Reprint from 2005:
I still get excited at the smell of grits, biscuits and gravy, slabs of salted pork and a big ol’ glass of sweet tea in the morning. These days, I still speak like an old south cotton farmer when sitting around the shop with a group of Midwestern friends.
After a job transfer from North Carolina, I woke up one January morning in 1993 and found myself living in a foreign land. A land with eighteen inches of accumulated snow and an additional eight inches falling. I walked outside that first day and felt my nose go numb and ice formed on my mustache and beard. It was 15 degrees below zero! I was now a Midwestern Yankee!
I had spent my first thirty years in the Heart of Dixie, BASS FISHING, country fairs, flea markets, bluegrass and with good ol’ boys who dreamed of spectacular NASCAR finishes and finding a honey hole to pull that next big lunker from. I now live in a land where days get very short in the winter, the water turns hard, and hibernation also includes the human population.
As far as the population, I live in small town Michigan. A town where most people know your name, main street Christmas parades are made up of people you see at church and their youngin’s who attend school with your children. We sit on main street on cold mornings in a corner village restaurant eating eggs, bacon, hash browns, toast and sweetened tea. There is no use in adding sugar to a glass of unsweetened tea. It never develops that southern taste. The waitresses continue the long standing joke about me and my desire for grits, livermush, collards, and everything that taste southern. The talk of cabin fever usually sets in some time after the first big snows fall. Cabin Fever is usually the topic in a small town conversation as we wait for longer days and the first rays of spring sunshine to thaw and warm our bodies.
Getting To The Point
Plain and simple, I love fishing, making lures, buying gear, etc! Most of all, I love fishing! This is my story. A crank bait just slides across the ice in the northern winter months. How would this southern boy get back into the sport I love.
If I had a dime for every time the thought of largemouth hitting a lure pops into my head, I might be able to quit the day job. I love bass fishing. In Michigan, the bass season ends in November and doesn’t start up again until June 1st. It’s not much fun catching bass that don’t have the ability to fight. The strike and tenacious outburst of warm water energy in these fish is what the sport is all about.
These people are not southerners! They are a unique breed of people who are weather savvy, have a love for the outdoors, conservation and beef jerky stores. You can’t sum a Michigander up in that short sentence, but this one will: “They are some fine folks that would fit in at a southern Sunday fried chicken dinner”. “They are good people” as my southern relatives would put it in their most well spoken southern dialect.
After Ten Years, I consider myself a Michigander of southern heritage. I enjoy the winter months and ice fishing as we wait to get our bass boats back out on the seasonal warmed water.
Jigging And Tip-Ups
Ice fishing is a wonderful sport and I have acclimated myself to it with childlike eagerness. I believe if I keep my southern speak quiet, I might even fool the most seasoned northern ice angler into thinking I am from this wonderful land.
We get up early in the morning and load up our augers, buckets, little rods, folding shanty, heaters, wax worms, chub and shiner minnows, and tip-ups labeled with our names. We walk the frozen lakes bundled up for those close to zero mornings with daybreak winds that whip across the surface carrying ice crystals like sand on a southern beach.
We look for those spots that we marked in memory while bass fishing in the warm months. Drill our holes and place our shanty with our backs to the wind. A couple tip-ups are installed and set in prime locations with a baited chub waiting for the elusive winter northern pike. We look out of our plastic windows and watch for the flag indicators to enable us to say “Fish On”!
Time To Start Fishing
The bucket used to carry our supplies to the lake transforms into a chair that is a comfortable as your Lazyboy. Our short rods are baited with minnows, wax worms or the favorite winter bait and we jig – jig – jig and wait a few seconds.
We talk about summer, past and future – fish we caught and fish we will. We eat sausages, jerky, drink coffee and pop while warming our hands on a propane heater.
We discuss politics, children growing up, cub scouts and baseball. We grab our own little piece of summer back through a couple 8 inch ice holes. It’s a northern version of sitting on the dock wasting the day away and enjoying the company of a good friend.
Every so often, our 2 – 4 pound test lines will jiggle a little and we pull our lines tight. This is the cure for cabin fever! Pulling the line to the surface and with very little resistance in this winter tug-o-war, we get a fish through the ice hole that brings a Christmas morning smile to our faces. A bluegill, crappy, or other small pan fish, that we would brush off in the summer months, becomes a winter trophy. A trophy indicating that mother nature has not kept you from the water and the creatures of the deep.
Once in a while, a big lunker will slowly swim into site. As you peer down the hole. You just think that this will be the target of your cast in a few months. Your summer quarry sluggishly swims out of site. You talk about catching him in the spring as your partner pulls another pan fish through the ice for a photo opportunity.
Occasionally, those tip-ups will show a fish on and we leave the comfort of a warmed shanty to slowly wrangle a 30 inch or greater Northern Pike in. We cautiously get the fish to the hole and with one last pull at the end, the fish tail leaps out of the water and right next to you! This winter fish catching event happens with all the emotions of of boating that perfect lunker in the summer months. The day goes by, we talk, catch fish and pack it all up for another time.
Johnny Reb And The Yank
I makes you think. Even the most “tongue in cheek” hardcore Yankee and Southerner become brothers out on the water. The Mason-Dixon line is erased and the enjoyment of pulling a fish through the surface helps melt away winters grip.
In the winter months, I enjoy thinking about the fish of summer, but I also enjoy “Ice In” and a hardening of the water that enables us to walk on it and put a line in.
I will forever bootleg my southern food delicacies back to Michigan, but I would also long for 6 inches of ice and a winter honey hole if I found myself in the land where the ice doesn’t freeze.
I am an ice fishing ” Midwesterner of Southern Heritage”. “Yaw’ll come on up now……We’ll go fishin – eh’ “!
-carolinachip (back in the south as of 2008)