By Nick Simonson
In the bright sun of mid-morning, my buddy Marty, my son AJ and I pulled into the small ice-coated parking area near Long Bridge on Big Detroit Lake. It was as it had been in late winters before, crusted blue ice sloping down to a hardened mud ramp leading out toward the channel that came in from the main lake and into Deadshot Bay. The tire tracks molded into the mud suggested the ice was safe and thick, but as it was only a hundred-yard walk to my favorite dead-reckoned spots and my son enjoyed the sled ride, we hoofed it from shore. So many of my springs began here, and it served as the location for many end-of-winter ice fishing trips as well for the plentiful and sometimes large panfish that congregated in the drops along the winding channel from the bridge to the back of the bay. The pull of the place, ever since my own childhood, was undeniable and I hoped the attraction would connect my son with it as well.
Setting up along the deep turn of the channel, after tag-teaming the auger duties with Marty on the nearly three-foot-thick surface, I marked a cloud of fish suspended two-thirds of the way down and pegged AJ’s bobber at 15 feet. Hoping for crappies, I watched the line tighten and tug the foam float upright in the hole. A number of bars rose up, attracted to the tiniest of wiggling minnows I had speared on the super-small size 12 hook. With a pop followed by a slow, steady pull, the yellow float sunk down into the clear water.
My son cranked on the reel and the bobber slid back to the surface. The battle was over before it began as a five-inch perch came flipping and flying out of the hole and swung around the inside of the flipover ice house. I reported the find to my friend as he inspected the surrounding holes and I allowed AJ to catch a few more as I planned the next move, knowing that the crappies and bluegills would not be found where a school of small perch were. Flipping the tent open, my eyes turned to the bridge and within a few moments, the metal blade of the auger was churning against the ice nearer to the structure. I offered my son another sled ride once I had marked the tell-tale lines in the holes adjacent to the bridge, and the pull of a consistent panfish bite mirrored my tug on the sled rope as AJ laughed while we slid our way over to the new spot.
We repeated the minnow offering and in a matter of moments the slip float sunk with gusto as I watched a cloud of fish rise to meet it. AJ’s frantic reeling matched the wild spin circling under the hole and a nine-inch bluegill came to hand. The place had taken hold of my son as he urged me to rebait and drop another offering down. It had done the same to Marty about seven years to the day when I introduced him to ice fishing in the glow of the street lights which illuminated the bridge area and the bay beyond it.
As a destination, it has been a bit of my true north as well; a place that has drawn me to a consistent bite on warm summer days, a bucket of keeper crappies for a fish fry when the walleyes wouldn’t cooperate on a few chilly openers and to some amazing sights including pike and muskies that looked like slow-moving logs and herons duking it out over a discarded minnow in some sort of lake-country version of MMA. Always reliable and always remarkable, the magnetism of the bridge is hard to overcome. Even when bigger fish might be found elsewhere and rumors of a hotter bite might tempt me with a drive to some lake in the lost woods, I find myself coming back.
With a second disappearance of the bobber, AJ hauled in a respectable black crappie for the area and requested a photo. I suggested we keep it for dinner, but after the click of my camera he laughed and tossed it back into the hole before I could make the case for selective harvest. I smiled and agreed, and between Marty, AJ and my brother in-law who arrived for a slump-busting snowmobile ride that orbited the center of the bay, we let another ten or so go before the end of the afternoon, as they mixed in with the various bluegills underneath us ranging in size from four to nine inches, providing consistent action.
As we flipped open the sled shacks and looked around, we saw the draw of the bridge remained universal as at least half a dozen other anglers staked their claims around and under the structure. They too pulled up nice crappies and bluegills with consistency as we packed the rods, empty juice boxes, tackle and snack bar wrappers and made our way back to the trucks in the warmth of mid-afternoon only able to overcome the draw after a good run of fishing at one of my favorite places…in our outdoors.
(Featured Photo: The author’s son, AJ, with his first crappie through the ice near Long Bridge on Big Detroit Lake. Simonson Photo)