CANTON, Ill.--Saturday morning Ralph Steiger sat on the ice next to me at the Giant Goose Ranch and offered advice; and didn't fish himself.
And it paid off with a couple perch and a couple crappie for me in the hour before I needed to head home.
Key word in the top sentence is offered. Not browbeat, not embarrassed, not sneered.
No, what he offered was good advice on reading the Vexilar and ice fishing off what was going on on the screen.
I am a casual ice fisherman. Steiger is one of the best multi-species fishermen around.
Kind of like, back in the day, the difference between me and Maradona on the soccer pitch. Maybe that is overstating it slightly, but you get the idea.
I first met Steiger as a teenager and he was already a top fisherman. He has only gotten better in the 15 years or so since.
Keep in mind, I have 25 or 30 years on Steiger, but those years at least make me smart enough to listen to somebody who knows more than I do.
To ice fishing.
I understand getting the bait to the bottom, then lifting if off the bottom half a foot to a foot and jigging lightly. The difference between myself and Steiger came when a fish lifted off the bottom to come to the bait---that red line separating from the bottom clutter on the Vexilar screen. I would sit there on my red Igloo cooler and jig it enticingly.
Steiger finally couldn't take it. And he was compelled to offer advice. He said when I see that happening, I should jig up slowly and pull the fish up and bring it to take the bait. Ergo, a hit and another fish on ice.
It took me a time or two, but I picked up on the technique. I even became proficient enough to jig a suspended crappie, which showed up as a red line on the Vexilar and ended up flopping on ice.
His lure worked better for a reason. It was a brown jigging spoon. He chose that because he had been told there was no feeding going on in the pond. So he figured he should use a lure imitating other fish, the source of food. And he tipped it with a fathead head. Say that fast a couple times: fathead head, fathead head.
The crappie and perch were nice, but I caught all those before on ice.
The thing we were trying for was smallmouth bass. I have never caught a smallmouth while ice fishing.
Two nights before, Bruce Bergren and his son, the one and only Bobby B, and I had come down to Giant Goose to sample the great fishing the Herman brothers are building there.
The previous morning, Bobby B got his smallmouth on ice. Bruce had a good one come unhinged at the hole. I had no such luck or near misses.
I was hoping to get one, which is partially why I stayed long enough to try again Saturday morning
Finally, a red line showed up, a thick slow red line on the Vexilar. A smallmouth. I carefully jigged and tried to pull it up. It would not move.
I tried to drop it back and pull it up again. No luck.
Finally the red line faded away. And so did my chance for a smallmouth while ice fishing. There's still something to stretch for in life.
And I tell you what, the Herman brothers have a thing, bigger than just fishing, going on at Giant Goose. That's Nate Herman (on the right) and Steiger (left) stragetizing Friday morning.
Life is about learning and loving.
Or loving to learn.
OK, just in terms of life, maybe it is the greatest to learn to love.