Saturday, January 16, 2010

Flying on Hard Water!

I just had a nice visit from a SRU friend from PA.  He was coming over to sail his ice boat on Lake Charlevoix in a regatta.  Ben drove over on Wednesday and spent the night with me catching up on news about Slippery Rock.  We left Wellston at 7:00 AM for Boyne City.

Here is Ben's truck with his sailing gear.  The launch site was just North of the marina in town.  The ice was 4" thick of good solid black ice with only a small 1" covering of snow.  Ben wanted to have Thursday and Friday to practice as this was his first outing of the season.

I noticed two local ice boats were stored over on the side.  This was good new for Ben.  He could leave his boat on the ice overnight and save an hour of setting up time. They use ice screws to hold them in place overnight and put on covers.

We carried out four long bags of gear, two storage crates of stuff and all the equipment needed to set up the ice boat. The wood plank was unpacked first.  Ben had the plank constructed for his weight.  It has a bow to it that flattens out two inches when he is on it.  The black end pieces holds the two back blades.  Ice boaters have several blades for different conditions and for practicing and racing.  They carry tools to sharpen the blades if needed.

The Polish fiberglass body was fastened to the plank with one bolt.  It is a simple cockpit and you can see the long handle in front that steers the front blade.  Ben bought this ice boat body from the Polish Racing team that races in the USA and then sells the boats after each race to save on shipping costs back to their country.  Most ice boats are hand-made with wooden bodies.  I'll show you some pictures later in the blog.

In the background you can see about 14 wooden pallets that were donated from a local store.  The ice in front of the ramp was weak and since it was going to warm up, the ramps would be needed to carry gear out on the ice.  This saved  some money over buying several sheets of plywood and is sturdier to walk on. In this picture the steel blades have been attached with one bolt at the end of the plank.  The edge has a sharpened V  point and cuts a track in the ice or fingers if you happened to have it run over you.  That is another story.  The snow on the ice is a problem.  It slows down the boats.  Here only an inch of snow is on the ice so the race is on for Saturday and possibly Sunday.  The racers start over for the race from several states and keep track of news on the way to find out if it is still on or moved to another location or state.  The weather and ice conditions can change in a heartbeat, so the racers have to keep checking.  Ben wanted to have Thursday to set up the boat and get re-acquainted with it. 

Ben is attaching the front blade to the boat.  The small narrow black strip on top of the boat is the ball swivel for the mast.  You can see the thin wires going to the front blade for steering control as you move the pivot arm in the cockpit.  Some of the terms I am using might not be the correct racing boat terms but you get the general idea.

Ben was glad to see a local boater show up as it is better not to practice by yourself.  There have been two deaths in the ice boat community this year when boats went through the ice.  The black masts is just set down on the swivel ball and held in place by the three guy wires.  Two wires go to the end of the plank and one to the front of the boat.  The tension is adjusted to allow flexing of the mast.  There is a lot of tuning to make the boat sail properly.  Ben said that about 80 percent of the ice boaters are summer sailors.  It is obvious that certain sailing procedures would be the same. Ben has a 38 foot sailing boat in Erie that needs a semi-truck to haul around.  That is why it stays up there. This sport is different than many other sports.  The older competitors are usually the better sailers.  The boats are sailed in categories accoring to size, weight and experience.  All things equal, the older guys with more experience are faster.  Ben said that a small 2 to 5 percent advantage in summer sailing at 5 mph doesn't mean as much as in winter ice boating where the boats are going 50 mph.  So a small advantage on the ice means a much faster boat.

Ben's friend has a pleasure boat and is getting out his sail.  It is a handmade boat.  Pleasure sailors enjoy the ice as much as the racers and still enjoy racing just for the fun of it.  Racers are competitive!   On Friday, they will set up a course so the boats are all going in the same direction.  They set up a diamond shaped course that you have to follow.  Each boat can take a different path but have to navigate around all the points of the course.  The changing winds causes different tracks around the course. Today, you just sail and keep an eye out for the other boats.  Two boats traveling at 50 mph each and heading for each other can cause a big impact.  If they crash, the boats always take heavy damage.

The sail is in the groove and getting threaded up the channel on the mast.  The sail is a stiffer, plastic-like material rather than like the soft nylon sails used in the summer.  The front blade has a metal band that can be dropped down  around the blade to act as a brake to keep the boat in position until you are ready to sail.  The wind could start you soaring before you are ready without the brake.

The sails are up and the boats

are ready.  Now the pilots have to get their sailing gear on. 

Ben has his practice jacket on that has a built-in life preserver and a pair of ice picks.  Practicing the ice boating is more dangerous than the races.  Today, Ben and others will check out the ice conditions and help determine the best course setup.  Notice the spiked shoes that Ben is wearing for the running starts.

Ben is psyched!  It is the first ice day of the season for him.  He wants to get re-acquainted with the boat and get some ice time in.  Today is a little dangerous as everything has to be checked out; the boat, the controls, the ice and the conditions.  There is no course so today everyone is just warming up.

You can see the tiller for steering the front of the boat.  Ben has his helmet on, goggles and leather gloves.  To start the boat sailing , he positions the boat at a slight angle to the wind and by pushing on the two back guy wires and pushing off with his ice spikes the boat starts to move.  It is a running start.  Then he stands up on the plank to get into the cockpit.

He is off for the first run of the season.

I'm sailing, I'm sailing!  The boat can reach speeds of 50 mph so large lakes are preferred.

After watching for a while, I decide to go ice fishing.  I drive down the lake to an area away from the racing.  I have never fished this lake so I look for a place that has ice fisherman on it.  I head out and talk to the others out on the ice.  It seems that perch are in the area and maybe some walleyes.  I set up and drill a hole.

My first fish on this lake and a double header!  I release the fish and think I am going to have a good day.

I hear a swishing noise and look around.

Ben sailed over and stopped to check on me.  The ice is thinner up here.  He is enjoying the sailing but the snow is piling up in front of the runners and makes the boat slower.  It is getting warmer and the snow is starting to melt off. Will they be able to race on Saturday and Sunday? 

I came back to the launch area after fishing.  No more bites and it was time to head over and meet my brother, Gary, for dinner.  Here are some shots of the pleasure ice boats that are handbuilt by their owners.  The wood is beautiful.  They are heavier than Ben's racing boat.

The ice is 4 inchs thick and clear.  When I was walking on the ice I could see right through to the sandy bottom.  It looked like you were walking on a thin piece of glass.  A little eery!  The snow is melting off and hopefully the water won't freeze bumpy overnight.

Here is the last shot.

These boats are very beautiful. Ice boating is big in Wisconsin and Minnesota.  Some of the races will be there. You have to travel quite a distance to race your ice boat.

Check out ice boat races, maybe one will be held near you.  Maybe the pleasure boaters will be out on a lake near you.  Hope you enjoyed this blog.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Monster Fish

Well, it wasn't a real monster but a huge one to me.  It was the largest perch I have ever caught.  I finally got out to ice fish on a new lake that is close to Wellston.  I drove down snowy roads to the parking area.  As I got my shanty and gear out, I looked to see if any one was on the ice.  Nope!  I am always a little nervous about going out on the ice when I don't see anyone else out there.  I usually have my brother, Gary, go first.  But we haven't fished together in 2010, yet!

Ok, where do I start?  The lake is just a big empty artist's canvas waiting for me to mark it up.  I go out a few yards and drill a hole.  Only 5", heck that is plenty of ice. My plan is to drill several holes and fish each for 15 minutes and then move until I mark fish or catch one.

I had the shanty 1/2 closed.  It blocks the wind and I have plenty of light.  Yeah, I know what you are thinking.  Those two small perch aren't monster fish!  Just you wait, I'm not done fishing.  I have my Vexilar fish finder up on a pail and it is showing about 45 feet of water.  I put on two ice jigs about  1 1/2 ft. apart  so it will go down quicker.  The cold air causes  ice to form on the eyelets so you have to keep taking the ice off.  I put on two wax worms and start lowering the jigs to the bottom.  I am watching the screen of the Vexilar as the jigs gets down to the bottom.  I do not have a bobber on and watch the screen to judge where my bait is in relationship to the bottom.  I put it right down to the bottom and lift it slightly off bottom. 

I had lost two nice fish by getting them caught on the transducer so I tried a separate hole.  Works better.  I put the Vexilar on top of my pail because it puts it at the same height as the tip of my rod.  That way I can quickly glance back and forth watching the fish on the screen and the tip of my fishing pole for a bite.  Sometimes you start lifting the bait slowly and jig the fish up to bite.

Still not the monster fish or jumbos, but it sure is fun.  I know that perch are school fish and so if you catch one or two there are probably still more down there so I keep fishing this hole.  Sometimes the fish bite very gentle and you have to watch the tip of your rod very closely to see the bite.

Now that is a jumbo!  I am ready now.  My senses are alert and my jig and bait are back in the water.

A couple of guys come over to chat.  They have been fishing in 25 feet of water and only have a few fish.  They ask how deep I am fishing and I reply, "45 ft".  It starts snow and the light is fading, so I head out with my first batch of fish for 2010.

I am happy with these six perch.  I clean the fish and prepare a beer batter coating to pan fry them for supper.  I decide to only eat half.  I made an overnight lettuce salad and baked potato.

Fresh fish always taste so good.  I wish my mother  was here to share it with me.  I always think of her when I eat fresh fish.  She has been gone four years now, but I have many happy memories of her.

The next day, I go back and those two guys are fishing right in my spot from yesterday,  I notice that they have a nice mess of fish.  I move over the the other side of the lake to explore but find out that the perch seem to be back near my original site.  I only get two fish so I give them to one of the guys.  I still have fish to fry for tonight so I'm happy.  Tomorrow I'll go skiing.  Gotta get my legs in shape for fishing!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

On The Ice

I have been out twice on the ice.  The ice is about 4-5" and solid.  It does have a foot of snow on it but with the temperatures below 30 for the month, the ice is solid.  I first went to Portage Lake and had trouble with my gas ice auger.  It has a cracked gas tank and I used epoxy to fix it.  I found out the epoxy doesn't do well on some plastics!  It still leaked so I used my hand auger. I tried to order a new gas tank but it is out of stock for a week.   It only took a few minutes to drill throught the ice with my hand auger.  Then I used my strainer to clear away some of the ice shavings in the hole.  I pulled the top over my ice shanty and dropped in two fishing lines.

Here I am snug in my small ice shanty and waiting for a bite.  I only managed to catch two dink perch.  That means they were small! 

The next day I decided to try a small lake in Brethern.  As I arrived I noticed that there were no fisherman on the small lake.  I did see some tracks and an ice skating area shoveled off so I though "Ok, I'll give it a try".

I walked out 15 feet and drilled a hole to check the ice.  It was a solid 5" so it was ok to proceed.  The snow was starting to fall.  I went out about 40 yards and drilled two holes.  I was using my new Velixar fish finder.  It works pretty neat.  You turn on the unit and put the floating transducer into the hole.  It shows the bottom asa large group of red and orange bands and you can see your lure descending as a small green line.  Fish will show as red lines.  You can see the fish (red) move up towards your lure/bait (green).  it is almost like a video game.

I was using new gear so I wanted to practice.  I could see several fish on bottom and I slowely lower the lure down to just above the fish (red/orange).  I felt a tap and lifted the rod.  Fish on!

I did manage to catch about 6 blue gills that were rather small.  I released them all.  It was just nice to break the sense of cabin fever with a day on the ice.

With the ice shanty top all the way down, it really protects you from the wind and cold.  I didn't need my gloves inside.  If the sun is shinning, the black cover heats up the small space to a comfortable temperature.  Today was not a sunny day!  It was in the low 20s and the snow was coming down. I saw two other fisherman come out on the lake.

This what it was like outside!  See the other fisherman in the background?  I don't know how he could stand being out in this snow storm fishing.

Well, today it is sunny but 16 degrees out. I may get out for a little while to scout a few other lakes.

 'Up North' where the people walk on water!