The old man goes ice fishing – again
I know we should be talking turkey hunting right now, or mushroom picking, or trolling for salmon, pike or walleye, but as I write this during the last week of March, we here in the north are squeezing out some last-minute ice fishing excursions, so I still have that on my mind.
Typically, in this neighborhood, we can fish on the ice into the first week of April, but this year the ice formed late in many places and broke up early. It was still hanging on here and there. In one of the spots where it was hanging on, fishermen were catching perch.
It’s a 30-minute walk from the parking lot to this bay through a well-groomed, wooded trail that is easily traversed by snowmobiles and four-wheelers, neither of which were in my possession.
The last time I walked in to this spot, I was a much younger fisherman. On that occasion, I was prompted to go by a former colleague of mine, the late Paul Rodiger of Sault Ste. Marie, who had walked in on a much rougher trail and told me of his success the next day at work. I took his advice and went fishing that day. He came out on the ice later, and I can still picture him headed across the bay, bucket of gear and minnows in one hand, spud as a walking stick in the other. We both caught some perch.
On the drive down this time, with doubts on whether I would be able to make the hike, I thought, “Paul was much older than I was when he was walking in to this spot. I shouldn’t have any problems.”
Then I started doing the math, and I realized that I am just as old now as Paul was then. And he wasn’t dragging a two-man, portable ice shack, power auger, and propane heater.
Nevertheless, I headed out, with Paul as my inspiration.
The trail was easy, but the ice was slick. A lack of snow this year made for tough walking. I should have brought ice skates. I made it out to where Paul and I used to fish and I punched a couple holes and set up my shack. I immediately found perch – lots of them – sometimes as many as a half-dozen clustered around my hook. Most of them were no bigger than the minnows I was using for bait.
If I hadn’t been in an ice shack, the tiny perch would have stolen a lot of bait; but since I could see what was going on from inside the shack, I was able to pull my lure away from the bait-stealers. Every now and then, a keeper would swim in. After a couple hours, I had a dozen decent perch on the ice and had lost a few others. It was enough for a meal for my wife and me.
On the walk out, the sun was setting and I still had Paul on my mind. I wondered if he would have enjoyed sitting in the warm shelter with the added bonus of being able to keep his bait away from the dinks. I was sure he would have caught more than I did, because that’s the kind of fisherman he was. He always caught more than anyone.
At the trailhead, there were no trucks left in the lot, but there was a five-gallon bucket sitting by itself under a parking lot light. I walked over and looked in it, and nearly fell over when I found it contained 13 perch, plus another little bucket with enough minnows to fish the next day.
There was no sense leaving the buckets in the lot. Spring was bringing the skunks out. They would have eaten the contents by morning and the returning gulls would have cleaned up any scraps.
I took it all home, wondering if maybe Paul’s spirit left me the perch that he would have caught had he been out.
If the owner is looking for them, I still have the buckets. However, I seem to have misplaced the perch.