It was Saturday. I should have known better than to go on a weekend, but I was bored. I was getting nowhere with my writing and, except for walking the dog, hadn’t been outside all day. I decided to go fishing. So far this winter I’d been on the ice only a half dozen times and had yet to catch a fish big enough to keep. I assumed the fishing would be as poor this time as all of the other outings, so I did not even bother to stop at the bait shop. I had a few waxworms left over from a previous trip and figured they would be enough. I also chose a spot that, while rarely producing many fish, was remote. If I can’t catch fish, I could at least be alone in nature.
I parked along Hanifl Road on Green Island and pulled my little red sled full of fishing gear through the woods to Bluff Slough. In the three other times I’d been there this year, I hadn’t seen another person. Today there was a party going on, complete with six portable shanties, at least twenty-five people, and country music blaring from a boombox. As I turned around to go back to my car, I saw dozens of blue gills and crappies lying on the ice. The fish were biting, and the word had gotten out.
I decided to stay. I told myself that I could catch a quick meal for Clare and myself, then get out of there. Most of the people on the ice were crammed together in a fairly small area, so I found another spot about fifty yards away. I couldn’t escape the yelling and loud music, but I could turn my back to the crowd and focus on the end of my line.
The bluegills were biting, but in their subtle wintertime way. During the coldest months, panfish are fairly lethargic. They don’t attack the bait so much as gingerly mouth it. Fishermen and fisherwomen need to watch for the slightest twitch in the line, and even then there’s usually nothing there when the hook is set. On Saturday, I brought a fish through the ice maybe one nibble in ten, but after little more than an hour had eight fish big enough to bring home. I put them in the bucket I’d been sitting on, covered them with snow, and left.
I was not disappointed with myself for fishing near a noisy crowd, but I was surprised. The urge to catch fish almost never supersedes my need for solitude. On Saturday it did.