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Weekly blog-about: Planking My Way Onto Virgin Ice

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Planking My Way Onto Virgin Ice: When the Cove Calls, I Step Out

 

Photo by: Ryan Morrill

It’s time to think ice fishing on Collin’s Cove, Mullica River, viewable from the southbound Parkway.

Important: I’m not saying you should go down there – or that the ice is solid. I don’t want the responsibility. So, let’s just stick to thinkin’ about ice fishing and maybe throw in a bit of recollecting.

Voilà: On a couple past occasions, I was the first man standing on that always-tricky ice.

One time, I hiked to the cove’s edge and here was a guy, about my age, just sitting there on a five-gallon bucket, staring out at the empty ice.

I tossed out the logical question. “How’s it lookin’?”

He offered a small, albeit positive, headshake and a simple, “Looks pretty solid.”

As you guessed, that wasn’t a whole lotta help in walk-atop terms. But it was a solid starting point.

I bucketed down and settled in next to him. Then, there were two of us, essentially meditatively trying to determine ice thickness. No pun intended but you don’t just jump into these things.

I’ll note here that we had been experiencing a lengthy but not overly frigid freeze. Slow freezes make for tricky ice tests. At what freeze-over point does the ice reach the fishably solid and sound state? There’s not a microwave oven-type“Ding” that goes off. There’s no green light that suddenly comes on for a couple of guys just sitting there staring at the ice.

I was the first to make a move. I got up, went to the embankment at the river’s edge, and looked over.

Per usual, there was a bank drop-off (very pronounced at low tide) with dark, flowing, unfrozen water flush to the shore. That watery gap is common thereabouts. It is sometimes a couple feet across, twixt land and ice. It comes about when the tide lifts and lowers the entire ice cover. Troublingly, it presents a nasty access/egress headache.

Past that gap, the ice was looking pretty damn healthy. So, would I stake my life on it?

The Collin’s Cove edge-water gap demands a traditional plank – a sturdy board of varying width, used by folks crossing the watery split to reach the ice.

Since many ice anglers are carrying a fairly insane load of specialized ice-fishing gear, crossing the gap can sometimes be akin to crossing the Great Divide. I, along with too many to count, have slipped from plank grace. Some fallers have even hit the water below – crawling out, screamingly soaked, and seeing an entire ice-fishing day go down the tubes. It’s freezing out there anyway. Standing atop the ice while soaking wet? Outside of being something I might do, it just ain’t healthy.

So, here’s the two of us sitting on buckets, occasionally leaning slightly one way then the other, eyeing the uneventful ice cover. My new partner popped opened a cold beverage. I declined an offered can. It was 9 a.m., about 20 degrees out, and windier than a witch’s tit. Kinda hard to work up a good thirst, at least by my reckoning.

In due course, we pondered a plank-seeking mission.

Him: “Plank?”

Me: “Yep.”

Any other time, the cove’s banks would harbor enough washed-up wood debris to build a modest-sized rancher. Of course, not this day. Both of us scoured the tidal area, fighting cantankerous weeds and reeds. Best we could come up with was a blue flip-flop and a small piece of 2-by-4 with hideously protruding nails. Nary a proper crossing plank to be found.

Now on his second beverage, my new partner yelled over, “I’ll be back in a minute” and wandered off into double-overhead phragmites – in the general direction of the parking area.

I settled back atop my bucket, unsure of what was what.

Ten minutes later, my partner returns with as sweet a plank as the Collin’s Cove gap had ever seen. I kid you not. It was gorgeous wood; nicely stained and in mint condition. It even had artfully, hand-engraved words in it. Wow.

Turns out my suddenly industrious partner had gone back to his truck to unbolt one of the seven-foot-long pieces of hardwood be had artfully placed around his truck bed to enhance its holding capacity. I had even admired the workmanship when first pulling into the parking lot.

I was duly moved by his noble sacrifice and took over the task of laying the board from bank to ice. It just fit cross the watery gap.

I parlayed my plank laying into an inch-by-inch crossing of it. Toasting my effort, my partner opened a fresh one and tipped it toward me. Oddly, it made me feel better.

Hey, it’s genuinely spooky crossing over the unknown to reach the further unknown. As is usually the case when I get stressed, weird imaginations leapt into my brain.

“And, now, to our big story, Jennifer. A Ship Bottom man has gone missing along the Mullica River after clumsily slipping into frigid water while idiotically trying to walk onto obviously way too thin ice. Police will only disclose that the dumbass man was trying to walk atop a finely handcrafted and artistically shaped plank. Now, to the local chief of police. Sir, can you tell us anything else about this plank accident?”

“Yes, Marv. The plank appears to be made of vintage swamp oak with a truly gorgeous grain to it; a bit tiger maple-ish but not quite as striped. The engraving is hand-done and seemingly prepared with antique router tools. It is exquisite and we’re still looking for the name of the fellow who made it. Personally, I’d like him to do one to go with my mailbox but there’s just no guessing who he is.”

“Uh, chief, isn’t that his name written across the plank?”

“Holy s***, you’re right, Marv. Oops, sorry. You can bleep that out, right?”

“Will do, chief … and I just might be interested in one of those planks for above my desk here at NBC. There you have it, Jennifer.”

But back to the ice – and my crossing of the great Collin’s Cove gap.

Reaching plank’s end, I eased off and onto the virgin ice, a bit Neil Armstrong-like. Once fully poised upon the ice, I just stopped cold. Freezing in place is a long-standing tradition when first stepping on untested ice. My partner, beverage half way to his mouth, also stopped dead.

Sure, I was being dumb as frozen dirt that day. In the past, I had tested that same ice with a rope tied around my waist – and backed by folks ready to reel me in if need be. I was just wanting to fish this day.

As did my partner, who, by now, had gotten sorta spunky. He began egging me on. “You’re fine. You’re fine. It’s holdin’ real good.” “Pfffft.” Fourth beverage.

I then broke the ice – in a purely literary sense – by moving ever so slightly farther out, using little sideways sliding motions, as if trying to inch past a dozing polar bear.

At the rate I was progressing outward, I would easily reach the best perch-fishing area – about fifty yards out – by the following winter. I simply didn’t like the feel of the ice. This is often a pervasive sense when you’re the lone person standing on untested ice. It didn’t help that my sole salvation was working toward upping his fifth flip-top.

I soon began to nix the idea of ice fishing. “I’m not real sure about this,” I admitted, inching back toward the plank. My partner drank to that decision. By this point, he didn’t care if there was ice on top of the cove. That’s when things took an interesting turn.

Noisily, not one but two groups of ice fishermen came bustin’ through the weeds. Musta been a dozen of ’em, all camo-ed up and loaded for bear – loaded being the key word here.

Seeing me standing there – legs somewhat akimbo and in my get-off-the-ice mode – how could the newly arrived not assume the ice was tried and tested?

Unhesitatingly, they hurriedly planked their ways over the gap and onto the ice. One guy, wearing a coonskin cap (the entire skinned coon, in fact), even remarked what a nice plank it was. For some reason I said, “Thank you.”

One-by-one, they uncaringly slid past me and headed out onto the ice. I just nonchalantly stood there, nodding at each of them as they passed. I began feeling like a frickin’ flight attendant. “Hello. Hello. Hi. Watch your step, now. Good to see you. Hi.”

My partner and I then watched keenly as the throng armied its way out onto the ice – far out onto the ice, I should add. Now and again, one of them would look back toward me. I’d offer a little wave and finger waggle. “Lookin’ good,” I’d mouth. My partner was offering odd little giggles.

When the group commenced to drilling holes, emptying roll-along coolers and literally stomping on the ice to get circulation into their feet, we gave each other little nods of approval, grabbed our gear and headed out fishin’ – and into some of the best perch I would ever see.

THANKS, MY EYE: Thanks for the “How’s your eye doin’?” inquiries by many of y’all.

 

My ocular-gelled left eye is lookin’ up … and then down, then to the left, etc. It surely getting gooder. My English, on the other hand …

In fact, as I garner some sight cockiness, I’ve commenced to admittin’ to folks that my sight actually got way better after I used an “As seen on TV” gizmo, called a “Reattach-a-Ret.”

I now say, “Yeah, I saw a commercial where I could reattach my own retina in the comfort of home – and without all the fuss and expense of using an eye doctor. How lucky was it that I saw that commercial?”

I’m greeted by semi-blank, sometimes troubled stares. (Many folks have yet to realize I can say this stuff with an absolutely poker-ized face, even adding glimpses of sincerity and belief.)

I continue. “And I got my ‘Reattach-a-Ret’ for a steal. It usually retails for $2,000, but I got mine for $19.99, mainly because I called in within the next ten minutes.”

Sustained stares. Just what the doctor ordered. I go on. “Of course, there was that stupid ‘shipping and handling’ I had to pay. That jacked the price up to near retail levels. I still saved a few bucks – and the self-reattachment of my retina went as smoothly as they said it would. Not sure I can use the same razorblade again, though.”

Nary a peep from those listening. A perfect time for me to smile mildly, turn slowly around and walk away – all content like.

Hell, when I do stuff like that, some folks will just stand there staring at me clear until I reach my truck and drive away. I could probably drive back five minutes later and they’d still be standing there, staring.

More sincerely, thanks for the eye concern. The blurry bugger is trying its hardest to see its way back to normalcy. I’m thinkin’ a month and I’ll be a sight to behold.



SNOWY OWL PROWL AND ERRONEOUS ERUPTIONS: The owls are still there, Sheldon – though in low numbers compared to the height of the irruption.

Yes, irruption. Even I get things wrong on occasions too rare to count.

I first heard the word as eruption. So sue me. No, wait! That’s all I need …

Hey, tell me eruption doesn’t perfectly befit a massive and sudden flow of owls into NJ. Damn straight it does. But, no, it’s gotta be an irruption. You say tomato …

What’s more, what the hell kinda word is irruption? It sounds as if someone badly needed a word and virtually every other combination of letters was used, except for irruption and sazzimargorian. Hell, I would have gladly used, “We are experiencing a full-blown snowy owl sazzimargorian.”

Actually, it turns out irruption is an old and totally angry word, now being recycled into something utterly different – like repurposing a cat into a door knocker.

OK, so maybe that cat doorknocker isn’t such a stretch but the original meaning of irruption is: a sudden attack on and entrance into hostile territory. And I quote that from a really smart woman, Mrs. Merriam Webster, who I’m pretty sure vacations on the north part of LBI.

What’s more, Mrs. Merriam Webster is not overly hot on the dictionary.com definition for irruption, namely, a sudden increase in an animal population.

How the hell do you jump from “The irruptions of the Goths into Italy in the fifth century were devastating” to “the irruption of snowy owls to Holgate is a gorgeous sight”? You don’t, that’s how you do it.

For occasional snowy owl updates, check out jaymanntoday.ning.com.

ICE FISHING CAUTIONIER: This current polar vortex punk will surely set the Mullica to freezing, including the perch and small stripers waters of Collin’s Cove. As seen above, I’m all too familiar with that cove’s freezing habits and shortcomings. Its brackish water means it has a lower freezing point than fresh.

As for that “small striper” angle, on a couple occasions I’ve taken bass, one after the other, as large as 20 inches – and as many as a dozen in an hour. I found the trick is working jigs – while everyone out there was using shrimp or minnows. One of my best days was using a one-ounce gold Hopkins with treble and bucktail I had tied on. (Yes, Hopkins made gold-tinted models for a while.) I also used special ice-fishing lures by Rapala. Since then, some incredible vertical jigs have come along. By the by, if the bass aren’t around, you’ll just be jerking your time away, though now and again a larger perch will grab a jig. Keep a couple holes baited and then keep warm by jigging a larger jig hole.

I’ve see 28-inch-plus bass come out of Collin’s Cove ice holes. The problem is you cannot keep them – and technically shouldn’t be targeting them, per some overly authoritative law officers. I say catch-and-release is just fine. Of course, no one is listening. By the by, it’s tough sneaking a keeper bass – or smaller – off the ice there – too many eyes and enforcement will occasionally sit in the parking areas.

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