Some people call him passionate while others call the guy crazy. I call him Dave. He's a little off, as is the case with nearly any addicted muskie angler, but over the years Dave's taught me a bit about angling and offered genuine advice regarding life in general. Yet when he does lend almighty wisdom, it never seems to make sense at the time. I sort of need to "discover" what he means.
For instance, I recall Dave uttering "we're only one away from a limit" on numerous muskie fishing adventures. He always chuckles afterwards, finding tireless humor in his quip referencing Minnesota's single muskie limit. Over time his tongue in cheek statement came to mean, "You're always only one small step away from success" a motivational mantra anyone can appreciate.
Dave's favorite quote is "root hog, or die" meaning to provide for yourself or do without and face the consequences. In the past, farmers would set domestic swine loose to find their own food, thus lowering their feed costs and "root hog, or die" referenced the pig's new independence for rummaging around the forest floor to find sustenance.
To Dave it's an old rugby chant that translates to "the lowest pig wins." He would tell me this before each high school football game, reminding me to stay low to the ground with good form when tackling and running the ball. But the other day while ice fishing, "root hog, or die" actually helped me catch more fish.
Finding perch was this afternoon's goal and the smaller fish were plentiful, but the desirable jumbos were hard to locate. Using an underwater camera for observation, it didn't take long to discover the impedance of my catch rate. The smaller fish outnumbered the larger perch twenty-fold. This swarm of hungry fingerlings prevented the larger fish from accessing the hook, aggressively snapping at my waxworm every time the bait dropped.
The little ones seemed to hover slightly higher off the bottom than the big perch, which sat with their bellies touching the sand waiting for a window of opportunity to feed.
Taking this into consideration I started by positioning the bait closer to the bottom, which resulted in the smaller fish moving downward with it. No good. It was when I set my rod in the snow to open a bottle of water that revealed the magic formula. A fish grabbed my bait as it sat motionless on the bottom and I quickly had a plump perch on the ice. I had not jigged, jerked or even wiggled the bait, it simply sat on the bottom, and it was as if Dave's verse entered my mind through "Jedi" telepathy.
Ice anglers often keep their baits suspended somewhere between the ice and bottom, dancing their offering around like a marionette. Though small minnows and zooplankton hover in the same region, tiny invertebrates call the bottom home. Perch and other fish species find themselves with their snouts to the lake bed, plucking these small creatures out of the silt, sand and mud. It's common practice to leave a presentation sitting on the bottom during the open water season and ice fishing is no different. Perch, panfish, walleye and pike all search for food on the bottom, giving reason for ice anglers to occasionally position their presentation in direct contact with the substrate, allowing fish to "root" for the bait.