Darkness had completely set in by the time I had the boat tied down, ready for the short trip home. By the dim light of my cap light I shook hands with Randy Eshleman and his son Jeremy and wished them a safe trip back to Lancaster.
“Anytime you can catch walleyes in January, it’s been a good day,” Randy remarked as he headed for the cab of his truck.
I suppose it’s part of the process of maturation, as applied to fishing, that leads one to be content with whatever the day brought. I’ve heard it being described as “not being as mad at them as I once was.”
Randy and Jeremy, veterans of the lower Susquehanna River, had made the 3ﾽ-hour trek to Armstrong County to sample the walleye fishing on the lower Allegheny. We put in more than eight hours and boated a bunch of walleyes. Not as many as I’d expected — maybe it was the bright sunlight — as walleyes often feed heaviest under low light when they have a decided sight advantage over their prey. But we had consistent action. And how could one complain about a sunny, windless, unseasonably warm day in early January?
The best fish of the day came late, during the evening twilight, when a sharp tap on Randy’s jig rod equated into a 27-inch, nearly 8-pound walleye. After catching a bunch of 12- to 16-inchers earlier during the day, it looked huge as I scooped it up in the net. I was in fact Randy’s heaviest river walleye, and he’s caught a bunch of them on the mighty Susquehanna.
On the drive home I thought about Randy’s last comment, and my reply that we are indeed “on borrowed time” when it comes to open-water fishing. Last year at this time we’d had a couple solid weeks of bitterly cold weather, locking up all the area lakes. The Allegheny was coated with a thick layer of ice, nearly bank to bank. Though a February warm-up flushed the river, the resulting slurry of ice buried boat launches under tons of ice. Some did not open until late April. But then some folks suffered extensive flooding due to the ice jams, so it’s hard to whine too much conditions impeding one’s fishing.
A day earlier my friend Sid Brown and I spent most of the day on Keystone Lake. It was my first outing of the new year and I was anxious to boat my first fish of 2019. On the ride out to one of our spots we watched two mature bald eagles swooping over the lake’s surface. It was obvious something held their interest. Other than a group of waterfowl hunters on the far shore we had the lake to ourselves.
Late in the afternoon we came upon a crappie struggling on the mirror-like surface. I don’t know why it was laboring. Perhaps thermal shock from the rapidly cooling water. Later we saw a largemouth bass in similar condition. When Sid nudged the crappie with his rod tip it dove. We did not see it resurface. The bass did not experience such a resuscitation. But we believed the answer to our question of what had perked the eagles’ interest had been answered as it was likely a few other fish were in such condition.
Throughout the day we fished a variety of spots. We checked out some new areas on the sonar unit and marked them with waypoints for future outings. Come late afternoon we put the boat back on the trailer. We were as fishless for 2019 then as we were at the start of the day. But we agreed it had been a good day.