First splake-fishing trip of the year

May 3, 2011

Saturday, April 30th, the morning dawned calm and warm and I had discovered a forgotten downrigger rod with lead-core line, so I hopped into the boat and ran over to Indian Lake to see if I could find a splake. I had never really considered using the Moto-Guide to troll for splake before, but the Mercury, while it runs strongly at speed, idles like a barrel of empty cans rolling down a flight of stairs. Every rivet and fitting on the boat vibrates. The fish might not mind, but I hate the sound.

So I tried the lead line while trolling silently on the electric motor at a gentle speed. Lead core line is hard to unwind and reel in again. I hate the expensive, but awkward Diawa line-counter reel on which I have it spooled. It has no balance at all, so everything is a chore with it.

I dragged a silver spoon around the usual haunts and got a few of the usual splake bumps, but no solid strikes. Splake are prone to swimming up quickly behind a lure, then grabbing the round part of the hook with the tips of their mouths and suddenly turning left, shaking the lure enough to notice, but missing the hooks.

How do I know this? One afternoon I encountered a school of 12″ splake which must have just been stocked. They were clustered under a raft of timbers next to the shore, attempting to hide from a pair of loons which made regular sorties in for a snack.

Curious, I grabbed my light rod, put on a small crappie jig, and teased the naive fish to bite. To my surprise they struck willingly on a chartreuse tube jig, but I couldn’t hook them: they just kept tearing the tentacles off the tube jig. So I watched. Splake seem genetically programmed to accelerate suddenly behind prey, then to bite off the tail in a tearing motion to one side. This turn makes the striking fish very hard to hook.

With practice I discovered that if I hesitated a bit, the splake held on more often. Gradually I developed the knack of hooking them. After catching and releasing a couple of hundred dumb hatchery fish I grew bored, but I had had ample opportunity to observe up close how splake strike.

This day, without a stinger hook on my lure or any inclination to thread a mud minnow onto one and increase my odds, I contentedly floated around the calm lake and enjoyed the day. Then my rod started to jump a bit. Playing a fish on a downrigger rod is a rather numb sensation at the best of times. The same thing with two hundred feet of lead-core line is like trying to type with mitts on. Nonetheless I brought up the yearling splake and cheerfully dropped it into the well.

The big difference between a splake and a lake trout: a laker brought up from 80 feet is just about dead. A splake’s all ready to fight. With the cold water in the well, my prize remained frisky for several hours.

No more fish struck this day, but I had earned bragging rights for the season’s first splake. It grilled up very nicely for Sunday lunch.

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