Wednesday, March 6, 2013

March Madness

For many of us, the outdoors holds a special attraction at this time of year. It is the “in between time” when weather can go from a full blown blizzard one day to a warm sunny day on the ice the next. It’s difficult to predict what traditional outdoor pursuit might play best given the vagaries of the forecasts.

We are anticipating the ice going out and the first run of bullhead up into the swamps, but the ice may still be safe enough to venture out into the sheltered bays for a last chance at some toothy pike known colloquially as “gators.”  Northern pike swim into the shallows in March to spawn and feed on the perch seeking the same procreative instinct. If we can identify safe ice (use a “spud” or ice chisel to test the strength and composition of the ice) and stay in shallow areas, or setbacks, where if worse came to worse, we might only be in 2-3’ of water. This is where we want to set up our tip-ups, or “jacks”. A big shiner or perch bait on a snelled hook tied on a steel leader with a few hundred feet of braided line should do the trick. And while we’re waiting for the toothsome monoliths, let’s jig for perch!
"Dot Com" On His Bucket

Sitting on a pickle bucket and tending tip-ups can be wonderfully peaceful – or nerve wracking intense. Depending on the bite- you may find yourself breathless after sprinting for one flag after another. Sunny days in the back bays can find you staring at the sky with wonder as the snow geese return north, barking in their cacophonous Hudson Bay dialect. Mallards are circling the swamp searching for open water and testing their aeronautic skills to determine which drake is a superior flyer and thus worthy of the hen’s reproductive attention. Robins begin singing their joyous melody and we are lost in reverie as nature begins to awaken from her deep winter’s slumber.

Suddenly, we get a tug on our ultralight rod and a school of perch begin nipping gingerly on our bait. The rod tip barely wiggles downward. We let the tip down toward the hole and count to three, allowing the piscatorial prevaricator to swallow the bait. Then we lift the rod quickly and it bows down toward the mysterious world under the ice.

Adrenalin pumps through our body the same way it has since we were young and were reeling in our first fish. It never loses its thrill. As the yellowbelly slips into the icy cylinder we raise the rod and reach out to the shining specimen. It’s a big hen, full of roe. (Some people eat these eggs, but I have tried them a dozen different ways and they still taste awful to me – and I LOVE caviar!)
A Big Hen

We are hypnotized by the beauty of the big perch, when motion catches our attention out of the corner of our eye. 

It’s a flag! One of our tip-ups has been tripped and we sprint for the trap. 15 year old Zachary Gregory, formerly of Charlotte, arrives first. As we approach we can see the reel under the ice, spinning. Carefully we raise the jack out of the hole and gently apply pressure to the braided ice line. We can feel the fish swimming with the bait. We let the line run through our fingers creating an ever so slight tension, allowing the pike to swallow the minnow and get the hook firmly planted in his jaw.

The reel stops whining. He is swallowing the bait.
We jerk the line quickly and set the hook.

Then the fun begins. It’s a heavyweight fight and this time the beast has the advantage. With his powerful jaw and razor sharp teeth he can easily turn and bite through the monofilament line above the leader. The battle rages on for several minutes before we can pull him closer to the hole. As his head appears in the translucent cylinder of ice, we are all proclaiming “Nice fish!” Our young protégé’ deftly works the behemoth into the hole and raises his head out far enough for us to use a gaffe (never put your hand near the mouth of one of these “gators”) and pull him out of the depths.

 Zack cradles the fish with pride and squats down on one knee for the hero shot.
Zack Cradles His Gator
 If you’d like to learn more about our outdoor mentoring program and meet Zack in person, please consider attending our first annual fund raising Wild Game Dinner on Saturday, March 23 at The Lodge at Shelburne Bay. Tickets are $75 and are limited to just 75 seats. For reservations, please call 802-238-6176 or email us at