20 Years in the Making

It’s now June and winter seems like it was years ago. Wait it did snow on Memorial Day Weekend, that snow is long gone now. I was thinking about all the fishing I actually did this winter. Cannot beat fly fishing in the winter, the crowds are nonexistent. Hmmm, I wonder why. But I’m not writing this about winter fly fishing.

My love and passion for fishing started well over 25 years ago. I can thank a bunch of people for that especially my Father and Grandfather. I really enjoyed sitting on my 5-gallon bucket staring into a black hole drilled into the ice. Ice fishing was my favorite fishing. I could not wait for winter to arrive. Though many people do think we are nuts for sitting on a frozen lake for hours upon hours. I grew up in southern New York and some years the lakes would not freeze. This meant we would have to travel to find ice. Sometimes we would go 3 hours one way up to Schroon Lake, NY, just to stare down that hole.

My father and I also would make a trek to Maine over Presidents weekend a free fishing weekend. This would be known as the man’s world weekend, a weekend without mom for me. Let's just say I got to stay up late and forget to shower. Hey, I was a kid just there for the fishing. Maine was one of the first places we targeted Lake Trout or Togue as the New Englanders call them. We had success every year in Maine but no monsta’s. Until one year, I may have been 13 or 14 I cannot recall. My father’s tip up flag went up way across the lake. We used binoculars to spot it. Yeah, we liked to cover ground and swiss cheese the ice. We got on the snowmobile and zoomed on over. The line was screaming off the spool. This would be my first glimpse at a trophy Lake Trout. The only sad part was the fish was so fat it didn’t fit through the hole. When my father tried to pull it through the hole it got stuck and snapped the line, disappearing into the depths below. And that was the closest we got for years to come. My father and I tried years of trolling and ice fishing to only catch the average 20 incher.

My lake trout fishing career would take a break while I attended my first couple years of college. I did not stop fishing, just targeted a different species. My college was smack in the middle of the Adirondacks and was situated on a lake teaming with pike. During the spring of my junior year, I discovered a lake with large Lake Trout. The Only issue was no ice fishing was permitted and the road to it was closed in the winter. That’s ok it made me discover ice out fishing was the bomb and that’s when the road would open. Still even finding this lake I was not successful in catching a trophy Lake Trout. I did happen to lose one right at the bank. But the day I graduated college I did manage to catch my personal best Lake Trout at the time. It was nothing impressive about a 30-inch skinny laker. Then a few weeks later I took off for Colorado and never looked back.

Again my Lake Trout fishing would take a short hiatus, mostly because a fly rod was put in my hand. I couldn’t pass up all the river fishing right in my backyard. I also needed to make friends with someone who owned an ice auger. And finally, after 3 years I got back on the ice seeking trophy lakers. My buddy owned an auger and our days off finally lined up. On New Years Eve day we set out to stare down some holes. It was beautiful cold morning. I’m glad he also owned a pop-up shack, it was rather chilly at 7 am. The auger knew it was cold and before we could drill our first hole the gas line snapped off the carburetor. I thought the day was done before we even got to fish. But I reached into to my Carhartt jacket pocket and pulled out a rubber glove. With that glove, I was able to hold the fuel line to the carb and keep the motor running. Drilling holes now was a team effort. That glove saved the day and we drilled a few holes. We got the shack set up and started jigging. I managed to put a jigging clinic on that day. I sat no less than 4 feet from my buddy. We fished the same setup and everything, but that day I managed to ice a dozen small lakers and my buddy put 2 on the ice. Who knows why but I say dumb luck. The time had come to pack up and ring in the New Year.

Another 2 months would go by before my buddy and I would step on the ice again. At this point more of the lake had frozen, so we tried a new spot. Oh yeah, we never fixed the auger just got more rubber gloves. I wasn’t the one hauling the auger so I decided to jump on my sled and ride it down the hill. I made it about three-quarters of the way down, when a bush was no match for my sled. I ended up crashing and having a yard sale on the hillside. I gathered all my stuff, discovering my jig rod was now in 2 pieces. Good thing my buddy had an extra rod for me to use. We both made it down to the ice and walked to the opposite side. It was a beautiful Colorado March morning. We drilled some holes set up the shack and got to fishing. An hour or so went by with not a single bite. It had warmed up nice; I went outside and tried a new hole. I was jigging away then whammmmm, my line was screaming off my reel. Something big ate my jig, my rod was doubled over and the fight was on. I could tell this was no small fish, it ran out a good amount of line before I could gain any ground on it. My heart started pounding knowing could this be it. I fought this fish for a few minutes before I got it close to the hole. Then finally a lake trout went buzzing by the bottom of the hole. After a couple runs away from the hole I got the fish through the hole and on the ice. I finally had done it. I put a beast of a female Lake Trout on the ice. I was ecstatic and so was my friend, we managed to snap a few quick photos. And back in the hole she went, I revived her for a few seconds and off she went. Hopefully, another lucky angler will get a chance at her. She was still small for a trophy Lake Trout but hell she was a trophy to me.

It took me well over 20 years to land a fish like that, but I never gave up. Man the smiles on our faces, grinning from ear to ear. I still smile every time I think of that fish. We fished the rest of the day with not another single fish being caught. Now just have to wait till next winter and see what surprises come from under the ice.

Jennifer BalmesComment