Once in awhile ice fishermen hit the jackpot.
I was recently witness to such an event, and after considerable soul searching, have accepted that it is alright once in awhile.
One of my ice fishing buddies, Ozzie, and I drove north a few weeks ago to the St Albans Bay area on Lake Champlain, in search of a rumor that the yellow perch were hitting hard. Now before all the hardcore ice fishermen condemn me for mentioning “their spot”, let me just say that by the time you are reading this column, the situation will have changed considerably and the perch will have moved on to other shallows.
Here’s the story. Ozzie and I got a late start and by 7:30 am were still not sure where we would go to try our hand. I had just acquired a new Vexilar FL8SE, an economy grade fish finder, and I was eager to try it out.
We pulled up to the Georgia Shore municipal playground and saw about 30 trucks. “This is a good sign” I said. When we looked over the embankment, the ice was littered with people. Not just any people, but people who kept raising their rods quickly and hooking fish with what seemed like every five to ten seconds. “That looks promising” Ozzie replied.
We dragged our sleds out onto the ice and lined up with what seemed like a straight line paralleling the shoreline. We cut a hole with my hand auger and found about seven inches of good ice. I dropped the business end of my Vexilar down the hole and it lit up like a Christmas tree with colors of red, orange and green signifying fish holding to the 12’ bottom.
I dropped a brightly colored bibbit with three spikes on the hook. “Spikes” are what ice fishermen use to refer to maggots. (It keeps the squeamish amateurs grossed out and swearing that they will never ice fish.)
Less than one second passed and I had a bite. Then on the second bite I lifted my 24” ultra lite ice rod quickly and the fish was hooked. I quickly reeled him up, looking at Ozzie, and winking sent the bibbit back down to the shallow bottom. Less than a second later another fish was on. And another and another.
I began to put back any fish less than six inches, reasoning that my mother-in-law loved to eat “crispy tales” which are cleaned and fried so that there are two nice pieces of meat held together by a backbone and a tail – no ribs or other bones. They are eaten by peeling off the meat from either side of the backbone and devoured with the “crispy tail” dipped in tartar sauce. Truly a Vermont tradition.
As I was lost in my reverie it began to snow, lightly. The fish just kept biting, not more than 10 seconds apart. It began to snow harder until I could no longer see the shoreline just 100 yards away.
The bucket began filling up. I kept pulling up fish and my friend Ozzie was doing the same 20 yards away from me. We were like two laughing fools in a snowstorm.
Then suddenly, at 11:00 it shut off like, someone had just turned off the spigot.
We moved around looking for where the fish had gone. As we drilled holes moving south along a small pressure crack, closer to shore, then further from shore, we noticed two young guys who had never stopped catching fish.
We walked over to them and introduced ourselves. They told us what they were using and offered us their holes. But what was more impressive than their generous behavior was a jet sled full of perch. Probably over 1,000 yellowbellies in all. It seems our new friends, Jon and Devyn, had hit the jackpot.
“Hope you’re not planning on cleaning all this yourself” I joked. “No way! We’re selling ‘em!” Jon proclaimed. “There’s probably about $100 worth of fish there.” He asked us if we wanted any. We declined saying that we each had a half a bucket and we didn’t want to clean any more than what we had.
My efforts to comprehend the good fortune that these two young men had experienced posed a moral dilemma for me.
“What is too much?
If I subscribe to the premise that Native Americans espouse; to take no more than what one needs, how do I feel about commercial fishing? Secondly, were these two guys, who have never had this kind of luck, and are not commercial fishermen, damaging the resource? After considerable deliberation, I chose to accept that these two young men, with their generous offers of lures and bait, even sharing their “lucky holes,” were not commercial fishermen and may never experience another day like this one.
I was quite content with what, for me, turned out to be 114 yellow perch, making up my half bucket, was all I needed that day so that I could contribute something to the Friendship Lodge’s Fish Fry on Saturday.
In conclusion, I still do not support commercial fishing in our lakes and ponds, with the exception of invasive species like the white perch, but I can share the exuberance of someone’s good luck on a day like this.
Everybody deserves at least one of these days when spending a lifetime on the lake.