‘Gimme Shelter’

If you are thinking those are but large bright balls on this photo-shopped Serbian Christmas tree, they are, in fact, what is generally accepted as the Slavic people’s national vegetable, cabbages, which are used in their national dish, sarmas!

Now that those of the Eastern Orthodox faith have celebrated Christmas as of January 7, it looks like most Christmas trees will have now been taken down and either discarded, recycled or, in the case of the faux trees, stored along with other Christmas trappings.

Celebrated by Serbians, Russians, Greeks, Ukrainians and other ethnic groups, their observation of Christmas is essentially the same as other Christians. The only difference is the Eastern Orthodox follow the old Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar so their Christmas date is 13 days later. The Julian calendar was initiated by Julius Caesar in 46 BC. To better align with the seasons and featuring a leap year to do so, it was replaced in 1582 with Pope Gregory XIII’s Gregorian calendar. If at this point you are feeling an unexplainable urge to go into a monophonic Gregorian chant, by the way, please feel free to do so, just be sure you are alone so as not to alarm those around you.

And, yes, 2020 is a leap year with February 29th being added, so 2020 will have 366 days and because it only happens every four years, those who were born on that day will get to have a much waited for birthday and should therefore get four times the presents.

For those worrying about environmental issues, natural born Christmas trees are not an environmental negative. They are actually environmentally friendly because they are grown on what are essentially farms, so you’re not ripping one out of a natural woodland or forest. Moreover, most farmers plant another in the place of every fully-grown tree that is cut down, so they’re sustainable too. During that time, however, the tree is taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, cleaning the air and helping slow climate change.

When people are done with their holiday trees, they can even recycle them. Most cities, in fact, have programs to pick up your holiday tree and grind it up into mulch, which is then eventually spread back onto the land to help grow something else—or more trees. In some states, the discarded trees are even converted into energy via burning in what are called “waste-to-energy” plants. One of the most intriguing recycling programs, however, is a program called “Canes for Veterans” where one former Texas military man uses the discarded trees for a good cause.

The man is disabled Army veteran Jamie Willis who runs “Canes for Veterans Central Texas,” an organization that creates free walking sticks out of used Christmas trees for veterans in need. According to CBS News reporter Caitlin O’Kane (ironic, huh), “Mr. Willis was inspired to start the organization in 2016 when he found himself in need of a sturdy cane.” Ms. O’Kane goes on to explain, “Willis served in the Army for eight years, but was left disabled. Needing a cane to get around, but not liking the one he received from Veterans Affairs, he decided to reach out to the organization ‘Free Canes for Veterans’ to ask for a suitable replacement, but when they were out, he decided to make his own. After they proved to be popular, he decided to go a step further and utilize recycled Christmas trees.”

Another creative use for castoff Christmas trees comes from New Jersey where the trees are used to help improve the dune system along the New Jersey coast. As erosion levels rise, the trees’ branches help anchor sand caught up in the wind to the dunes. As the sand accumulates, it rebuilds the dunes at a faster rate than would occur naturally. Still another comes from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife who sinks them to the bottom of some Southern California lakes where they help create aquatic habitat.

If those reclamation methods are ringing a bell for you yesteryear fishermen of the push-button Zebco reel era who dabbled in the now illegal practice of sinking wired-together Christmas trees anchored by concrete blocks (“wearing cement shoes” for you who favor gangster movies or books), feel free to tell your fish-habitat creating stories as the statute (not statue like in “of Liberty”) of limitations has probably run out. To be totally accurate, as our elders always told us, cement is but one ingredient of concrete, which is basically a mixture of aggregates and paste.

Called “cribs,” these “Gimme Shelter” (Rolling Stones, 1969) fish and minnow magnets were definitely a thing back in the day as was the beaver-like chopping of shoreline trees (also now illegal) to create panfish safe houses. If you remember, however, those best laid plans “of mice and men” (from Scottish poet Robert Burns’ 1785 poem “To a Mouse”) of sinking Christmas trees sometimes went awry as Murphy’s Law of things that can go wrong most often did. From getting pine pitch on good clothing to slicing and dicing fingers and limbs and boots to dropping those blocks on said boots to falling through spring ice to eventually getting pretty much constantly hooked up if they did sink straight down and not break apart, these minnow and fish Utopias were generally disasters waiting to happen.

Even when legal, wherever the DNR or authorized clubs placed these artificial fish/forage edifices made of natural sticks and stones, they definitely had their pros and cons. Sure, they attracted the fish and forage they were designed to draw, but they were also highly appealing to anglers who with sophisticated electronics and trolling motors zeroed right in, anchoring within casting distance or trolling around them with diabolical intent, staying like kids who won’t get off a merry-go-round while filling livewells to the max. If you don’t believe us, ask those who know of these so-called “fish-helping” cribs.

Not to preach, but we who call ourselves fishing advocates have a responsibility to protect the fish we pursue. In doing so, we must be vigilant. In this regard, while ice fishing for panfish we should be mindful that because as the winter progresses, most crappies and sunnies will eventually drop into deeper water, they will pretty much literally be “fish in a barrel.” That means the fish of these deeper water basin “community holes” become extremely vulnerable, falling prey to the “fill the pail” mentality of certain greedy fishing people who return with the regularity of a daily newspaper.

When this happens, several “not for the betterment of the fish” things happen. First of all, there is the inevitable overharvest as the “word” gets out. Second, with more people comes more litter. Third, because of high-grading, the taking of selected larger fish, there is a disproportionate harvest of the larger and better reproducing fish followed by the inevitable filling back in with a lake biomass of smaller, stunted fish. And, finally, due to barotrauma, the death of fish taken in deeper water, many fish that were released by well-intended fishing people will actually die even though they swim away, resulting in a severe overharvest. Also, for panfish caught in depths of 25’ or more, if you are thinking that holding the fish’s lips before releasing or slapping them hard on the water are magic panaceas for fish survival, please be aware that though well intended you have simply released a dead fish swimming.

Although we are fairly sure Mick Jagger and Keith Richards did not have ice fishing in mind when they wrote “Gimme Shelter,” we will leave you with some of their lyrics that if fish could sing karaoke down under at the “Old Crib Saloon” they would choose: “Oh, a storm is threat’ning/My very life today/If I don’t get some shelter/Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away.”

Nik and Rod Dimich are on Ray’s Sport & Marines’ pro staff and Rod is a pro-staffer for L&M Supply. To contact Dimich Outdoors, please email: rdimich@msn.com. Kristin Dimich contributes to this column.

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