Fishing with Don Meissner

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Winter, a time of frozen lakes, blustery winds, and endless nights. Winter is when people sleep and dream of better times to come. For many sportsmen, it’s a time when memories are enhanced by times of great days and greater fish. Tackle is collected and repaired, and days marked off on the calendar until the dawn of a new season. 

But for many, winter is the only time to fish. Shanties are pulled onto the ice, stews and soups are always steaming over a portable stove, and drink and stories flow freely amongst special friends. Ice fishing is a North Country tradition plays such a colorful role in our outdoor culture. 

I have always been an outsider to this form of angling, although I have done several shows through the years with various guides and experts. However, it had been quite a while since I had last ventured onto the ice, and when invited to Henderson Harbor to film a local derby, I jumped at the chance. We were putting together a new guide to North Country fishing for the military, and this was a great opportunity to showcase the bays of Lake Ontario

I expected to catch a few perch and maybe a wandering northern pike. I never imagined that the highlight of the day would turn out to be “chain pickerel”. I didn’t even know that there were any of these fish in Henderson Harbor. My guide and primary guest for the day was Curt Rendleman. When I had phoned ahead to find out how things were going, he said the pickerel were pretty active. I had yet to meet Curt, and I figured he was just a bit confused and probably meant small northerns. 

Well, was I in for a pleasant surprise. Curt was an expert in his craft and I soon realized that I had lucked out and was in very capable care. We had barely said hello, when someone yelled  “flag” with Curt racing toward the sprung tip-up. He started grinning as the line played through his fingers, and abruptly he reared back to set the hook. Moments later, the most beautiful pickerel I’d ever seen lay flopping on the ice. As the sun glistened of the emerald green and yellow body, I stood amazed at the size of the fish. Well over twenty inches and close to five pounds, the fish had the body of a chunky northern pike. “Curt” I said, “I didn’t know pickerel got that fat. It’s huge!” He sort of chuckled and added, “ They’re all like that. We’ve already taken two larger ones this morning.” 

Now I have got to tell you folks: this is a big story! I have fished pickerel from Maineto New Jersey, and have never seen fish like these. I was to learn that consistent catches of four to six pound fish have been taken in most of the Lake Ontariobays in this area. I guess the locals have been keeping it a secret. Something has triggered a proliferation of this species and a huge growth stimulus Maybe the Gobies? 

Here’s my tip: if you enjoy catching northern pike, then you will LOVE pickerel. They are more aggressive, are a blast on light tackle, and have a wonderful flavor. You better learn how to fillet, because you’ll end up with a mouthful of bones, if you don’t. Keep watching this site for more open water info on this much maligned and overlooked species. I kept two four pound pickerel for that night’s meal, and those fish may have been the tastiest I have ever eaten. 

After this post was uploaded, I decided to add a video made while trying Henderson Harbor for pickerel during the regular season following my adventure with the ice fishing derby.


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