Stories from the Field

Early January whitefish

By Chris Viel

PC: Chris Viel

I find I struggle with technology. On one hand, it is something beautiful that has changed thousands of people’s lives for the better; but on the other, it tirelessly pulls us further and further away from our roots. Personally, I have dozens of high tech items that I would not go afield without, but now and then a moment comes along when you take a step back and get to see the full picture.

As the months changed, and a new year rolled in I was left with the itch to transition from hunting to an ice fishing mindset. The cold snap brought on by the mid-December winds built solid foundations of safe ice, and I was starting to crave some hard water fishing.

On this trip, I decided to travel about an hour and a half out of town in hopes of hooking into some Lake Superior whitefish. We were heading to one of my favorite spots and heard the ice was over a foot thick and that the bite was fairly consistent. I called a good friend and we started planning for what seemed like a perfect day. As the day prior to our trip came about we were met with some problematic news: the truck we were planning to take was in the shop for service and the spot we were planning to fish required a fairly substantial trek from the main road. Blame it on the excitement, or bring it back to my stubborn attitude, but I was not about to let this hike ruin our trip. We left the next morning and got to the trail just before light.

With all the gear loaded in the sled, we started our two and a half kilometer trip into the forest. Now, although I exercise regularly and would consider myself in good shape, there is nothing glamorous about hauling a hundred pound sled through the snow. Layer after layer, I removed pieces to avoid sweating until I was in my undergarments. Like all good things you have to work for, when we arrived at the shoreline and saw the sun peeking over the horizon, it made it all worth it.

We began drilling holes in areas I had saved from the last few years on my GPS, and then started after our quarry. First one, then two, then three fish had come off bottom to take a look and turned away. I even brought one over twenty feet into the water column and still no takers. I switched spoon colours, checked my minnow, and back down I went. At this point things became slow – we fished for over an hour until I saw the streaking red mark coming from the depths and after one missed attempt, it finally took my bait! The fight was fantastic, and before long I had a glistening three-pound whitefish on the ice.

Unfortunately, the bite was slow, and I only managed two smaller fish and a couple dozen drilled holes before we began thinking to make the trip back. During the last hour of the trip we decided to move once more back to our original area. One of the difficult parts of fishing Lake Superior is dealing with the large amount of baitfish that are usually in the area. In this circumstance, we were fishing approximately 60 feet of water, and the smelt school covered over half of that on the sonar in the central part of the water column. This is one of the many reasons I love my analog fish finder versus a flasher: it allows me to see the entire water column on one side of the screen when I am zoomed in on the other.

Not long after we dropped our spoons down did I notice the entire smelt school start to leave the screen. This was peculiar to me as they had consistently been around all day in every spot. As I stared at my screen I started noticing a large mark around the twenty-foot range. I quickly reeled my spoon up and the fish instantly hit. My drag screamed and my line was quickly forced against the ice and just as fast as I hooked it, my line got caught on the edge of the hole and pulled the hook.
Even though I lost this fish I felt like it was a crucial part to the day’s story. There are a number of reasons I love fishing Lake Superior, and one of them is that you never know what is at the end of your line. From big lake trout to salmon, coaster brook trout to steelhead, you never know what is swimming in the depths, and for me it is always a treat when you get your first glimpse at the surface.

We started our trip back, and were fortunate enough to have some great eating fish for the dinner table that evening. As we walked through the silent forest trail, I couldn’t help but think of all the small things that we pass by when we are not paying attention. There is something to be said for taking the slow route and the road less traveled. In our case, we were fortunate enough to see a plump grouse struggle to get through the fresh snow on the forest floor. As we closed the distance, it flew up and perched on a low hanging branch, strutting its feathers against the bright afternoon sun. It is moments like this that things seem to make sense. Fortunately, nature teaches us valuable lessons in ways we often overlook. For me, it was slowing down and taking everything in. Life is short and sometimes we need to stop and watch the grouse, for they are often in no hurry at all.

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