Really? It’s going to rain? That was my thought as I was thinking of preparing for some ice fishing last weekend.
I guess it’s March. Horrific, vengeful March.
We’ve all heard the saying, “In like a lion, out like a lamb” describing March. I beg to disagree. Many times, March comes in like a lion and departs like an angry lion. Or, at least, a very evil lamb.
March can be winter, and March can be spring. Often, it tries to be both simultaneously, resulting in weather that spits in your face like an angry snowman that knows it has one foot, or at least one giant snowball section, in the grave.
It might be 70 degrees, it might be below zero. It could rain, or it could snow. Often it’s both. Sleet, hail, and even lightning might join in on the fun. I even recall a sunny day or two. I kid not.
Remember last year? We got buried under 20 inches of snow on the last day of February. By St. Patrick’s Day, it was in the 70s. There was a parade in downtown Rhinelander and a Brewers (Cactus League) game was on TV. Except for the remnants of rapidly-melting snow, one might have thought it was July.
Expecting brutal punishment in the unseasonably warm weather’s wake, we collectively braced ourselves for another blast of winter. It never really showed. Heck, March actually went out like a lamb. It was kind of disappointing.
The cabin-fever-plagued, crotchety, indecisive, endless, uncomfortable, salt- and mud-stained month of March can be one of the funest months of the year. Even outside.
It’s kind of sad, I suppose, to those that enjoy the ski and snowmobile trails. The inevitable deterioration is underway. I watched a group of determined snowmobilers enjoying a slushy ride last weekend – a cold rain pelting their helmeted faces.
I admired their fortitude even as I was calling my own into question. OK, maybe I wasn’t really questioning a decision not to ice fish in the cold rain. Really, it seemed sensible. A sign not that I’ve become wimpy, but that I’ve matured.
I might have felt compelled to chose TV and a book over the frozen surface of a lake last weekend, but March isn’t all bad.
The days grow longer, the temps, on average, are an improvement over the preceeding months, travelling the woods on foot often becomes easier and the real possibility of ice fishing without freezing your extremities exists.
The transition from winter to spring is not always a pretty one, but it is a welcome one in my book. It might be an unpopular position, but I like to see that transition period go grudgingly. March gave up too easily last year.
During years when I’ve had a slow start to ice fishing, I often get my fill of it when the days grow longer.
It’s time, here in Wisconsin, to transition from tip-ups to tip-downs. From shiners and suckers to crappie minnows and waxies.
Walleye and northern seasons have closed, but now you’re about to catch them incidentally, on tip-downs rigged for crappies, at a higher rate than you did when you were targeting them.
That’s what happens to me, anyway.
I’ll set up for delicious crappies and pull out delicious walleyes. At least they would be delicious, but I have to let them go. No one informs the walleyes that the season is closed.
Pike too, of course. Often, they are downright unfriendly to light panfish tackle. While I’ve landed a number while fishing for panfish, many others have relieved me of hook, line and sinker. Occasionally they take more.
Once, as my dad and I watched tip-downs from the confines of a pickup cab on a cold March evening, one of Dad’s tip-downs was briskly, and unceremoniously, slapped to the ice as its jig pole was pulled quickly into the depths of Muskellunge Lake.
“That was my best jig pole,” Dad said. Well, of course it was. Good ‘ol March.
Incidentally, if anyone snags a jig pole while fishing Muskellunge Lake (McNaughton), send me an email. Twenty-five cent reward offered for its return, regardless of condition.
I recall warm days, too. It’s a rare and special pleasure to be on the ice when it’s still solid and temps are in the 50s or warmer.
A few of those times, Rhinelander’s Boom Lake has provided me with action from eager crappies. Gloveless hands and holes that don’t instantly freeze over are great delights. Sometimes, I even leave the auger behind, knowing a previous day’s holes will be easily reopened with a boot heel.
Last year, with record warmth and an extremely early ice out, I was a bit lost on what to do. I roamed the woods a bit and restlessly drove to different south-shore landings, which get less sunlight, to see if it looked safe enough to venture out on the ice even a short distance.
“Don’t you go on the ice,” my wife, Cheryl, would warn.
“Just looking,” I’d say. But the gear was still in the truck.
The last day I actually braved the ice was an astonishingly early March 16. Gilmore Lake gave up two crappies and an undersize perch that day.
In 2011, I ice fished on April 10, in 2009 it was April 11 – on that day, Gilmore Lake gave up two crappies and a tiny perch. History does repeat itself. In 2008, I was still ice fishing on Boom Lake on April 17.
For some reason, I’m a little braver concerning late ice than I am with early ice. I’ll say “Look at that fool” in early December, noticing some guy out on some too-skinny ice, then I’ll assume his role in March or April.
The only time I’ve taken a plunge was actually in January, on a zero-degree day, on a small lake, through a hole that was concealed by drifted snow. I fully submerged one of my legs.
The ice was fine elsewhere, and it was a seepage lake with no current. I guess you never know. And yeah, I kept fishing even as my pant-leg froze solid. It was the 1980s, when I was young and relatively impervious to the cold.
Right now, it’s a little sad to see the permanent shanties removed from our lakes – something that has to be done this weekend, as mandated by state law. I’ll miss seeing the little village of shacks assembled near the landing on Lake Tomahawk while I drive to and from the office each morning and afternoon.
I’ve noticed those shacks thinning out recently, but I’ve also noticed anglers venturing out here and there, hunched over their electronics, enjoying the lion that March is. Maybe even landing enough panfish to make it worth dirtying the frying pan.
March appears to be more typical this year. The temps are where one would expect them to be, and our ice remains solid.
The weekend rain that saw me opt out of ice fishing was replaced by snow Sunday night and Monday. Snowmobilers were on the trails in pretty impressive numbers for a Monday.
Plenty of snow and plenty of ice are out there, though the weight of the snow is sure to continue causing slushy areas on the ice for a while.
There should be some gems, though. Those days when all seems right in he world. Crappies, bluegills and perch for the pan. Occasional warm sun to bask in. Trails to ride and ski, then just to walk. All tempered by the angriness of March.
Good ‘ol miserable March.
Craig Turk may be reached at email@example.com.