SCHIESS: Jackson Lake’s unwanted guest
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As Wayne Clayton’s rod bent, a would-be thief tried sneaking in behind him, but the fish wiggled off the hook and neither got that mackinaw for dinner. It wasn’t long before the fox would be sneaking up behind Wayne again, but Wayne was able to ward off the fox as he landed and hid the fish under the snow.
“I told you we would catch fish and see wildlife out here on the lake,” Clayton said as he re-baited his hook with a bullhead. “They have tried to relocate the fox that harasses the fishermen, but they keep coming back.”
The trip to Jackson Lake, Wyoming, for Clayton, Gary Owens and I had been in the works for several months.
I had not fished the lake since 1967, but Clayton had lived near Jenny Lake for 35 years while he worked for the forest service and has had hundreds of fishing trips there during that time. Clayton knew all the secrets and what to use, but did not take us to his “no-tell-um” hole where they had taken fish over 20 pounds. Three pounders would be good enough for us unless an odd kahuna would come along.
March is the month the lake trout or mackinaw become really active with some of the best fishing just before or just after ice-out. We found the ice about 30 inches deep with about five inches of slush on top making walking somewhat taxing, but okay. The power auger was a great help and we only had about six inches of shaft left when we broke through.
After drilling two holes for each of us as there is a two-rod limit for each fisherman, we rigged up with a jig tipped with a sculpin, locally called a bullhead, and dropped it to the bottom of 30 to 40 feet water.
“We’ve got company,” Clayton said as a red fox trotted down the lake edge toward us. “Protect your lunch.” A few snowballs were flung in its direction causing it to move away and lay down to watch for a bent rod.
It wasn’t long before I saw fish on my fish finder working the bottom. We were getting hits with an occasional hook ups but the most were wiggling off on the way up. I was using smaller bait than the other two and was the first to ice a mack – a 16 incher and had to hide it under the snow and sled to keep it out of the jaws of the marauder.
A six fish limit could have been easily filled with 14 to 16 inchers, but we wanted to fish until 3 p.m. so we played the “catch and release” game on the smaller fish. Clayton decided he was getting too many hits but was not able to hook them so he went to a smaller bait. I believing in “big bait equals big fish” went to a four inch bullhead and went almost an hour without a hit while watching my companions catch fish after fish with Mount Moran and the Tetons as a backdrop.
The fox had grown tired of dodging snow (ice) balls and had trotted off up the lake when it saw another fox frolicking on the ice. “Good riddance,” I thought out loud to my partners as each of them were fighting fish.
I finally went to a small piece of sucker meat and watched as two large fish came through the vision of my finder 10 feet under the ice, dove toward my bait and took it with vengeance. It was the largest fish we iced, just under three pounds. I quickly dropped the jig back down and the other one – just a little smaller filled my limit.
With the sun shining, with the great views and good company, the three of us landed over 35 fish, lost several large ones as we tried to get them up thought an eight-inch hole. It was so enjoyable we are planning another trip for the first week of April – we will check with the locals on the ice depth before we leave, but on a sunny day even the beauty of it all may not make catching fish a necessity for a great trip – but it will help.