Dec 21, 2011

Solstice Pike

Author's note: This is the second part of my 'rare solstice' series. Part one was Solstice Wolf (June). -am
This is not a rare fish, but a rare result when you know the whole story. I have been fishing Lake Puckaway for seven winters now, dedicating numerous days each 'early ice' to this massive lake me and the boys half-jokingly refer to as "big, shallow and evil."

December of 2006 was really good fishing, and December of 2008 was some of the best ice fishing I've ever experienced. But in 2007, '09, and '10 we didn't catch squat. December on Puckaway is an unquestionable indicator. When you catch fish in December you will catch them all winter, it seems, and when you don't, you might as well not fish there until summertime. This evil lake has a definite 'switch' in the winter... it is manic-depressive... feast or famine. And it is most definitely evil. 

I will not go into the official file, but there is ample evidence as to this lake's evilness. We are all convinced the waters and surrounding land are possessed by an entity we simply call 'The Father'. Nothing comes easy here. And you might ask, Well why don't you go fish somewhere else? This is a reasonable question. However, the state record northern pike was caught here, and whenever we are able to overcome the The Father's sinister defenses, we have earned amazing rewards. Not state records, but we've caught the kind of fish here that make you keep coming back even after two straight winters of catching absolutely nothing. We are not chasing reason, but something more like unlimited potential at great risk.

Since I've been living here I've been keeping my eyes open for omens: Would it be a good winter or a bad winter? It seemed every other day I would swing the other way. Things would be going really good for me, I would be feeling an electricity, and then the next I would be feeling gloomy and questioning why I had even moved here.

And then there is the squirrels and the cat. 

There are hardly any regular gray squirrels here. There are lots of black squirrels and albino squirrels. I see them all the time. It's somewhat disturbing but mostly I laugh. It seems when I see a black squirrel on my morning jog the day is depressing and when I see an albino I have a really great day. If I see my turkeys and deer it will be a so-so day. And any day I see the black cat I might as well just not go outside. I think I am becoming like the lake, living here full-time... I am developing a polarizing switch of sorts. I like it here and often thrive on the solitude, but it is really lonely sometimes and I become suffocated by the emptiness of this existence. Especially when I can't fish, when I am stuck inside with my ... thinking. So now I guess I'm predicting my life on some kind of self-fulfilling 'critter sighting' scale. It works for me.

I awoke on the shortest day of the year and just knew I was gonna see that cat on the porch again. Finally I got up and made some coffee and I knew I couldn't sit inside again, so I got my gear together and went outside. And right away I saw the albino squirrel. Hey buddy! He ran off. Then I got to the lake and somehow it had added a few inches of ice overnight even though it barely got below freezing. I decided to go out by myself, and I eventually found myself on Jerry's Reef, or close enough I figured. As described in the previous post, the ice had formed and then broke up and melted, and then refroze earlier this week. The result was strange fields of heave ice, where huge blocks of original ice had been caught in the secondary shell. It was the thickest ice out there, much safer than the smooth stuff, so I put my traps amongst the heaves and got some reading done (Hell's Angels). 

At noon I heard the emergency siren in Princeton so I had a shot of bourbon. The air was calm. Around 12:40 the sun popped out and I noted this. 'Light changes' often spark a bite, for whatever reason. You can't argue with the data. And sure enough, at 12:49 I looked up from Hell's Angels and the middle flag was up. I trotted over and the line was not moving. But when I looked down the hole I could see the line was waaay off to the side, and then as if on cue, the spindle began moving again. Muscle memory took over and I quickly set the hook and landed the little pike. It was only 25 inches but nice and fat and feisty...

But as I've said, it was a fish that filled me with excitement for what it represented. I knew exactly what a December pike would mean since I got back here. And then at 3 the sun peaked through the clouds again and another flag popped... And I missed this fish but it was most certainly another strike, and so as I watched the sun set on the Winter Solstice I started doing the calculations. The data was very promising. I knew we were looking at a special winter. I texted the boys the good news, and I felt hunger and was satisfied, so I picked up the traps and marched home.  

Back daylight, today belongs to the darkness.