“If it’s going to attract a northern, a sucker has to be able to move,’’ Griz said. “If it’s dead, or it’s hooked so it can’t swim, you won’t get ’em. And if the sucker is in weeds, so it can’t move, you won’t catch fish, either.
“So you want to find the edge of a weed line and fish there.’’
We hiked a couple of hundred yards offshore before drilling our first hole through about 15 inches of ice — a lot for so early in winter.
Griz often deploys some equipment “that isn’t made anymore.’’ On Friday, this included a homemade sled that was a half-century old and some tip-ups that were fashioned entirely from metal, not plastic, like new models are.
Per winter fishing rules, each of us was allowed two lines, and we quickly had six holes drilled and rigged. Perhaps 50 yards separated one hole from the next, a distance that distributed our baits widely and increased our chances of intercepting moving fish.
“Northerns move into and out of areas where you’re fishing,’’ Griz said. “When they do, you want to have a bait they can see and that’s moving.’’
We caught no fish the first time a tip-up flag was triggered. Nor the second time, perhaps because a walleye, bass or even a northern had grasped onto the bait and swum away, without hooking itself.
But the third flag produced an unexpected prize: a walleye.
“Maybe it was a walleye that mouthed the first two baits,’’ Frank said. “That could be why we missed them.’’
When we re-rigged, or drilled new holes, we retreated to a sort of neutral zone that allowed us to watch all of our tip-ups, without being on top of any of them, creating noise in the cold depths below.
Soon, the northern action heated up, with one fish pulled onto the ice, then another and another. The biggest might have pushed 7 pounds. All were big enough to clean.
Then we had two on at once.
“There’s a flag,’’ Frank said.
“There’s another over there,’’ I said.
Quickly, Griz shuffled toward one tip-up, while Frank and I hightailed it to the other.
Reaching the hole, Frank knelt, threw off his gloves, cast aside the tip-up, felt the line for tension —there was a lot — and set the hook.
For a few moments, he had the big fish of the day.
Then the leader broke. Or was cut by the fish’s sharp teeth.