Birdshot and backlashes

by Bob Cary

Where in the world did the fish go? Ice anglers, other than a few very lucky crappie fisherfolk, have reported dreary news from the ice fishing front. It has gotten so bad that anglers say they not only got no bites, they saw no fish. Like looking at the screen of a fish locator and seeing no blips. Or even seeing anything swim by on one of those new video devices that sends up a picture of what is below.<BR><BR>Son-in-law by marriage Joe Baltich spent four hours on the frozen surface of Snowbank Lake last week with one of those video devices in play. “The lake was absolutely clear,” Joe reported. “As I lowered the electronic device to the bottom, it showed acres of clear water.”<BR><BR>And empty water, we might add. When it got to the bottom, it revealed every rock and sunken stick within view, but no fish, other than some little, wide-finned, bug-eyed sculpins. Joe became entranced with watching these sculpins which darted across the bottom, scooted to the tops of rocks and created an entertaining picture.<BR><BR>“I never knew a whole lot about sculpins before,” Joe admitted. “I knew they lived on the lake bottoms, but we never come across them except maybe discover one inside a fish we are cleaning.”<BR><BR>Sculpins are odd, brownish little creatures with spiny fins. They have cousins in salt water. From their homes on the lake bottom they occasionally dart upward to capture minute aquatic life they live on. And then dart back to the bottom, creating small, muddy clouds. Some of their food is found in the mud so whenever something stirs up the mud, sculpins come for a look. Thus Joe could bounce his jig off the bottom, making a tiny cloud of sediment and sculpins would sail over for a look. Sculpins don’t move around much, just resting on the bottom and watching everything above with their beady eyes which are located on the tops of their heads.<BR><BR>Joe even dropped his jig on a couple of the tiny fish just to watch them dart away in fright. Sculpins are food for all game fish species. They are the same color as the bottom of the lake and their only defense is to hide in the rocks and remain motionless. There are lots of them in the local lakes but nobody ever sees them unless they are scuba divers or have an underwater video.<BR><BR>Not that it makes a whole lot of difference. But you get an idea of how bad fishing is when we devote all this space to something like sculpins.<BR><BR>BUT THERE IS GOOD NEWS!<BR><BR>There are just 69 days until opening of the spring walleye season. The real season. The one with open water, a warm sun sparkling on the waves. And it is only 40 days until opening of the stream trout season, That is, for trout in streams. Most years that is too darn early for much success except perhaps steelhead at Lake Superior; but the streams are usually ice-free and even if there is snow on the shore, dedicated trout folk are out and about.<BR><BR>One strange bureaucratic phenomena is the opening of stream trout season in stocked lakes like Miners and Tofte. Those lakes usually lose their ice the last week of April, but fishing is not allowed until mid-May, along with walleyes, bass and pike. Once upon a time, the trout season in lakes opened whenever the ice went off, which provided a lot of early season sport even if it was finger-numbing. <BR><BR>Stream trout in lakes are all stocked. Put and take. They do not spawn. Why in the world the season is closed in the spring is a mystery. The same species are open in streams by mid-April. And these are trout which may do some spawning and need protecting, unlike the rainbows and brookies in lakes which are strictly products of fish hatcheries. <BR><BR>One thing: trout in lakes will bite as soon as the ice goes out. It may be that the DNR is saving them. But saving them from what?<BR><BR> . <BR><BR>