March is the month when this old fool puts on way too many heavy clothes and pulls on boots that could float him if he falls through the now, getting softer-ice. March not only is way more comfortable to be out on the ice but also often produces some of the fastest ice fishing of the year.
When we were younger, probably because we were always trying to build our image as a macho, macho outdoor man, we liked to target the glamour fish. They were bragging material - those big trout and salmon - and they were not to be sneezed at when grilled and served with a bit of lemon. And did we mention that they were "bragging material?"Our macho thing has passed several years ago. Now our goal is survival first and catching something nice to eat secondary. If we catch any trout or salmon in our travels, you have to know that it was strictly by mistake. Give me a plate of Jane's fried crappie or yellow perch fillets and it's kind of like being in gourmet heaven.
Funny things happen when Jane sets out a plate of those delicious fillets. Know that a fish has two fillets. Also note that a dozen panfish provide 24 fillets. And I do take note of this fact when sitting down to demolish my plate of them.
But something happens between passing her the fillets to cook and the time she serves them. It's got to be some kind of disappearing magic.
The plate of supposedly 24 fillets will be minus at least six or seven of them. But Jane's a very poor thief. That tell-tale smile of hers immediately indicts her of the crime of fish fillet thievery! It's just so funny and it's a big thrill for me to know how much she enjoys the fruits of my labor.
Crappie fishing and fishing for yellow perch requires two different approaches, although you may catch both species from the same hole in the ice. Crappie usually don't move around much, but will hang out in certain places, usually a deep trench in a shallow part of the lake. They like to suspend a bit off the bottom but as the day gets longer they will often drop down closer to the bottom. They like to feed on small baitfish, but will take a bit of hooked-up worm or meal grub.
We usually will jig with a couple of jig rods set just a foot or so away from each other and will rarely even set out tip-ups for them as they are very light biters and are hard to hook on a tip-up.
But that's not the only way to fish for them. Some friends of mine will punch a bunch of holes well within a few steps away from where the will set on a bucket.
Using the old-style tip-ups in a non-traditional way, they will drop their baits down to the pre-determined level and tie an easily untied loop knot onto their line. Then they set the tip-up on the ice without putting the spool into the water and using the steel band that holds the flag, slip the loop of line over the end of the band, right at the flag. When a crappie hits the bait, the flag will move up and down, signaling the fish's take.
That's when they get off their seat, move to the tip-up and just haul in the crappie.
A little wind hitting the flag will set the bait to slowly moving, a great fish motivation.
When the crappie are hitting really well, there's not much time spent sitting on the bucket and the catch of fish will make your jig-caught bucket look pretty small!
Yellow perch are nomads. They are in schools that are on the move, most probably (but we're not sure) chasing baitfish around. They can be caught on all kinds of bait but small shiners seem to be the most popular with the second choice of those that fish with jig rods, a fresh perch eye. It's kind of gross the first time you pick an eye out of a perch to use. It becomes much more suitable if you do that with a frozen specimen that you've caught earlier.
A friend of mine lives in New York, where yellow perch fillets are like gold, selling for lobster meat-like prices.
Commercial hook and line fishing is allowed and a lot of people supplement their income doing this each winter, especially charter boat guides on the Great Lakes. His approach is to use tip-ups and jig combinations. He will never set a tip-up in one place without drilling a second hole right next to the tip-up.When a flag goes off on the tip-up, instead of pulling that fish in he'll drop a baited jig line into the hole next to it and pull as many yellow perch from it as fast as they can, until the school moves away. These schools of fish normally don't stay in one place very long.
Catches are often counted by the hundreds, so it's not to be called easy work! And these people don't look on it as a sport, but for those of us that are not that aggressive, their method of cutting two holes for each tip-up is a great idea.
And in New Hampshire we do have limits on our panfish.
In finishing, we like to add a unique twist to how to use some of your yellow perch fillets.
Drop them, a few at a time, into a pot of boiling water. When they curl up, quickly remove them with a slotted spoon and set them on a tray of ice. Serve them as an appetizer, along with some spicy tomato and horseradish sauce before your main meal of conventionally cooked fish.
You'll be amazed at how much they taste like shrimp or lobster!
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.