Jeff Tribe - For the Tillsonburg News
Not that one might suspect a ‘fishy story,’ but they seem always to have been biting ‘yesterday’ or ‘last week.’
That was true for Dick Saarloos, who pulled in 42 perch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days previously on the ice out of Old Cut, including 20 in a frenetic half-hour stretch.
But they were biting a week ago Tuesday as well, with 45 candidates for a delicious perch fry in a shared five-gallon pail by 2:45 p.m.
“Gosh, they are good to eat!” Saarloos enthused.
“You can’t beat fresh perch,” hutmate Rob Kraan agreed.
Saarloos has been ice fishing locally and on Lake Nipissing for over 40 years, and is thrilled to get back out on Lake Erie’s frozen surface in 2018 after a two-year hiatus imposed by comparatively-balmy weather.
“We do it in the winter when we’ve got the time,” explained Saarloos, whose responsibilities on Berryhill Fruit Farm near Aylmer preclude summer fishing excursions. “And this year, there are fish in this bay.”
Adequate ice is a prerequisite for fishing of that nature, and a welcome arrival after back-to-back shutouts.
“Way better than not,” laughed James Carroll of Jimmy Riggin Ice Fishing (519-586-7990, www.jimmyriggin.com), who operates 11 six-person insulated, propane-heated huts with individual barbecues out of Old Cut in Long Point.
Carroll, along with St. Williams ice fishing operators Brad Woodward (who purchased Granger’s Ice Fishing) and Mike Lounsbury (Bayside Ice Fishing) are operational, Carroll opening December 28, 2017 and running since that date.
Carroll remains constantly vigilant on ice conditions and urges caution for anyone venturing out on Lake Erie’s frozen surface to do the same, but has been able to continue through three ‘warm patches.’ He is also happy to report fishing has been good.
“Lots of fish here, which is really nice for customers.”
A couple of pickerel and steelhead were landed early in the season, the latter ‘extremely rare’, with one memorable ‘steelie’ battle lasting 45 minutes.
“It didn’t jump,” laughed Carroll. “But that’d be fun - I’d love to do it.”
Perch are the staple, but large numbers of northern pike have also been turning up.
“Tons of pike this year, ridiculous amounts,” Carroll confirmed. “Customers like pike.”
An active ice-fishing season is good for the area economically says Carroll, supporting everything from operators to gas stations and restaurants.
“It’s good for everybody.”
And while the prospect of reeling in one’s own winter perch fry is enticing given retail fillets’ $20-per-pound-plus cost, ice fishing is moreso a winter tradition and shared experience in a beautiful, natural setting.
“We have a great time,” said Kraan, citing a stress-relieving break from phones, work and life’s responsibilities. He has been out three times this year, Saarloos four.
“As long as there’s ice, I’m going to come once a week,” confirmed the latter.
In a hut 100 metres away, JP Antonacci’s four hours of experience paled in comparison to Saarloos’ 40 years, but he was still clearly bitten by the ice-fishing bug.
Antonacci suffered through a couple of near misses at the top of his hole before officially landing his first hard-water perch, and adding a more photo-worthy specimen shortly before his departure.
“It’s easier to tell it isn’t the lure,” Antonacci laughed, indicating he definitely would give ice fishing another try.
“Absolutely I’ll be back,” he concluded. “Camaraderie, outdoors, a little bit of action – you can’t beat that.”