Anyone who has spent much time around the local creeks know what a slick mess the mud banks become on the thaw side of a deep freeze.
Greased ice would be a good description, except this is much more sinister. Water freezes flat whereas stream edges slope — very steeply in many places and into very cold water.
Before getting to where this is heading, I must mention the fish catching was outstanding last weekend.
I intended to do more hiking than fishing on this portion of a Porter County stream, but when you're float slaps sideways on a first drift while uncoiling line while on top of a bridge, angling instincts take over.
In better position, the next takedown resulted in a frisky, six-inch fingerling. A couple more drifts and a silvery, pink-cheeked steelhead of about seven pounds gave a fine account of itself before wallowing close enough to pluck the hook free. No issues with greasy mud here as the rip-rap beneath the road allowed solid footing.
Three hours and a mile or more of stream later, the steelhead tally was quite satisfying. After viewing so many pics of anglers and their glossy centerpin reels and neatly-tied jigs or pearly bead lures, I was kind of proud my crusty spinning reel and gooey spawn sacks could still do a number on the steelies.
On the other hand, time the receding waters of a winter thaw right and the fishing can be easy. There are fresh-run arrivals, holdovers reshuffled in the high water and neither have seen bait or lure for weeks.
And the slippery muck was generally defeated by picking spots with sturdy branches or exposed roots to three-point the way down, then out of fishing areas. I did take one spill, burying forearm and reel in some icy grease as well as partially filling one hip boot, but for the most part I acquitted myself quite well for a fat guy.
Still, the semi-frozen creek edges brought back memories of friends, or myself, doing sudden back-splats or boot-filling splits along ridiculously slick stream banks.
One January, I hooked a steelie from on top of a steep, 15-foot embankment in one of those places on Trail where you should never throw a bobber into, particularly when the banks are frozen and the water is running high.
Well, the fish plays itself out and is hanging far below and I'm contemplating pulling on the line until it breaks or the hook pops out. Tom Kruse, a fishing buddy, figures he might just be able to dig his heels in and ease into netting range.
One heel strike and Tom is down, on his back and sliding helplessly towards the creek. Somehow he nails the landing and ends upright, knee-deep in the middle of the creek. Seems there was a bit of a lip at the bottom of the bank that gave him some air time before splashing.
Dutifully, he corrals my fish and heaves it and the net out of the creek. Still, Tom is 15-feet down the icy bank with 100 feet of fast, deep water below and even deeper water upstream. And, of course, going across is chest deep as well.
Oh, for some rope, we thought. Next resort, maybe I could dig one heel in and reach his hand with extended net.
Bad decision. Instantly, I was down and sliding, and like Tom, I hit the icy lip, lofted slightly, and landed alongside of him, also upright, smack in the middle of the stream.
It was a Three Stooges moment, but ultimately part of steelhead fishing around here.
We both ended up taking a wet, January wade to get out of there.
• Youth pheasant: The annual Art Kreighbaum Youth Pheasant Hunt is set for Jan. 29 at the sprawling Deer Creek Hunt Club near Three Oaks, Michigan.
Organized by the Galena Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, the hunt is free for youth, age 17 and under and possessing a Hunter Education Certificate. Preregistration is also mandatory by Jan. 24 by contacting Rick Glassman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 219-324-0316.
Upon checking in, youngsters get a speech on safety, gun handling and ground rules, warm up on clay targets, then go afield for a European-style (driven) pheasant hunt. Adults can accompany, but may not hunt.
Again, it’s all free courtesy of the Galena River Chapter of the NWTF in the name of the late Art Kreighbaum.
The club provides youth with a one-day license, ammunition, pheasants, clay targets, dog handlers, lunch and even shotguns if needed.