We left the morning after Christmas. Chased out of Detroit by the biggest snowstorm in years. The sparkling new King Ranch F-150 rumbled up I-75. I had never fished the Upper Peninsula before and the lure of fishable ice and walleyes the size of my arm were good reasons for a 6 hour truck ride.
It didn’t take much to spud through the ice. One solid shot splashed water on my Carhartts. We kept walking while the ice creaked and complained. Two or three turns from the auger had bait hanging under a line of flags. Damn. It felt good to be back on ice.
The sun set behind a quilt of heavy clouds while the shanty flooded. Our weight on the ice must have created a low spot. Water rushed through the jigging holes until our boots were completely underwater. One decent strike, and frozen toes, was it for the first night.
We weren’t the only “down-staters” in town. A group of 8 or 10 guys beat us to our spot the next morning. I’m not going to lie. I was scared as hell to walk past the footprints of the anglers who tested the ice before me but I wanted distance between my tip-ups and the drinking party. Every crackle from the ice pushed visions of an immanent icy-water death. Lines set. I ran back to the shanty with my heart pounding like a little bitch.
A flag popped within minutes. My first UP fish: a 20″ muskie. Another flag. A pike. Another flag. A bass. I was dialed in. Introducing myself to fish after fish just waiting for a crack at old Mr. Walter. Which would be my first walleye thru the ice.
I set one line in “the swamp hole”. A flooded expanse on thin ice. I figured the fish would know that I was petrified to venture back to that line so they’d hit it. Yeah. That worked.
The spool was smoking by the time I got to the tip-up. The entire frame rocked on the ice. I grabbed the line and set the hook. Wet line ran through my hands with a metallic squeaky sound. I gained on him but there wasn’t any furious head-shakes. He ran again. Straight to the bottom. My feet went numb when I saw that gold flash and that giant, reflective eyeball. I scooped him onto the lake. The white spot on the bottom of his tail matched the snow. He looked perfect. Like this fish was made just for me. Just for this moment.
The adrenaline kept pumping. It turned out to be one of the best days I’ve ever had on the ice. 5 keeper walleye, an eater-sized pike and more largemouth battles than a pre-spawn, early spring trip. At our best estimate we put 50+ fish on the ice. And an encounter with a bald eagle who thought we were interested in sharing one of our keeper ‘eyes. He flew off disappointed.
Back in town, the lady at the gas station looked concerned. Twelve consecutive hours on the lake and I must have looked like a zombie.
“Criminey. I’m surprised you boys didn’t fall through. You were out there all day? How many did you catch?”
I responded with some of the best words an angler could ever say.
“Yeah. We got a few.”