Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Fish Don't Swim Backwards

I used to love ice fishing. Oh the joy of getting all bundled up in my snowmobile suit and Sorels, schlopping a five gallon plastic bucket filled with my short little ice fishing pole, tackle box, bait, and that long spoon thingy with the holes in it across the freezing ice tundra. You know, the spoon thingy that you dip into the water in the hole you drilled to lift out the ice? I'd hoist the old steel ice auger with the spoon on the end over my shoulder, be sure I had my pretzel rods and a beer or two in my bulky pockets, and off I would go out onto the ice.  Crunch, crunch, crunch went my boots as I made my way to the spot I hoped would bring me luck.

Spoon thingy.
One day I got the bright idea of taking a tip up with me. For those of you who have never ice fished, a tip up is best described as a wooden frame with a small orange flag that sits over a hole in the ice. When a fish bites, usually a big fish, the flag "tips up" to let you know you've caught one.  I thought maybe I could catch a Pike, so I took it along just in case.  That particular day I went out by myself and set up at a favorite perch spot.

Using the cold steel auger, I bored a hole in the ice, set my bucket upside down next to it, and put some bait on my hook.  I used the spoon thingy to remove the ice that was beginning to form on the surface of the water in the hole, and dropped my line into the darkness. It wasn't long before I saw the bobber disappear, and I pulled out the first perch, a nice one.  I took the perch off the hook, put it in a bucket, and reset my line.  After about a half hour of pulling perch out of the dark depths of the lake, I decide to try the tip up.

I should have known this was not a good idea.  First, I had to bait the hook, and the bait was a large fat minnow.  A chub I think it was called.  I did not like that one bit.  After saying I was sorry a hundred times to that little fish, I tossed the baited line into the second hole, set the flag on the tip up, and went back to hole #1 to fish for more perch.

A modern tip up.
Not five minutes after I sat down the flag popped up.

I jumped up and began to reel in whatever was on the other end. And I thought of that poor minnow. I must say I was excited and a bit scared all at the same time. This was my first solo ice fishing trip. I never used a tip up before. I didn't know what to expect. It wasn't long before I pulled the large fish up out of the hole. It was Pike.

This Pike was huge. Like 24 inches long or maybe she was 3 feet, I don't know. But she was big.  And she had teeth. I had caught a Pike before while trolling the lake at night, but for some reason on this day it was like I realized for the first time Pike had teeth.

I also realized my Dad wasn't with me.  See, I didn't like to take fish off the hook.  Dad would do that for me.  I was ok with the smaller fish, but if I were to catch a bigger fish like Bass, or Salmon on the big lake, well I turned that task over to him.  Now, here I was on this stark, cold, barren lake. Alone. With a big Pike. With teeth.

"Ok," I thought to myself. "Now what."  I had to get the hook out of her mouth.  I had to touch her.  I reached down, and got real close, but I just couldn't do it.  Damn!  "Ok, Barb, don't be a wimp. You can do this."  Always creative, I took my stocking cap off, put it on the fish, got out my pliers, and successfully removed the hook from Pike's mouth. Whew.

Now what do I do with her? I could put her in the bucket and take her back with me, but I am sure she will flop out of the bucket and onto the seat of my car and then into the front seat only to bite me. No, that would not work. "I know," I said to no one. "If I let the fish lay here on the ice surely she will freeze to death and not be able to bite me". I looked at that poor fish there on the ice and immediately decided to return her home. So I took my heavy Sorel boot and pushed Pike back into the hole.


I watched as Pike bobbed up and down.  Why wasn't she swimming away, I wondered? Then I realized.  Fish don't swim backwards. Duh.

So now I am watching this mouth full of teeth bobbing up and down, and realized I have to take her out of the water once again, turn her around, and slide her back down the hole head first. Great.

I took my pliers and grabbed Pike by the mouth and pulled her up out of the hole. After Pike quit flopping around on the ice, I turned her around and scooted her once again with my Sorel boot, this time head first into the hole. I watched as Pike gratefully disappeared into the darkness.

Nimo hearing the tale of Pike.
I've often wondered about Pike and whether she lived a long and healthy life, telling all the little Pikes about the time she traveled to the top of the world and back again. I am sure the moral of the story is always the same, a warning to the little Pikelettes.

There is no such thing as a free lunch.

1 comment:

  1. Brought back memories both of ice fishing with my dad (I loved the spoony thing) and of catching pike (never caught one ice fishing that I can remember, though, and I NEVER took one off the hook myself--my dad always did that). We would go regularly to fish at the KOA campgrounds on the other side of U.S. Highway 30 from where we lived, and we always caught pike.

    One summer I was taking a break at the pier, dangling my fingers in the water and letting the sunfish take nibbles, when I noticed a line tied to a wood post that was taut and moving. So I began to pull and pull until I had a long pike up on the pier. I was SO excited. Here I'd caught this fish I hadn't even tried to catch, like it was just this gift to me! My dad came and took it off the line. He'd caught a pike that day too, but mine was longer than his. My favorite photograph from childhood of me and my dad is the two of us standing side by side, proudly holding up our pike.

    Had to laugh and cringe numerous times while reading this. I would have had the same responses, every step of the way.