The saying goes that, “a bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work.” But a good day of fishing? It can’t be beat.
I glanced up toward the stars as my boyfriend, Travis, drove the snowmobile across Moosehead Lake. There is no light pollution that far north. The sky was as dark as coal and the stars shone so brightly, they looked fake. Argos, my Brittany, shivered on my lap and I hugged him tighter. It was 10 degrees without the windchill. We went over a bump and our ice fishing gear jostled in the jet sled we were towing. My eyelashes stuck together when I blinked as they were freezing up. I thought to myself, “I’ve never felt more alive than I do right now. In the bitter cold, under these stars.”
Travis turned the snowmobile off when we reached our fishing spot near Mount Kineo and Argos jumped off my lap. There wasn’t a soul in sight. I looked at my watch — 5:45 a.m. It was Feb. 15, the opening day of salmon fishing on Moosehead. It would be getting light soon and the salmon should be biting.
“I’m going to drill my holes here, then you can take the auger and drill your holes while I set my traps,” Travis said, gesturing in a line where he planned to set his tip-ups.
“OK. And when we are all set up, let’s put the pop up over there and have a second cup of coffee and cook some venison sausage,” I said as I pointed toward shore.
Travis started the auger. It broke the ice at his feet and the silence of the morning. I followed behind him and laid a trap next to each hole. Argos ran around like a spaz, sniffing and peeing on mounds of snow that were very interesting to him, but looked ubiquitous to me.
When Travis finished, he handed me the auger. I studied his line of traps, their reflective tape glowed in the beam of my headlamp. They were set perpendicular to shore, fishing a variety of water depths.
I walked about 50 feet away and drilled my first hole. I put a smelt from the 24-hour bait shop in Shirley on the hook and set my first trap.
I repeated the process with my second trap and around 6:15, while I was setting my third trap, I saw one of my flags pop up. “FLAAAAG!!” I yelled to Travis as I ran toward it. He fired up his snowmobile and rode over. After a couple minutes, I hauled up a salmon and quickly measured it. “Only 16 inches,” I told him. They have to be 18 inches to keep on Moosehead so I removed the hook and released the fish.
The bite was on but now I only had one trap in the water. As quickly as I could, I wrapped the line around the reel, re-baited the hook, and set the trap back in the water.
As I walked to finish setting up my third trap, I noticed the sun starting to rise. The 800-foot rhyolite cliff of Kineo glowed in the soft morning light. Shades of lavender and merlot lit up the horizon and I felt a twinge of guilt — I would never watch the sunrise if I wasn’t a sportsman. My love of fishing was the only reason I was in this beautiful place enjoying this beautiful sunrise.
After I set my fourth trap and looked around and tried to decide where to set my last trap. I opened the Navionics app on my phone to study the lake’s depths, hoping for a clue on what might be a good spot. As I studied, the flag at my feet popped up. The reel spun. I yelled to Travis as I set the hook and started pulling in line. He buzzed over again on his snowmobile. Soon, a plump 20-inch salmon came up the hole.
“I’m going to keep this one, my mom has a great salmon loaf recipe I want to try.” I said with delight.
“I have a flag!” Travis announced as he zipped off on his snowmobile while I reset my trap. I ran over when I finished.
“What happened? Where’s the fish?” I asked him.
“I lost it, the hook turned back into the smelt and pulled out of the fish,” Travis said, frustrated.
I turned around to survey my traps and noticed one of the flags was up. “Must be my woman’s intuition!” I hollered to him as I ran toward it. It’s a joke we share. On days I’m more successful than him I attribute it to my female intuition and knowing precisely where to set my traps. It was another salmon, a long skinny one. I released it and looked up to see Travis running toward one of his traps.
“A lake trout,” he hollered to me.
“You have another flag!” I yelled back to him and pointed to a flag waving in the wind. We both ran to it. “We might run out of bait at this rate,” I joked, and Travis hauled out a keeper 19-inch salmon.
The rest of the morning was a blur of flags and fish but by 9 a.m. the morning bite had slowed.
We had caught 15 salmon and two lake trout, and I finally had my second cup of coffee.