Sunday, April 14, 2013

When Going Gets Tough

It began smack in the middle of February with my yearly journey to see a longtime fishing buddy, Wayne from Maine. For weeks leading up to the trip, I anxiously watched weather forecasts waiting for a windless cold snap that never came. Instead, Sebago Lake remained mostly ice-free for the second year in a row and the annual lake trout derby we've built a tradition around was canceled again. Even though the Big Bay would've required a boat to fish, thankfully two of Sebago's smaller bays had enough ice for our liking and our plans to chase "togue" remained intact.

As always on the eve of our first day of fishing, we made the customary stop to oldschool Jordan's General Store nestled on Sebago Lake's western shore. Jordan's is a tiny one-stop shop for essentials like bait, beer and recent intel from Greg Cutting, the resident lake trout whisperer. Greg had been ice fishing Sebago the past three days with very little to show for it, but he assured us the fish had to eat eventually and why not during the two days I was in town?  Just before leaving, we huddled around a big bathymetric map on the wall and picked a spot that had treated us well in the past; one that could be reached on foot and offered a nice array of drop-offs that lakers seem to love.

Ice huts dot Sebago Lake's Lower Bay

A collection of Swedish Pimples, a tried and true lake trout lure.

After a fun night of catching up over drinks and darts, we gave the sun time to creep up before staking our claim between a few groups already established on Sebago's Lower Bay. In depths ranging from 40 to over 100 feet of water, our crew of four set a large spread of tip-ups with dead suckers on bottom and live smelt hanging just off. In between I drilled a few dozen extra holes for jigging, which is easily my favorite way to fish for lakers. It had been exactly one year since I'd last targeted them and optimism was high right out of the gate. Weather conditions seemed fishy and we dropped down everything but the kitchen sink, yet I can count on one hand the amount of marks that showed up on the electronics that day. Still, a tough outing on Sebago was nothing new for us, nor did it keep us from having a blast in a most beautiful winter setting. Plus we still had a whole day of ice fishing ahead of us, right?

It's a proven fact that breakfast sandwiches taste better on Sebago Lake

Tools of the trade

Jigging like a madman

Day 2: Hell on Ice

When I awoke in the dark the following morning, the wind was already howling and there was a fresh coat of snow covering the ground. The forecast for the day wasn't a good one, but we were accustomed to nasty weather, especially on derby weekend. It became clear just how bad it was going to be while we were unloading our gear in the empty lakeside parking lot. No one, I repeat, no one else was stubborn (read dumb) enough to be out in those punishing conditions, but Wayne and I only get to ice fish together one weekend a year so it wasn't up for debate. 

The chosen location was a different spot than the day before and required about a mile trek to where two points bottleneck the bay. The spot looked great on paper and it made sense to try an area where lake trout could easily ambush prey. The only bad thing about walking a mile to a spot is the walk back and we probably definitely would have abandoned the plan if the wind was in our face to start. Instead we trudged single file in each others footsteps to our destination over 80 feet of water. The pop-up shelter would be a Godsend this day and we all had to work together to make sure it didn't blow across the lake while setting it up. Once everything was anchored down, I drilled some holes inside the hut and set up shop. Wayne, his son and friend were crazy enough to set traps outside, but I focused my efforts inside and hoped the lake trout would come to me.

Even the little things were tough on day two

Brutal is the first word that comes to mind when describing conditions on day two. The situation was so hellish outside the shelter that it easily ranked among the top three worst weather days I've ever fished in. Nevertheless, we still had our chances to hook up. Over the course of the morning, about a half dozen trout showed up on the screen and you could almost cut the tension with a knife each time it happened. No matter what we danced in front of their faces, we couldn't get them to chase.  

With a mile walk and a four hour drive hanging over me, it was an easy decision to call it a day before lunch. The next 45 minutes was something I wouldn't wish on my worse enemy. It was a head-down-hands-in-pockets walk back to the lot, only looking up every few minutes to make sure I was still on the right trajectory. Wayne and I can look back on it now and laugh, but it was tough day to be an ice fisherman. But it's tough days like that Sunday on Sebago that make the good days so sweet. And little did I know that I would have a couple really good days on another famous lake several hundred miles away just a week later.

The walk of shame

No comments:

Post a Comment