough to vote, drink beer, and grown long white whiskers.

It’s most often uttered by a gray or white-haired old-timer, many of which are my age or even younger. They think it’s funny.

Not me, I see something totally different whenever I go ice fishing. There are people having fun catching fish, but there are many more things that can brighten a winter fishing day. For instance:

*I was fishing Green Lake near Interlochen several years ago. Another angler had been fishing about 200 yards away, and had caught some perch and panfish. The fishing slowed down so he wandered 300 yards down the ice, augered two or three more holes, and began fishing.

My head was bowed as I studied the spring bobber on the end of my ice-fishing rod. A dark shadow floated over the me and the ice, casting a large shadow, and I looked up. A bald eagle had swooped down over me, and had landed on the ice. The big bird was gobbling up the man’s catch, and he spotted the eagle and began yelling. It wasn’t until the guy was within 100 yards that the eagle lifted off and flew away, a perch dangling from his beak like a yellow cigar.

*Another time while fishing a small lake near Lake Ann for bluegills, there was just me and one other guy on the lake. The bluegill action was fairly steady but the fish were small.

I was thinking a burger and hot coffee when I spotted a movement. I looked down the ice, and a coyote was walking slowly across the snow-covered ice. The animal looked at me, turned back and kept crossing. Once it hit the shore, it bounded up the hill and disappeared from sight.

*Another time, on another lake near Lake Ann, we arrived just as the sun was coming up. The first two twists of the ice auger apparently woke some roosted turkeys, and they began gobbling at the grating.

They gobbled and double-gobbled, and eventually flew down. One bird, spotted at 200 yards, wore a snow-dragging beard. A big knot of frozen snow clung to the end of the beard, and with every step he took, his beard swung like a pendulum of a big wind-up grandfather clock.

*A dozen years ago, while fishing Crystal Lake near Beulah, an angler broke through thin ice near shore. His two buddies were nearby with a long rope, and they yanked him out of the water.

The man was visibly shaking, partly from the adrenalin rush and partly from the cold, and the others rushed him to shore and a warm car. He didn’t suffer any problems except for a soaking and bruised pride.

*On more than one occasion, while fishing for panfish, I’ve hooked a big fish. The strike is often sudden, and line goes screeching off the reel while we stand and wonder what we’ve hooked.

I fought a big fish on light line for about 30 minutes on Manistee Lake years ago, and suspect I had hooked one of the monster northern pike that the lake was once noted for.

The fish took line, 25 yards at a time, and I’d slowly ease it back toward the ice hole. Back and forth went the battle, and two or three other people stood nearby to watch the scrap.

Finally, after 30 minutes of the line sawing against the bottom of the ice hole, I had the fish positioned under the hole, A man kneeled alongside the hole, and we both watched a long green fish with white kidney-bean shaped spots dotting it side as a pike of 20 pounds or more took out a bit more line.

This fish was being played with kid gloves and a soft hand. Both of us, the gaffer and me, knew the likelihood of losing this enormous fish was very good but I was committed to the struggle. He was willing to gaff the fish under the chin if an opportunity presented itself.

In time, the fish neared the hole and was wobbling, rolling over on one side to then over on the other, and we knew this was a critical time. My friend with the gaff lowered it down into the hole, and asked if I could raise the fish another two feet.

I tried, very gently, and the fish rolled again and the line parted with hardly a sound. It wasn’t my fault or his, but the pike had caught a lucky break.

Feeling bad lasted about 30 seconds, and we both muttered: “What a fish.” We knew that going fishing doesn’t guarantee a catch, and often it’s other little things that happen that make each outing spectacular.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/20 at 03:40 PM
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