Groundhog may reveal…bucket or boat?

By Capn. Ted Peck

Tom Gruenwald catches nice Pool 9 perch.

The groundhog may reveal how we play winter’s back nine. Right now, we’re sloshing through a January thaw on the heels of an arctic Snowmaggedon. Will this weather trend continue like it did last year or return like the brutal winter of 1978-79?

Today both the boat and bucket full of ice fishing gear are waiting in the pole barn, telepathically whispering “take me!” So far this month the boat has gathered less dust. The last time it got washed in the Immortal River was Jan. 6.

Three days later nature’s more reliable forecaster, tundra swans, winged out of here bound for the Chesapeake Bay. Avid fishers had about a week to harvest the bounty of “second ice” between New Year’s Day and the arrival of arctic Snowmageddon on Jan. 12.

“First ice” made a nebulous appearance just after Christmas, with the few intrepid souls lightfooting out on limited hard water rewarded with heavy buckets of fat panfish. Second ice was also productive — at least by second ice standards.

Fish are cold blooded. With water temperatures hovering around 32 degrees in both frozen and liquid states finny critters have little need or desire to dance with two legged critters pining for a tussle. A rising River with slap fish out of their somnambulistic state. This phenomenon is happening as you read these words.

Water temperature will likely rise less than one degree over the next month or so. But runoff will add oxygen—and a little food—to the water column causing just a little stimulation in fish activity.

The fishing diary I’ve kept on pool 9 for over 20 years reveals a notable increase in fish activity on or about Feb. 12 every year. Only the Creator knows the reason behind this change in fish behavior. It is what it is.

Once River levels stabilize, fishing will improve. A rising river clouds the water column. It takes fish some time to adjust to changes in their environment, especially with a cold-blooded nervous system.

Ice fishing may improve between now and Feb. 12, maybe as early as this weekend. The groundhog may get unwarranted credit 10 days from now. Or not. Regardless, personal statistics call for betting all the marbles on Feb. 12.

Last year coffee shop conversation revealed more enjoyable times on the ice after mid-February. Personally, I would rather plant my butt on a boat seat instead of a bucket. The bucket was set aside in favor of a happy boat on Feb. 19 with literally hundreds of walleyes, sauger and perch generating a symphony of fins on the plywood decking before the river was free of ice about a month later. 

Fishing in a January sleet storm is considered “fun” by only the most optimistic fishers.  A pessimist has been described as an optimist with experience. A realist lurks some point between these extremes.

The weather will stabilize in a day or two. The sun will shine. If the wind isn’t howling the pole barn door will open and either the bucket or the boat will be exposed to the sweet, sweet air of the Driftless.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) has long been accepted by the medical community. A lifelong personal affliction revealed onset of symptoms after 30 days without seeing bare ground and open water.

The January thaw brings hope from the ravages of this mental illness. In a few days kindred spirits will depart their domiciles for their rightful place in the natural world, goading those not yet enlightened to the joys of being out there to exclaim: “That guy is nuts!”

So be it.

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