Skunked Again: Ice fishing on Porter Lake

8 mins read
Kimmy with a freshly-caught salmon
Kimmy with a freshly-caught salmon

STRONG – Franklin County has a lot to offer when it comes to quality fishing — not just the remarkable lakes at Saddleback’s feet, or the crystal clear waters of the Sandy River that awakens with brown trout in the evening, but also the small ponds and lakes that are found dispersed throughout the area’s rugged terrain. Though they are generally remote, forcing you to drag a buddy (and a canoe) through the thickets for a moderate distance, there are a few gems that exist right in our back yard.

Porter Lake, once known as Sweets Pond (corrected) in the early 1900s, is a local goldmine for our favorite salmonoids, including brook trout, salmon, and togue. The lake is unique due to inlets that pour into it from nearly every direction, supplying numerous opportunities throughout the lake for the potential fisherman. You can gain access to Porter Lake through a boat launch from the Strong side, or from a handful of places along the shore in New Vineyard.

It was a modest 7:30 before Kimmy and I met up with our friend Tyler, a frequent fishing companion of ours, and we moved in together to set up shop along the shoreline of Porter. I’ve always been passionate about catching trout, so I put several quick traps right along the shore before walking out to place a few more in the deeper water for salmon. Eventually, the three of us all had our own traps set and ready to go. It wasn’t 20 minutes later, as we chatted around the last traps, that I noticed one of my flags back on shore had sprung. I announced “flag” and started off in a flailing/sprint action towards the hole, making noticeable headway between the others and myself. Looking back as I ran I turned gave them the “Whaaa?” and continued on to the trap, thoughts of an 18-inch brook trout flashing through my mind.

Line was spinning off the spool uncontrollably and I noticed the amount I had left was dwindling. As Kimmy and Tyler arrived, I broke the freshly-formed ice around the trap with a knuckle and gingerly lifted the trap out, making a concentrated effort to hide my presence from the fish at the other end of the line. After setting the hook and retrieving a few yards of line, I thought for a second I had lost the fish, and just in case I still had the fish on, I increased the speed I hauled in the line to make up any slack, soon finding the extra wait. I was indeed fighting a fish that was swimming towards the hole, and quickly!

Sam Hill, the author, with a fish
Sam Hill, the author, with a fish

I have learned from past experience losing many, many fish that maintaining a taught line is important so that the fish is unable to work the hook out of its mouth. With that in mind, it’s important to remember you don’t have to be in the process of bringing line in to keep it taught. If the fish shows particular strength at any point (generally right next to the hole/boat), make sure you give it some line to play with, or else the built up tension on the line allows the fish to move its head quickly and slice through the line with its teeth.

As I reached the clear portion of my leader, I realized I was getting close to the fish, and with a couple more pulls of the line I was able to pull it up and onto the ice. To my surprise, it was a 17-inch landlocked salmon! Not the brookie I was expecting close to the shoreline, but I should have expected something was up when the mystery fish took the bait and ran with it in typical salmon fashion. With a celebration of high-fives, I reset the trap and we got back to enjoying our time on the lake.

Kimmy’s trap sprung up next. When we arrived at it, I noticed the line was straight off to the side (usually indicating that you have a fish on) but no line was being stripped from the spool. In seconds it took off, with more speed and ferocity than the previous salmon had, and above the ice we heard that light-roaring sound a spool can make when it has a hard time keeping up with a big fish at the other end. “Whoa!” We all seemed to exclaim.

Kimmy put down her drink and handled the trap as I broke the ice apart in the hole. She nervously began to bring the fish in, which quickly proved itself to be a strong presence. The fish gave her a little trouble as it approached the hole, but a few intense moments later Kimmy had the fish out of the water and onto the ice: a massive salmon! The size and structure of this fish was just astounding: its tail was thick and wide, it’s silver flesh was peppered with inky-black spots, and the overall proportions of this salmon marked it as a superior specimen.

Tyler was my last chance for a proper Skunked Again article, but one of his two traps sprung into the air shortly after we had all celebrated Kimmy’s catch. This time, I may not have been the first person to reach the hole, as Tyler was eager to get involved in this early morning action we were experiencing on Porter Lake. The line, once again, was being stripped from the wheel quickly—could this be another salmon? Tyler gained the helm, and before we knew it, he played a silver-flashing fish out of the hole. This salmon, a sizable 16 inches, completed the trifecta for the day, each of us having caught our own. We celebrated with a Coleman platter of moose sausage and deer steaks. Did we forget the veggies at home? Nope!

Kimmy would catch one more 15-inch salmon by the end of the day, making four total for the group. On account of the weather which remained pleasant, the three of us put in a whole day of fishing, eventually packing up around 4 o’clock. We caught the majority of our fish in the morning, so if you have a mind to fish Porter by the end of the season, be sure to get there early!

Happy fishin’, Franklin County.

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