Reflecting on piles of perch

By Bradley Carleton | Contributor

Once in awhile ice fishermen hit the jackpot.

I was recently witness to such an event and, after considerable soul searching, have accepted that it is all right once in awhile.

A few weeks ago, I decided to drive north to the St. Albans Bay area with my friend Ozzie. We’d heard word that the yellow perch were hitting hard. Now before all the hardcore ice fishermen condemn me for mentioning “their spot,” let me just say that by the time you read this column, the situation will have changed considerably and the perch will have moved on to other shallows.

Here’s the story. Ozzie and I got a late start and by 7:30 a.m. we were still unsure where to dip our lines. Pulling up to the Georgia Shore municipal playground, we saw about 30 trucks. “This is a good sign,” I said. When we looked over the embankment, the ice was littered with people. And they were raising their rods what seemed like every five to ten seconds.

“That looks promising,” Ozzie replied.

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The author enjoying his time ice fishing.

I had just acquired a new Vexilar FL8SE, an economy-grade fish finder, and I was eager to try it out, but maybe they weren’t hiding today.

We dragged our sleds out onto the ice and lined up parallel to the shoreline. We cut a hole with my hand auger and found about seven inches of good ice. Just to be sure, I dropped the business end of my Vexilar down the hole and it lit up like a Christmas tree with colors of red, orange and green. There were fish holding to the 12-foot bottom.

I dropped a brightly colored bibbit with three spikes on the hook down the hole. (“Spikes” are maggots for any uninitiated ice fisherfolk out there. The terminology keeps the squeamish amateurs grossed out and swearing that they will never ice fish.)

One second later, I had a bite. On the second bite I lifted my 24-inch ultra lite ice rod quickly and the fish was hooked. I reeled him up and, with a knowing wink at my partner in crime, sent the bibbit back down to the shallow bottom. Another second later, another fish was on. And on it went.

I began to put back any fish less than six inches, reasoning that my mother-in-law loved to eat “crispy tails” that are cleaned and fried so that there are two nice pieces of meat held together by a backbone and a tail—no ribs or other bones. They are eaten by peeling off the meat from either side of the backbone and devoured with the “crispy tail” dipped in tartar sauce. Truly a Vermont tradition.

Lost in my reverie it began to snow, lightly. The fish just kept biting, not more than 10 seconds apart. The snow fell harder until I could no longer see the shoreline just 100 yards away.

My bucket was filling up and the fish just kept coming. Ozzie was 20 yards away from me doing the same. We were laughing like fools in a snowstorm.

Then suddenly at 11 a.m. it all stopped like someone had turned off the spigot.

We moved around looking for where the fish had gone. As we drilled holes moving south along a small pressure crack, closer then further from shore, we noticed two young guys who had never stopped pulling them in.

If I subscribe to the premise that Native Americans espouse—to take no more than what one needs—how do I feel about commercial fishing?

We walked over and introduced ourselves. They told us what they were using and offered us their holes. But what was more impressive than their generous behavior was a jet sled full of perch—probably over 1,000 yellowbellies in all. It seemed our new friends Jon and Devyn had hit the jackpot.

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Jon and Devyn with their jet sled full of perch.

“Hope you’re not planning on cleaning all this yourself,” I joked.

“No way! We’re selling ‘em!” Jon proclaimed. “There’s probably about $100 worth of fish there.” He asked us if we wanted any. We declined, saying that we each had a half a bucket and we didn’t want to clean any more than what we had.

My efforts to comprehend the good fortune that these two young men had experienced posed a moral dilemma for me—what is too much?

If I subscribe to the premise that Native Americans espouse—to take no more than what one needs—how do I feel about commercial fishing? Secondly, were these two guys, who have never had this kind of luck, and were not commercial fishermen, damaging the resource? After considerable deliberation, I chose to accept that these two young men, with their generous offers of lures and bait and even sharing their “lucky holes,” were not commercial fishermen and may never experience another day like this one.

I was quite content with what, for me, turned out to be 114 yellow perch. That was all I needed that day to contribute something to the Friendship Lodge’s fish fry on Saturday.
Reflecting on the day’s events, I still do not support commercial fishing in our lakes and ponds, unless it is only for invasive species like the white perch. But I can share the exuberance of someone’s good luck on a day like this.

Everybody deserves at least one of these days when spending a lifetime on the lake.

Bradley Carleton is Executive Director of SacredHunter.org, a nonprofit that seeks to educate the public on the spiritual connection of man to nature and raises funds for TraditionsOutdoorMentoring.org, which mentors at-risk young men in outdoor pursuits.

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