Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Untraveled and Unforgiving

There are certain times when high-risk pays off with high-reward. Like shooting a big bull elk miles from the nearest road or catching your biggest trout in a remote mountain lake, sometimes hard work pays off.

On this one day ice-fishing trip, we didn't make it easy on ourselves. Dad, Scott and I were determined to try a remote access point on Fort Peck Reservoir that anglers rarely visit. We were betting on good ice in this fairly protected section of the lake and with the lack of snow this winter, the road appeared to be in find shape.

We left town at 5AM and were on schedule when we arrived within sight of the lake at dawn. We played it safe and left the truck on top of the final rise, before a steep drop to the water's edge. The ice was adequate; it varied from six to ten inches. There were some pressure ridges that looked sketchy, but none that we had to cross.

As far as ice-fishing goes, the day was balmy. No need to skim ice from the holes, Scott pointed out that despite it being the end of January, none of us wore gloves. Elk steaks at lunch completed our peaceful setting.

But, things changed quickly. The strengthening chinook winds from the west blew warm air that felt like a furnace. By the time we finished our midday meal, there was an inch of water on top of the ice. At times, we had waves on the top of the ice. Water was literally running down our holes like a drain. When we saw the ice near shore deteriorating before our eyes, we decided to pull up the lines.

The dry roads we had been impressed with on the drive in had turned ugly. Frost in the gumbo had been released, turning the top layer into slime. The four-wheeler had all it could do, pulling our sleds uphill, pushing mud in front of it. When we made it to the truck, Scott stayed on the Polaris, making sure the final stretch was fit for a vehicle pulling a trailer. We made it out to the main gravel road and all breathed a sense of relief.

As mentioned, if Fort Peck had rewarded us with a mess of walleyes or a monster pike, it would all have been a minor hassle. But, the fishing was less than spectacular with only a few, small fish to show for our efforts. It appears that this may be the shortest ice-fish season on record.

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