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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/books/entry_id/395947-Sparkling-Diamonds
Rated: 13+ · Book · Community · #1031057
My thoughts on everything from albacore tuna to zebras
#395947 added January 20, 2006 at 7:49pm
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Sparkling Diamonds
         Well, if you’re reading today’s entry without reading yesterday’s you might want to go back and read it first. It’ll help make more sense of things. Go ahead. I’ll wait…

         Back, already? You just scanned it, didn’t you? Oh well, your loss.

         As you can see, ice fisherman are, by nature, a gregarious bunch of guys. Take a look across any frozen lake with fishermen on it and you will notice them in small clusters. They may be fishing together, they may not be. They cluster, because…that’s where the fish are. But even single fisherman, clustered together, by day’s end will have met and talked with each other and formed a loosely knit group of sorts. You may even run into each other on a future trip and further develop that friendship.

         But, on that same lake, you will also notice the occasional lone fisherman, off by himself, traveling light, moving frequently. He’s the explorer, the scout. If he stays in one place long enough, the other fisherman will notice. They may watch him through binoculars and if they note he is being successful and they are not, there will be a mass exodus in the direction of that lone angler. It takes a special type of fisherman to spend the day on the ice alone. It is lonely, and sometimes frustrating, if you don’t find the fish. You have no one to talk to…or dance with. It’s just you, the ice, and your thoughts. I know I’ve done it. But believe it or not, there’s an even lonelier time. If you hit it right, it’s a magical time, a mysterious time, as well. And that’s ice fishing at night. Something very few anglers will ever try.

         There is a species of fish, known as walleye that are primarily nocturnal feeders, although you can catch them during the day. They are also one of the sweetest tasting fish you will ever have the pleasure of consuming, and thus a much sought after quarry. Years ago, I read an article about ice fishing for walleyes at night. I decided to try it and this is the story of the first night I ever spent on the ice, alone. There have been quite a few since.

         I decided to fish Prompton Dam in northeastern Pennsylvania, a lake known for it’s walleye population. Of course, when I tried to convince my friends to join me, they looked at me like I was some sort of nut. A look I get fairly often. So I threw my gear in my Volkswagen and headed to the lake at about four in the afternoon.

         Prompton Dam is about four miles long, but at its widest point it is maybe 150 yards from bank to bank. Essentially it’s a flood control dam on a stream. I choose to fish down near the dam breast where the water was deepest. I had just enough daylight to haul my gear out on the ice and get set up before night fell.

         In the article, the anglers had little lights on their tip ups that signaled when they had a strike. I didn’t. All I had was a Coleman lantern that I used to frequently patrol my tip ups looking for the flag that would signal my first strike.

         Night fell and I settled back on my five-gallon bucket with the lantern between my legs for warmth.

         Nighttime in winter is very peaceful. The blanket of snow helps to deaden any sound and when you are far from the trappings of civilization with only one country road close by, it isn’t long until the loudest sound you hear is your own breathing or the hiss of the lantern. That particular night there was a full moon. It hadn’t come up yet. It was preceded by a completely clear starlit sky unlike any I have ever seen since. The brightness of the stars made me forget about fishing and I spent quite a bit of time staring up at the sky, picking out constellations. I even lay down on the ice and put my hands under my head, so I could watch. The lantern was turned down until it was almost extinguished. I felt priveleged to see this show.

         Slowly, over the far ridge the moon began to make it’s appearance. As it rose above the treetops, it sparkled off the fresh snowfall we had the night before. The entire lake looked like a field of diamonds. This was a new part of the show. I sat up. I was mesmerized. I was treated to the hooting of a couple of owls in a pair of hemlocks along the shore behind me. After a while I remembered to check my tip ups. No fish.

         Somewhere, shortly after midnight, I heard a distant rumble from up the valley. For a moment I thought it was thunder and then I remembered the crystal clear sky. I listened closely as the rumbles rose and faded, coming closer, then going away. It was a symphony made up entirely of percussion instruments. By this time I knew what it was, and for a moment, it frightened me, and then I remembered I was sitting on twenty inches of ice. You see, the temperature had fallen below freezing and the ice was expanding. The lake was “making ice” and as it did so it expanded and cracked. Before the night was over I listened to one rumble begin four miles up valley and travel the entire length of the dam. I watched the crack form several feet in front of my lantern. This symphony continued throughout most of the night.

         Along about two AM a fox barked on the ridge, at least at the time, I took it for a fox. Now, thirty years later I’m pretty sure it was a coyote. At three am, not to far behind me, on the same ridge, there began a wailing, unlike anything I had ever heard. Imagine a baby bawling at the top of its lungs. It penetrated to the very core of me. The hair on my neck standing up, I was afraid to even turn around, not that I could have seen anything in the darkness. It was the cry of a bobcat.

         Close to six AM the sky to the east began to lighten and in time I could see the tip ups without the lantern. The snow lost its moonlit diamond sparkle and the stars disappeared from sight. I packed up my gear and headed, not for home, but for class. I was in my freshman year at Penn State. I hadn’t caught a single fish.

Thirty years later the memory of that night is so clear I can still feel the cold, hear the hiss of the lantern and see the moonlit diamonds on the snow. I went on to perfect my nighttime walleye ice fishing but no other trip has ever held such a special place in my memories.

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