Payback is beautiful
On a recent fishing trip to a small, virtually featureless lake, save for one giant point that separated the body of water into two halves, I began to wonder where to get started. It was a sunny day with unseasonably warm temperatures and a slight wind. My friend Adam and I began our adventure from the snowed-in boat launch where several other trucks were parked.
Following the snowmobile and ATV tracks from the shore out to and across the middle of the smaller half of the lake, I remarked to my companion that I really had no idea where to go for the crappies and pike that inhabited the lake, other than around the point. We trudged along by foot, towing the flip-over shack and the auger behind us. Halfway to our destination, I saw a cardboard box about 50 yards off the beaten path.
It looked like a marker for a spearing hole, designed to warn those traveling by vehicle of the recent large opening. We walked by it and continued on toward the pine tree marking the end of the point. As we walked we saw tiny footprints in the slight layer of snow that covered the ice.
"Crows were here," I said, knowing that the scavengers frequented old fishing sites looking for dead minnows and crumbs of food.
I looked around and saw a few frozen fishing holes, slightly darkened by the reddish water underneath them. Next to one hole lay an empty pack of Pall Mall cigarettes. The gears in my brain started turning. I grabbed the lake map from my jacket pocket and stared it down. It provided me with the same information as before: this side of the lake was about 80 acres with virtually no contour to it, just a gradually sloping basin, supposedly filled with crappies and pike.
"No one would sit around and smoke a pack of cigarettes if they weren't catching any fish," I surmised out loud and my friend agreed, even though we recognized that the depth wasn't the same as where we had found crappies on other area lakes.
I picked up the auger and prepared to re-open one of the old holes. As I set the blade in the frozen slush cone, the thin layer of ice in its center gave way and the auger fell straight through. The hole had just recently been fished. With highs in the thirties for the past few days, the spot could have been used within the last 24 hours.
I dropped the transducer of my Vexilar in with a splash and the screen lit up.
"There's fish here," I exclaimed as I rapidly fumbled through my rods for one rigged with a small spoon.
I pinched a minnow in half and impaled the head on the hook and dropped it down. The fish flew up to it. I felt a slight tap and set the hook - a swing and a miss. The fish felt small, and I winced with memories of the previous day's outing exploring a rock reef where all I caught were perch no bigger than seven inches, a paltry reward for punching over 100 holes and freezing my feet in slush for over five hours.
I bobbed the spoon a couple more times and felt a hit. This time the hook found its mark and the light-action rod doubled with the stress of a good-sized panfish. I watched the red blip zoom up the sonar screen as I reeled it in. A gape-mouthed crappie surfaced, well over 10 inches in length.
"CRAPPIES," I shouted to my companion, "grab a rod and kick open that other hole by the cigarette pack."
Within minutes, we had 14 crappies on the ice, all 10-to-12 inches in length. The fish would smash our little chartreuse spoons with reckless abandon. It was a strange place and time to be catching fish; 17 feet deep on a featureless basin in the middle of a bright and sunny afternoon, as opposed to the find-35-feet-and-wait-for-dark bite my friend and I had experienced on other local bodies of water. We had our ten-fish limits within 20 minutes, and were almost sad that we had to move on. I picked up the empty blue Pall Mall package and placed it in my pocket. We began packing our gear to head to the shallows of the basin in search of pike. As we did, we saw two lightly-geared anglers heading toward us.
"You found my spot," one of them said as they approached, "Everyone usually just passes this place by as they head to the point, even when we're fishing here. They look at us like we're crazy," the man, who was a high school classmate of Adam's, continued.
"Well, we wouldn't have stopped, except for the cigarettes; which one of you smokes Pall Malls?" I enquired as I held the package up for inspection.
The man glared at his friend, and pointed to him.
"We usually pack everything up so no one realizes how good this place is, we must have missed it in the dark last night," he responded, recognizing how we had discovered the spot.
"I won't tell anyone about this place if you don't," I said with a smile as we headed to a nearby shoreline, chuckling to myself the whole way.
I have always been one to pick up after others and myself whenever I am on the water, and I have developed an eye for old fishing line, pop cans, and chew tins. Having a cleaner area to fish from has always been the only reward, and that is enough for me.
But sometimes, in addition to that feeling, the reward for having an eye for garbage is gigantic green crappies, and payback is a beautiful thing...in our outdoors.