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Ramble with Gortowski: All wet on ice

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gortowskirs Ken Gortowski had this cold-weather fishing report

for the Fox River

and an extended rumination on ice and ice fishing.

I understand his points, but disagree on a couple.

Here's Gortowski's ramble:

A true ramble, didn't know how to end it.

Fish were hitting in the warm water discharge, but I've apparently forgotten how to hook fish.
Will take some real hard core anglers to go anywhere near the river, but I hear the walleye are hitting.
The weather looks miserable for the next 10 days, but I guess that's good for the ice anglers.

Which is how this starts off . . .


They say that Jesus could walk on water. All my life I've had people get right up in my face and ask, "What? You think you walk on water?" To which my standard reply has always been, "Well, yeah."

Fact is, no matter how righteous I think I am, simple physics has always won when it comes to my attempts to see if I could actually walk on water. I learned my lesson, I like breathing air. As winter descends on us and turns water surfaces to ice, I don't care how thick it gets, don't care how many people, cars and atv's are sitting out on the ice, I'm not going out there. I've tried it. Hearing rifle shots in the dark while crossing a pond, only to realize it's the ice snapping beneath your feet, was enough to keep me shore bound.

That poses a winter fishing problem for me. Even if I choose to go out on the ice, which ain't gonna happen, the idea of sitting staring into a little hole in the hopes that something swims by and eats your bait is appalling. Really, can you make fishing any more boring.

Luckily the rivers in the area have all been blessed with warm water discharges, or to put it politely, crap plants. The water temperatures at these discharges will hover around 55 degrees no matter how bitter cold it is outside. In years past I've gone out wading throughout the winter months and have had some pretty good fishing. Why struggle trying to catch fish out of 35 degree water when you have balmy waters so close.

Saturday was a perfect crap plant day. Overcast and snowing with air temperatures right at the freezing mark. I won't go out if it dips below freezing. Fresh snow on the ground and more still falling helps muffle the surrounding sounds. The lack of urban sounds lets you temporarily believe you could be anywhere, fishing pristine flowing water.

The skies overhead were filled with waterfowl, both ducks and geese. As I approached the river I spooked a few large flocks of ducks and geese from behind a couple of small islands where they were hunkered down out of the current.

My first spot proved fishless except for rolling lures over the backs of carp. Very unusual for this to happen under these conditions. The low skies usually have the fish hitting, but not a single tap was had. The fish are there, but since I had not bothered with live bait I knew my chances of coaxing them to hit were pretty slim.

More birds were gathering over my head.

A week earlier I had been up in the driftless area of Wisconsin for a job interview. Drove all over the area checking out small towns, the Kickapoo River and some of the multitude of trout streams that that eventually join the Kickapoo. From Rockford to Viroqua and back we drove past some of the most beautiful waterfowl holding water you could possibly imagine. Potholes, flood plains and farm fields, endless miles of them. Saw lots of skim ice on the waters and not a single duck or goose.

From Rockford south to I-88, then south to Yorkville, the corporate and subdivision prairie potholes were holding birds by the thousands. Clouds of geese were everywhere. Saw the most beautiful flock of ducks make a classic landing in a small pond directly in front of an empty blind. Yet the river was still relatively empty of birds.

I headed down river casting to the most likely fish holding spots. More rolled carp, but there was the occasional tap that told me fish were nipping the tail of the twister I was using. Live bait may have been a better choice, but I dislike lugging bait buckets almost as much as I dislike ice fishing.

The birds were flying low over the river, but they were well aware I was along the shore. Landings were aborted at the last minute and large flocks veered between the islands in order to avoid me. Apparently the lack of birds in Wisconsin and ice on the subdivision ponds that I saw all week around Oswego, are putting more birds on the Fox River, by the hundreds.

I kept fishing my way down stream and finally got a hard hit, but it was brief. When I retrieved the twister, it's tail was missing. I mentioned this in my last report and it's worth repeating, in this cold water the fish aren't as aggressive and will pop a bait fish in their mouth, then sit there. Almost like they're tasting it to make sure it's edible. Then a few seconds later you'll feel a second hit when they decide it's something they would actually like to eat. That's when you set the hook. The fish don't hang on to plastic. There is no second hit.

I was starting to rethink my distaste of bait buckets.

The ducks and geese showing up on the river the last few days have been arriving in clouds. Today the honking of geese over head was never ending. Ducks on the other hand are pretty quiet and you don't notice them till they're right on top of you. A week ago in one stretch of the river I pass by daily, you could count the ducks you saw on one hand. Today you would have to give totals in round numbers, in the hundreds.

By now the snow had stopped and everything was coated in white. Snow was falling off tree limbs and landing in the river, you could hear it hiss as it quickly melted away in the warm discharge water. More rolled carp, more tentative hits and one more powerful hit. I don't seem to be doing well hooking fish lately.

This stretch has not produced the numbers it has given up in the past in quite some time. Not sure what that means or why. There is one area in particular that almost never gives up a fish anymore. Used to be one of those gimme spots, now it's more like gimme a break and gimme a fish already.

I called it quits for the day.

The birds on the river were driving me nuts, too many of them. The day before I had stopped to check out the blind that was easy for me to access. Ran into a hunter that was there the day before and he reported getting a handful of mallards. Birds were everywhere just down stream. You just have to sit and wait them out and hope they swing up the channel by the blind.

On my way home I checked out the stretch below the blind, again. Lots of geese with lots of ducks swimming along with them. Then there were a couple of bigger white birds along with ones that were a light grey/brown. All the bird identification books say these were 2 adult trumpeter swans with 3 juveniles. That I didn't expect to see and according to what I read, it's a rare opportunity.

Further down along this stretch, directly across from the Saw Wee Kee canoe launch, is a private duck blind. It's rare that I see anyone in it, though I know it gets used. Directly in front of it sat about 30 geese. The blind was empty. Such a waste.

Sunday all day I heard more shooting than I have heard to date. There are a couple of blinds down stream and the shooting from them was frequent. More muffled shots from the surrounding fields could be heard. Hunters were taking advantage of the change in waterfowl patterns.

So was the eagle. Usually there's more than one and it's not unusual to see up to 4 of them drifting over and down the river. They seem to show up with the influx of waterfowl, no doubt looking for relatively easy meals.

To top things off for the weekend, sandhill cranes drifted south over my house. Seems late to be seeing them. A few nearby fields held quite a few doves. They were busy picking apart areas that were free of snow. Too bad the season ended a few weeks ago. A quick check of woods and a nearby fencerow saw squirrel and rabbit tracks in the new snow cover.

My day was taken up with cutting down a Christmas tree, eating a belated Thanksgiving turkey dinner and watching embers die in the fireplace. The next 2 weeks, I'm busy. Then I'll finally have a day to myself. Birds, squirrels, rabbits... too many options.

A friend keeps bugging me to go ice fishing. I'll have to get right up in his face and ask, "What? You think I walk on water?"

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You have to at least tell me which you disagree with.

The fear bothers me. Ice is relatively safe, just like wading is, with common sense. I understand if you don't like being out fishing in bitter weather, but that's not true for you, you do fish in the dead of winter.

As far as I can tell, walking on ice is the only fear I have. I'm allowed one. I hinted at the reason, I like breathing air. There have been a couple of times as a kid when I wasn't. Common sense? I go wading the rivers and creeks when they are at high flood stages. I sometimes come home from an adventure glad to be alive. I seem to be lacking in the common sense department.

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This page contains a single entry by Dale Bowman published on December 7, 2010 8:00 PM.

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