This has got to be about the earliest that I have put the ice fishing gear away. It's always a sad day but it's usually a little easier to handle when we've gotten lots of ice trips in throughout the year. It was certainly different this time around as I never even hit the ice without a spud. It was big difference from traveling willy nilly by ATV around. The biggest disappointment was never feeling comfortable enough to take my daughter out. However there were a few bright spots mixed in.
There were big questions about the typical winter perch fishery in Muskegon Lake. My experience in late December was that they hadn't even come into Muskegon Lake yet. It was consistent with other reports and I really wondered if we would get them ice fishing. Unfortunately it wasn't until late February until we got to find out. I had given up hope of getting out on Muskegon but one last cold snap finally put some ice out there. It looked like it would hold for about 3 days before the warm up melted it all so the hope was to get on a good school of them and get them all weekend. A Friday afternoon exploratory expedition was in order. There were a few people out already but they were all in the "tourist" area and pretty close to the bank. I'd have probably done the same were it not for having a spud, ice picks, and most importantly a Clam Rise suit with motion float technology. Off I went to an area that is traditionally good, I made a couple stops in between just to see if I didn't have to walk any further. They didn't produce anything promising but one hole on the juice and it was game on. The best part is they were BIGS, complete with head shakes and drag pulls all the way up from 48 feet. It is always a good feeling to go out with no expectation and dial it in. We went back the next day with the whole crew and I think around 10 of us caught big limits off that school. Sunday conditions were going to really start deteriorating but we were going to get one more good day off of it. The best part of this day were the surprises.
Typically we just catch perch out there with the occasional walleye thrown in and most of the time the walleyes are sub legal. But today would be different as we landed a cisco, smelt, and coho. I was fortunate to catch the cisco which was not only a lot of fun but my first one ever through the ice. The perch weren't firing so I tried my luck on one of the high suspended marks. When I cranked my Clam Speed Spoon up to the mark on my Humminbird Helix 7 it was obvious that fish was going to bite. The mark turned bright red (indicating it was getting close to my bait) and was approaching fast. The ciscos are an interesting thing, there is a major population in Grand Traverse Bay and they seem to be expanding southward in Lake Michigan. Some Lakes like Portage Lake have good fisheries for them already but I anticipate in the coming years we are going to see more in more of them further south.
Other than the ice fishing and a little bit of pier fishing it has been pretty quiet around here. We got hit with a couple daycare bugs as June had RSV and a double ear infection. Luckily it was much less severe than when Mabel had it. No 3am wake up calls with 104 degree fevers. However there wasn't much sleep to be had in the house for a few weeks for Amanda and I. While it can definitely be difficult operating on no sleep it always helps to remind yourself how fortunate you are to be waking up to comfort one of the kiddos. It definitely doesn't help with having time to crank blogs out though.
One thing that has been pretty satisfying over the winter has been doing all sorts of fun cooking feeding the family with wild fish/game. I've had a whole bunch of different stuff to make delicious with Zip Sauce and Reel n Smoke sauce/seasoning. Having 2 whitetails in the freezer has really enabled me to try some different stuff with waterfowl rather than just working them into meals. Jerky, pastrami, duck poppers, and probably the fan favorite from all of that mallard legs slow cooked and then deep fried for "duck hot wings". One thing that was even more cemented this year is that legs from geese and puddle ducks are worth saving. Also if you think puddle ducks and geese taste bad you are doing something terrible wrong with your preparation or cooking. The legs take a little bit of time and effort but it is well worth and can provide some unique eating opportunities. Along with some of the cured waterfowl the smoker has seen a decent amount of action with some unusual fish catches like Lake Trout and Cisco (perch and coho have been on the menu to). Anyway I really enjoying the whole process with wild game including the cooking so it has been a lot of fun.
The lack of ice has certainly helped one thing though, we will be bass fishing in west Michigan this coming week. I'm grabbing the boat this weekend and I can't wait to get out there. I'm especially excited about doing a little perch fishing in the early morning with Ultrex/Solix, it is going to be a lot different than pulling an anchor and using my Helix ice fishing setup out of the duck boat. Let's hope this spring doesn't linger around forever and we will get some nice weather soon. I’ll definitely be disappointed if I have to wait until June again to go fishing without bibs.