When I talked with my friend, Joe Burke, about his recent ice fishing outing with 4-H kids at the Snake River Sporting Club, I fondly recalled ice fishing tales of my own.
In the old days of the 1970s, my wife, Meg, and I, along with friends, would go ice fishing on Jackson Lake. We would ski off the boat ramp at Signal Mountain or occasionally at Colter Bay or Leek’s Marina. For a few years you could warm up after fishing with a hot cup of soup at a lunch room where the present Signal Mountain facility stands.
We would ski not far off shore to open our holes through 8 inches to 2 feet of rock hard ice with a spud to chisel one opening per angler. We used a spoon-type lure to entice our evening meal to bite. We dressed warmly in the cold temperatures, which were bitter if you were not catching fish.
Meg always caught the most fish. She had the touch. My hole would be dead while hers was alive with action.
She would say, “Bert, you come over here and I will see if there is anything to catch where you are.”
There was always action at her spot, as if the fish had followed her. Go figure.
I am told that ice fishermen now use depth finders, some of which include a camera so you can watch your bait and the fish. Some use a GPS device to relocate hot spots from previous outings. Our GPS was putting a stick in the hole when you left to be able to find your hot spot next time.
I miss those days on the ice with Meg. You were likely to hear a coyote yipping but hopefully not the wind howling. Today you may hear a wolf howling, answered by a distant companion.
Here’s the story I wrote about ice fishing in “Valley So Sweet.”
For a good many years we went ice fishing. Mostly on Jackson Lake, but now and then on some of the smaller lakes we could reach on foot, or skis or snowshoes. (We, ah, eschewed snowmobiles. We couldn’t wrestle one out of any place it might get stuck.)
We always waited, too, until there was at least 6 inches of ice thickness. We wanted to be confident that we wouldn’t have any adventures we couldn’t walk away from. When out on lake ice and a temperature change or change in lake water level causes the ice to crack with a boom, that crack in the ice is always right between your feet.
And when the water in your fishing hole undulates after that boom, it’s nice to know there’s some space for it to expand into. Somehow reassuring.
We enjoyed the walk to the ice. I liked to punch holes in the ice; it was warming and I could see how thick the ice was before we went too far in the deal. I drilled at least two holes and Meg got started when the first hole was open. She opened her folding stool, took off her gloves! and hat! and began to fish. I usually stood. She caught fish. I usually didn’t.
She didn’t get cold. People who catch fish don’t, for some reason, get cold. People who don’t catch fish, do.
Nevertheless, we each enjoyed ice fishing. We often went with a gang of other devotees and made a day of it. We shared stories and jokes and lunches. We pretended we were happy when some other guy caught a fish and congratulated him on his skill. Actually, it was her, usually a her, we had to congratulate. No, not Meg, who wasn’t bad at this game, but another gal who always, I say always, outfished everybody. Simply everybody, every time. She’d catch fish when she paid attention, and when she didn’t. She caught fish if she lit a cigarette or took a bite of sandwich or dropped her rod or dozed off. She caught fish in her hole or in yours, if you got so exasperated you made her switch with you. She caught fish with your lure, your rod, and you didn’t with her gear.
It’s a miracle she survived.
Of course, you’re out there on flat ice with no cover, no place to hide or conceal anything. That helped her.
Oh, yeah. Out there in the open, when someone calls “Look at the mountains,” it’s only polite to look at the mountains for a decent time interval.
David Brackett, Jay Buchner and Joe Burke are 4-H Leaders of a sport fishing club. They teach kids the traditions and ethics of fishing. See photographer Mike Jackson’s blog, “Best of the Tetons” to view the Jan. 28 ice fishing outing with their kids. Fishing was good and smiles were abundant as the memories were made that day.
Field notes: Late in January, on Jan. 30, Terri Musetti, of Alpine, observed a white-winged crossbill and a northern pygmy owl, both in the vicinity of her feeder. Later in the afternoon it seems that the little owl was checking out the buffet available and preferred the crossbill to birdseed. Thanks to Bev Boynton for relaying the story.
Spring has not fully sprung yet but the unseasonably warm weather of last week has brought Frances Pollak’s daffodils up about a half-inch.
Another indication of an unseasonable event was a thunderstorm on Feb. 5, complete with lightning here in Jackson Hole.
The eruption of snowy owls that has been evident in the eastern United States has come to Wyoming. A sighting via Susan Patla reports that a snowy owl was seen Feb. 3 on Highway 116, a mile south of Sundance. The owl was sitting on a fence post, preening.
Several people — Brenda Allen, Franz Camenzind and myself — saw a single starling at a residence in Skyline Ranch on Feb. 7.
The same day Pauline McIntosh saw a boreal owl in Victor, Idaho.
Thunderstorm, starling, magpie breaking a branch to construct a nest, red-wing blackbird (seen in Schofield Patent by Patti Reilly), ravens counting, chickadees singing up a storm, nuthatches squeaking and longer days are happening. Only mid-February and it’s gonna snow like hell!