|Sure your toes will go numb and your beard will freeze solid, but come on! Tell me that's not beautiful! Scenes like this are where it's at as far as I'm concerned.
|As long as they're equipped with the proper insulation (and the occasional gummy worm), my kids are pretty into it too!
|On a side note, this particular fish should have won me $500, but then it didn't... Don't ask... It's too painful...
Events like those pictured above are pretty standard wintertime fare for me, and I'm usually content to leave it at that. For other wintertime escapades see also "Walkin on Water" and "Ol' Hank". However, this winter I became aware of a couple new species that I could check off with a little outside-the-box fishing. It was a little tough taking a hiatus from ice fishing, but it was worth it in the end.
The first target was the Burbot (Lota lota), which I have previously attempted to catch in both Montana and Washington, to no avail. These freshwater cod are one of my favorite fish of all time. They're a critter that is both simple and complicated all at once. They are one of only two freshwater fish species with a circumpolar native range (Northern Pike being the other), meaning they are native to the northern latitudes of North America, Europe, and Asia. I won't wax too fish nerdy on you, but they're pretty cool fish! Plus it's just fun to say Lota lota. You try it!
|Maybe I'm just more willing to accept them because they have beards...
It's a 2 hour drive to the fishing spot, and about 1/2 hour into it, the ominous clouds that had been threatening all day, decided to let loose. I considered turning back (and a more stable person definitely would have), but I was already committed at that point so I continued on. By the time I got to my spot it was 32 degrees and pouring down rain with a few snowflakes mixed in just for show. So there I sat in my lawn chair, putting my rain gear to the test and staring single-mindedly at my rod tips. All evening they only twitched once, but I made it count and added species number 105 to the list!
|The mighty Burbot, complete with a face only a mother (or a biologist apparently...) could love!
The second fish that needed to be caught was the Lake Whitefish. These fish are not native to my particular neck of the woods, but, were stocked to be a food fish many years ago, and now they are surprisingly abundant in many nearby lakes and rivers. They are also a very underutilized resource since very few people target them. I've wanted one for years, but hadn't managed to get one. Then I ran across a couple YouTube videos (click here and here if you want to watch them) that pretty much laid out plain and simple when, where, and how to get it done on Banks Lake.
I readied my gear, picked a calm day when the time was right, and got down to business. As I paddled across the near-freezing lake in my inflatable pontoon boat to my chosen spot, I considered the sanity of what I was doing. I was wearing a very good PFD, but still, a slip into that water that far out into the lake would make for a real bummer of a day at best... I'm pretty comfortable on my pontoon during warmer months when the consequences of a popped pontoon bladder would be some wet shorts and maybe a wet ego. But this was a little past that.
Luckily I didn't have to stick it out TOO long, and at least one of the fish was cooperative. I tied on a Forage Minnow jigging spoon and about 30 minutes after I arrived at my spot (and frustratingly, about 29 minutes after my fish finder filled with dozens and dozens of Lake Whitefish; and 20 minutes after I lost feeling in my toes...), I got a solid hit and brought up species number 106!
|Coregonus clupeiformis. Say that five times fast.
After a successful December and adding two new species without even traveling too far, I had been talking about my new species with a few internet buddies (I think "internet buddies" sounds weirder than it actually is...), and one of them decided to come give it a shot! Some of you will probably recognize a guy by the name of Martini, but click here for more of his exploits. He is (to put it mildly) a fellow fish enthusiast who recently moved to Washington for grad school. As luck would have it, although his species list is much more extensive than mine (another serious understatement...), he still needed to add the mighty Lota lota to his list. So we arranged a trip to try it. I told him we might catch a lot of Lota lota, or not a lot of Lota lota, we'd just have to try it and see...
We set out with enough daylight left to stop at Omak Lake to catch some bonus Lahontan Cutthroat Trout, then continued on our way to the Burbot spot.
|I'd post a picture of mine too but his fish was bigger than mine...
I was just hoping for at least one Burbot to get him on the board, but for the next hour or two of lights out fishing we got bit every few minutes. Soon enough we had to quit because we both had our limit!
|Luckily we caught a lot of Lota lota! That joke never gets old...
|In the spirit of full disclosure... Martini caught the big one on the left.
So all in all, although I ice fished much less this winter, I still stand by my statement that winter is the best season of them all!