When I posted about my recent yellow perch frenzy on Lake Ontario, I forgot to mention one important fact that connects my ice fishing endeavors to the theme of this blog: yellow perch is closely related to the European perch, which is very popular with anglers in Eastern Europe.
In kitchens back in Mother Russia, perch is often smoked, fried, baked, or boiled, and served with all kinds of vegetables and mushrooms. It’s often the fish of choice for making ukha, a Russian fish soup that’s almost as thin as a broth.
My ice-fishing track record has been pretty disappointing this year. Disappointing as in not a single fish caught all season. Same as last year, come to think of it. I do feel like I know better what I’m doing: I read books, I talk to the locals, I sort of know where to look, I drill a lot of holes, I keep track of lake depth and structure. Sometimes I even see blips that look like fish on my sonar.
But all winter long, the fish didn’t bite. At least not my lines. Three times I’ve been to Saratoga Lake, reputed to one of the best fishing lakes in New York State — and got nothing. I spent a day on Lake George, dragging my sled though a foot of snow, struggling against incessant gusts of wind to prevent my gear from getting buried and my holes from freezing over — still nothing. Meanwhile, Outdoorsman Bill was parading on his web site with his daily bucketloads of perch and Putin-worthy pike.
I needed help. I wanted my own bucket of perch. So I made the five-hour drive to see Bill last weekend.
Back in early December, I went to Lake Ontario for my first duck hunt with Outdoorsman Bill. This may sound like a long trip for a few small birds. After all, there are dozens of Canada geese pooping all over the lawns as nearby as Westchester. Lake Ontario, however, sees a lot of waterfowl species, and in larger amounts. Plus, shotguns aren’t allowed in Westchester (believe me, I checked). Anyway, back to Bill. Not content just hunting ducks, Bill runs a small fleet of charter boats, guides on hard water, and owns a lodge across the marina. If you’re looking for him at the inn’s restaurant, the bartender will point at the live band. While most of the other hunters are sleeping off a long day outdoors before waking up at 4 am to do it again the next day, Bill plays live music at night.
It’s not easy, preparing elaborate recipes with fish you catch yourself. Sometimes, you come home empty-handed and anything you’ve thought of making has to wait until next time — this has happened a lot to me recently. But at other times, you land 40 lb of fish, and then you have to act fast — like two weeks ago, after a day on Lake Ontario with Captain Troy.
Back in Russia, fishing salmon for recreation generally requires a taste for northern climates, and, more often than not, some serious travel time. If you want Atlantic salmon, you fish the Baltic, Barents, or Kara Seas, the rivers draining into them, as well as a bunch of lakes connected to them in Karelia. For Chinook or Coho salmon, you look around the Sea of Okhotsk — a region more famous for its gulags and tough climate than its recreational fishing. The fact that you’re probably seeing half of these sea names for the first time right now should tell you something: they’re far, even if you live in Russia.
Here in North America, salmon fishing is significantly simpler. Most if not all of the Great Lakes are stocked with Atlantic, Chinook, and Coho salmon, all in the same place, making the days of countless fishing charters in the summertime. When spawning season comes in the fall, thousands of salmon (and trout) swim upstream the rivers connected to the lakes to build their nests (called redds). At that point you don’t even need a boat anymore — just find a spot on the bank and cast your line!