Well, here it is mid-April. About this time every year I start yearning to do some early lake trout fishing on the shield lakes around Northwest Ontario. Lots of good memories about past outings over the years.
Usually it’s about this time of year that the ice goes out on many of the shield lakes. It can be a bit later or, at times, even earlier. The real trick is to get out on the lake as soon as possible once the ice has gone.
Now walleye season is a few weeks away and no one is really thinking northern pike, perch, or crappie, so lake trout take center stage as far as something that can be fun and challenging to catch. My buddy Keith was all over early lake trout fishing with what he called “beer can fishing”.
We would bundle up and get in the boat and head for a shoreline where the lake depth dropped off precipitously from shore. That would be some prime real estate for shallow lake trout in early spring. And early lake trout are shallow, mean as hell, and hungry. Real hungry.
How this works is we would use a long shank (about 2 ½” to 3”) double barb hook. On that we would thread a big frozen shiner or sucker minnow. About 6 ft. from the hook we would crimp on a very small split shot on the line. This was all done from shore. Then we would grab the line, get in the boat, and run these lines out about 100 – 150 yards. Once that was done we would return to shore, open the bail on our open face spinning reels, and then wrap the line a couple of times around an empty beer can. When you hear the beer can “tinkle” down the bank you knew you had a lake trout chewing on the bait.
I suppose you could use a soft drink can, but I can tell you from experience that using beer cans is a heck of a lot more fun! I mean, someone has to empty all those cans, right? Keith and I and a couple of our pals were damn good at this task and if the sun was warm, the camp fire flickering, and lunch was ready in the cooler this was real close to nirvana. Finally back out on the water with great friends, great stories, and usually a great catch at the end of the day.
One time I suspect we (or maybe just me) may have been a bit too enthused about setting up for this technique. We needed more beer cans! I immediately volunteered for such a task. I’m not a big drinker, so a couple of beers had a way of “taking the edge off” if you know what I mean. But it was game on and soon all the lines were out and the cans set. Now it was time to just kick back and wait.
Waiting, when you’ve had some beers, sorta’ lulls you into a state of melancholy. At least that’s what happens to me. Add to that some warm sun, beautiful scenery, a gentle breeze, good friends – well, you get the picture.
Then the cans started rolling! Not one, not two, but several. There was yelling, confusion, and a form of panic that happens in slow motion. At least for me. I sprang up, went left, then right, then forward toward the closest rod and reel. As I grabbed the rod handle and set the bail my feet hit a wet spot on the rock and immediately I was on my back, sliding into the water, all the while doing my best to set the hook.
Those of you who live this far north or who have fished right after ice out no doubt can appreciate just how cold the water is at this time of year. I’m guessing just a few degrees above freezing. And when you plunge in after being so relaxed it has a way of waking you up. Really waking you up!
I went in all the way up to my chest. Yikes! Wow, so this is what freezing feels like. I held the rod which threw off my balance and then rolled to my side. My buddies all had fish on, so help was sort of unavailable. So here I am, rolling in ice cold water, trying to hold on to a pretty good fishing outfit with a fish on the end of the line, and freezing my ass submerged in the water all at the same time.
Finally my foot wedged into a rock and I was able to stand up, rod still in hand. But my hands were getting numb and as soon as I was upright that nice gentle breeze picked up and acted like a supercharger for a blast freezer. I mean it was C-O-L-D!
I back peddled up to shore, landed what turned out to be a very nice laker, and then proceeded to start shivering like I was competing for coldest human being on earth who can still take a breath. I couldn’t talk because I was that cold. Thankfully my buddies saw my predicament and lead me to the camp fire which soon was raging with the addition of some more wood.
So here I am, soaked like a wet dog, freezing my butt off by a fire. The next part is kinda’ weird and a little ugly. It was still late morning and no one wanted to call it a day, so it was suggested I strip down, stay by the fire, and stay warm while my clothes dried out. And I did.
Thinking back on this episode today I can only imagine what a casual passer-by would have thought seeing some naked guy sitting by a fire on the bank of a remote Canadian lake in early spring, just after ice out. Perhaps a story for their kids or grandkids. Or a call to the O.P.P. (Ontario Provincial Police) about some wierdo out on a rock by a lake. Fortunately no other boats came by and eventually my clothes dried out enough for me to get dressed again. But it was an adventure. And one that up until now only Keith and a couple of other friends knew about. But old guys like to tell stories so now all of you know!
Thank you for your wonderful friendship and support. All of us here at American Legacy Fishing truly appreciate your continued loyalty. We are so fortunate to have so many friends who share our joy and obsession with two of the world’s greatest sports. Thank you once again for all you do!