We examined the depth maps, wind direction, water flow, snowmobile trail and any notes worth consideration available on the interweb and found a spot very much to our liking. It even included an Adirondack lean-to.
The destination chosen provided both good fishing reports and the wilderness experience we were after.
Upon arrival, I was expecting to pull my sled 2 hours into camp over a foot of light powder snow but instead sat down comfortably in a sled pulled by a SnowDog Machine and held the rope of my third sled that got pulled behind with ease.
A friend had purchased the SnowDog for both work and pleasure. He explained that it’s a fraction of the price of a snowmobile, doesn’t need to be registered or insured and can be picked up and put in the back of a truck. It proved invaluable on this trip helping us to fish more and spend less time on setup with only a 3 day weekend to play. So instead of the 2 hour haul into camp it took all of 10 minutes.
I enjoy the physicality of wilderness camping but was pleased to put more time into fishing and less time into travel after having just woken at 3am and driven 5 hours to the destination.
My gear was packed in a schappell jet sled with holes drilled in the sides for bungee cord hooks. The sleds been with me on a few trips now, been used as an icefishing sled, deer haul, and for firewood carry. Maybe one day I’ll load up a streamlined pulk but for now this has been the most efficient and cost effective for my needs.
At camp, I got to splitting some wood and getting a fire started. The reach of a full size axe in the winter woods helped make the processing more safe and efficient.
There was a lot of very green golden birch that I split and added after the fire was up to heat. My Dr. Meter wood moisture reader confirmed the waterlogged birch at 32%! We had also brought some local hardwood that read at 10% having known the limitations on firewood within the camp area (dead and down wood only). Again, regarding the efficiency of a short trip, it’s nice being able to spend more time fishing and less on wood processing especially in a well scoured camping area and in winter with a foot of snow covering the ground. Although I still did split and cut a safe supply of firewood to size for the my tent stove.
In between camp tasks, we had setup 10 baited tip-ups spread around on a loop that the snow dog could monitor. If you ice fish you know the tip-ups work when you are resting but still need to be watched for activity.
With a foot of snow on the ice, it took time to travel and the snowdog was a big help. The Lake Trout could sure run out line if you weren’t alert to a flag up and one bigun even put a bend in one of my spools.
We caught and released a few and each kept one to put in a smoker and share at home.
The fish bit on bait shop shinners but jigging smelt and using them as bait is the ticket to success. Setting the lines 6ft off bottom proved successful on this particular trip.
Unfortunately, it turns out the water body we were fishing had barrels of ddt dumped in the deep years ago. The advisory is to seriously limit consumption of Lake Trout due to their tendency to live in the colder depths for much of the year and this is where the pollution is mostly found. As hungry predacious fish they also bio-accumulate toxins from what they eat within their large bodies. What a shame.
After catching one Laker that I did decide to keep, I slit the gills at the chin of the fish to let it bleed out quickly, gutted it with my belt carry blade and buried it under the snow to hide it from the crows and keep it from freezing over the next 2 days.
The first evening, outside temps were as low as 9f but I kept my kni-co stove in the snowtrekker humming so the ambient temp hovered around 55f. While I slept in the tent, the other guys crashed on cots in the lean-to.
They draped a nylon tarp over the front hooking it into all the nails already in place. The lean-to even had some foam between the logs and that helped very much to cut down on drafts preventing any cold winds from robbing their sleeping bags of stored heat. Personally, I’ve grown to like the use of a bivy bag over the sleeping bag to act as a shell just like a jacket in that sort of circumstance.
I had picked up a pair of p70 Faber snowshoes at a sale and took an afternoon walk about in the forest to explore the surroundings. The lightness of the powder made for difficult conditions but the shoes provided some fun flotation where I would have otherwise been postholing and plunging knee or even waist deep into the snow in spots.
Believe it or not it was carefully pulled in by hand on 10# mono on a tipup line, no metal leader. It was filleted carefully into smaller pieces, breaded and fried in oil in a cast iron pan. It came out delicious as did the yellow perch (Perca flavescens) and rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax) appetizers.
The smelt heads got snipped with a scissor and the body cavity was cleaned with a toothbrush. This made fast work of an otherwise tedious process with cold hands.
The act of catching smelt seems to be the ticket to success as that is the preferred bait food of the predatory Lake Trout and Northern Pike. Many smelt were jigged and placed in a pale to replenish our bait supply but those left over became our own food.
In the evening having the coleman fuel for the burner and lantern makes life easy. The days are short and the speed and efficiency of using them outweighs the weight with or without a snowdog on a trip like this. We used the coleman burner to cook with often and that also allowed us to build up a larger fire for warmth, drying and just fun.
Beyond the wet bird wood that must have been dropped by work crews, the area was mostly hemlock and that did split and burn alright but it doesn’t leave you with much or any coals.
that was alright anyway, with temps around 20f that 2nd and 3rd day we were quite comfortable in our winter clothing and the fire was less a need and more a want.
I took my stove out of the tent so I could pack-up while breakfast cooked. I slapped some bread on the side to make toast.
After getting packed and eating breakfast I stacked the remaining wood under the cover of the leanto shelter. Than took one last slow look around, a deep breath and a smile feeling well about this groups second annual winter outing and knowing surely we would be back for thirds.