2018-02-01 / Columns

Outdoors This Week in the Eastern U.P.

By Stephen King

We are right smack dab in the middle of a winter wonderland, which makes a lot of us wonder why we are here and not soaking our toes in the sands of Key West, but for those of us who have stayed, there are lots of things to do outdoors this week in the EUP.

This fickle weather is freezer-cold one day and sauna-warm (almost) the next. Even so, you can ride snowmobiles, at least in the western portion of Mackinac County. The rest is pretty iffy. Even in the Curtis/ Naubinway area, trails aren’t that great.

I talked to a couple of riders just after noon on Sunday in one of Naubinway’s diners, and they told me the trails are ice, and a bit chattery. The lady seemed to be enjoying herself. The gentleman was talking about “heading back to the room and having a good soak in the hot tub.”

Moving on to the subject of rabbit hunting, I went and checked out the cedar swamps in the Naubinway area. There’s not a lot of snow, but there is some fresh snow, which makes fresh tracks easy to see. With temperatures around the 20s, it’s not too cold and not too warm, good tracking snow and perfect humidity.

On the subject of fishing, I have been hearing good news. There are good catches of just about everything. Ice is reported to be about a foot or so thick. As always, remember that there is no such thing as safe ice.

A lot of people fish the inland lakes this time of year. The ice is usually good, and most lakes have someplace that you can walk out to easily. If you take a drive along the shore of Lake Michigan, between Naubinway and about Epoufette, there are a lot of small bays, with a lot of good ice fishing water.

If you decide to go out there onto Lake Michigan, first of all, use caution. If you are uncomfortable, don’t go.

About 20 or so years ago, I was fishing a lot, and catching a few. On my local lake, Millecoquin’s Lake, I was doing OK. I was getting a few perch pretty much every time out, with the occasional pike, and every now and then, a stray walleye.

After one day of fishing, I realized that the “catch of the day” fit in my coat pocket with no problem, about seven or eight perch. This got me to thinking, “Why not try something different?”

So, the next day, I headed to the roadside park, just east of Naubinway. As a commercial fisherman, I knew these waters usually held a good variety of fish. From my experience, I knew the structure: Shallow reefs running parallel to the shore. Also, I knew where a small creek emptied into the lake. The stained water, where the creek dumped in, might be holding some fish. Creeks and streams carry things along, things that fish eat. Quite often, fish like to hang out in the stained water in search of food. The little fish will be looking for the bugs and debris that come down, and the big fish will be looking for the little fish. That was the idea.

That first night, I punched quite a few holes, and with my trusty popup shelter, I had plenty of protection and was nice and cozy. I started watching and waiting. It was like looking into an aquarium. The water was clear, and on the bottom, there were some nice crawfish and a few scalpins hanging around. I had set out a couple of tip-ups. Both were tipped with medium sized minnows. When I started, I had one up on top of a ridge, and the other in the middle of two ridges. If I caught anything, this would tell me whether the fish were up or down in depth.

I was jigging. I was giving them the “variety pack.” I would use a small minnow for a while, then I tried wigglers, and wax worms, and even one of my old favorites, a piece of a night crawler. On the wax worms and wigglers, I soon found out that the scalpins, which are basically a native version of a goby, really like them. That was fun for a bit, but it didn’t do much for catching dinner.

That was that for the afternoon. Then, just as things were getting darker, I look over and see a flag. One of my tip-ups, the one on top of the ridge, had gone off. I just about broke the record for the 50-yard dash getting to it.

When I got there, the line was still going off the reel. I gently grabbed the tip up, picked up the line, and set the hook. The line pulled back. Big time. I knew I had something rather significant down there, most definitely not a scalpin or a crawfish. This thing was big.

I started to play it. I gave a little, and took a bit more than I gave. Then, after about a minute or two, the thing quit. Gave up. Felt like I had hooked a brick. Right then, I had a good idea of what I had on. A couple of minutes later, this catfishlooking face popped into the hole. I grabbed it under the jaw and got it out onto the ice, and lying there before me was about a five or six pound burbot.

These are also called “ling” or “lawyers.” They are actually fresh water cod. (Think of that fish cube at the fast food restaurant.) They are also one of the ugliest fish known to creation. I have always described them as a cross between a catfish and an eel: Catfish head, eel body. But they are awesome to eat. Some call them a “poor man’s lobster.” This is because a lot of people choose to cube them, boil them, and dip them in butter. I like to just fillet and pan fry them.

Now at the time, my last ex-wife had just moved in with me. I got home with the burbot and she let out a small squeak and proclaimed, “I am not eating that thing!” With a little coaxing, I got her to take a bite. I didn’t have to coax her to take the next. Before she had finished her fillet, she told me in no uncertain manner, “Go get some more of these!” And so being the good husband, I obeyed. That winter, I fished the small bays along the shore quite a bit, and caught a few other things. But that is a story for another column.

Go ahead, get off that couch, and get outdoors this week in the EUP.

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