Memorable ice-fishing outings

Fishing the Midwest

— submitted photo Mr. Walleye Gary Roach with a Lake of the Woods high-riding walleyes.

It’s another of those “in between” seasons. Just as there’s a lull between the ice-fishing season and the open water fishing season in the spring, there’s a lull between the open water season and ice-fishing season in the fall. Today I’m looking forward to ice-fishing and also remembering some past days on the ice. Here we go.

It was around the year 2,000 when I got a phone call from Duane Peterson. Duane is an outstanding angler and better friend. When Duane says “there’s a good bite going”, I’m always confident that he has a good bite going. Duane said that Upper Red Lake in northern Minnesota was producing lots of crappies and that they were “slabs”. Joining us on the trip were Duane’s brother John and fishing friend John Janousek.

We got on the ice and to the productive area a couple of hours before sundown. Duane assured us that the best bite was at dusk and later. He was right. As soon as the sun hit the western horizon, we could see fish marks on our depth-finders. The water was about 10 feet deep, the fish were 2 feet off the bottom, and they were willing to eat our lures. I was ready to catch a crappie, but had no idea that the crappies we were about to catch would create perhaps my best, most memorable ice-fishing adventure. Crappies have big mouths, but I had never seen such an out-of-proportion mouth as the one on the first crappie that came through the hole in the ice that I was fishing through. It was the biggest crappie I’d ever caught. An easy 14 incher. We caught lots of big ones in the next couple of hours. Truly memorable!

Another memorable ice trip took place with fishing pioneer Gary Roach. I’ve co-authored several walleye books with Gary and shared a boat with him many times. Gary is perhaps the most intuitive angler I’ve fished with. We were after walleyes on Lake of the Woods in late-February. As we always do when ice-fishing, we kept a close eye on our sonar units. Usually walleyes and perch will hug the bottom while other species will go through several feet off the bottom. I was seeing a good number of fish off the bottom, but not many bottom-huggers and I wasn’t catching much either. Gary was experiencing steady action: Not fast but certainly faster than me. After watching Gary catch several walleyes in a row, he explained that when he saw a mark off the bottom on his sonar, he brought his bait up to that mark. That mark we learned, was a walleye. For some reason, the walleyes were running high that day. I learned then and there that fish sometimes do things differently than we expect. That little but significant tip has helped me catch many fish through the ice and in open water.

Last memorable ice-fishing memory for now. In the late 70’s I lived in Brainerd Minnesota for a winter. Some friends invited me to go ice-fishing on Lake Mille Lacs. They said that we would catch mostly walleyes, some perch, and maybe an eelpout. When I asked what an eelpout was, they said, “You’ll find out”. The walleye bite was pretty good most of the day. At some point, one of my friends hooked a big one and asked if I would help land it. When the fish’s head entered the bottom of the hole, I thought it looked different than the walleyes that we’d been catching, but I grabbed it and lifted it up. It was then that I realized this was like no fish I had ever seen, and when it wrapped its snake-like body around my arm, I realized this was like no fish I had ever handled. It was at that moment that I found out what an eelpout is: Slimy, slippery, and quite intimidating to a first time eelpout handler. My friends thought that was a great trick. Now, 40 years later, I do too.

Ice-fishing season is approaching. Make it, in a good way, a memorable one.


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