Today Brewer and I are going to chase some hard water. We are heading to a lake just east of White Sulphur Springs in search for what has many names, Eel Pout and Poor Man’s Lobster are my favorites, but best known as Burbot. Burbot are known for being nocturnal, so we are planning on jigging for trout until the sun goes down, then we will set up some tipups and jig for Burbot with the fish finder.
First day back ice fishing for me this winter, and I always forget what it feels like to step onto a frozen lake. To be standing on the fish’s domain with just a few inches of ice separating us. Listening to the deep aquatic sounds of the ice strengthening. Deep breath, take it in. The lake is empty today, besides for us and a few black cows on the far end. We’re walking over shallow weed beds, and boulders are visible through the clear ice. I am sliding across the smooth surface with my rubber boots, striding as though I am wearing ice skates, looking for a darting fish. Nothing. Brewer looks like he could use some help rigging up and drilling holes, I better head over there.
Well, I guess I’m not much help with the auger. The ice is too slick for my boots, and turning the auger on just sort of spins me around the ice. Brewer’s got metal studs on and is able to punch holes like the ice pro stud that he is.
Maggots suspended a few feet from the bottom, in about 20 ft of water seem to be the ticket for the rainbows in the lake. They won’t touch my glob of bloodworms over here, and Brewer’s “Jaw Jacker,” basically an ice fishing rod set up over a hole like a tip up, is getting bites every ten minutes. I can’t believe the trout to be that picky, and will take maggots but not worms. But after a few more times watching the jaw jacker spring into a fish, I switch to maggots. And I catch a few more trout. But then the bite dies off as the lake begins to switch gears.
The sun is setting, and its starting to get cold faster than we are ready for. Brewer quickly pops the shanty open and gets some holes drilled inside, and starts the heater. I am getting the tip up ready and switching my jigging rod to a bigger spoon that glows in the dark, with a piece of sucker meat on the treble hook. It’s game time.
As the temperature quickly plummets below freezing the lake gets louder and louder. “Now is when she really speaks to you” Brewer says. Being on a frozen lake at night is like being in a tropical thunderstorm, only the thunder is below your feet, and you are obviously freezing. The rumbles and cracks are almost constant. Every hour or so one will sound butt clinchingly close, and you may even feel the ice shift under the shanty. It’s hard to fight the urge to run for solid ground, but Brewer and I remind each other that the ice is really just getting stronger.
It’s nice when fish behave like they are supposed to, and right as the sun disappeared behind the mountains I get a bite. Well, it’s a Burbot… Barely. Probably 10 inches or so, nothing close to the 10 pounder were looking for. I put him back in the hole and look outside the shanty towards the tip up. FLAG! We scramble outside the hut and run for the hole. Damn, as soon as the light went, the Burbot bite was on like that! Another undersize fish from the tip up, but we like where the action is going.
It doesn’t take Brewer long to mark a fish on the fish finder. With a few precise jigs, and gasps of excitement, he jacks his arms over his head to set the hook, fish on. This time a keeper, you can tell immediately by the bend in his tiny rod, and the sound of drag sporadically pulling off the reel.
A few hours later, as I am slowly bouncing my spoon on and off the bottom of the lake, I get a good grab. The Burbot bite is a lot slower, but more deliberate feeling then the pecking of a trout bite, and as I set the hook, I know I have a bigger Burbot on. “O Yeah, fish, fish!” Not quite as big as Brewer’s, but a keeper no doubt.
It’s about 10:30, and the propane is running low in the heater. With four keeper rainbows, and two Burbot, we figure it’s been a hell of an evening. We still have more work to do cleaning the fish tonight, so we call it. Time for the dreaded pickup of all the gear, and the long and dark drive home.1