Mar 10, 2015

Fishing Hard Water In The U.P.

Lake Gogebic

By: Tim Long

Lake Gogebic is the largest lake in the U.P. of Michigan located on the western end of the U.P. just north of the Vilas County line in Wisconsin. The lake is in the shape of a boot with the foot part of the boot to the north and the leg part of the lake running north and south expanding two counties and two time zones. Gogebic County to the south is in the central time zone and Ontonagon County to the north is in the Eastern Time zone.  Kinda nuts “A,” having these two different time zones here in ‘da U.P. The way this works is that any counties that border the state of Wisconsin are in the central time zone and all other counties are in the eastern time zone.

Back to the lake:  This lake is very similar to the Lake Winnebago system in central Wisconsin.  The area in which I was born and raised, and still have many great memories of fishing those lakes on a regular basis.   Lake Gogebic is 14,000 acres and shaped like a boot (as I stated earlier) with the north end of the lake (The foot part of the boot) being shallow and weedy similar to the upper lakes of Butte des Morts, Winneconne, and Poygan.  The main part of the lake reminds me of Lake Winnebago.  It is the deeper section of the lake. This area is a big mud flat with structure around the outer edges on the east and west shorelines.  Most of this water in the main part of the lake will be 22 to 26 ft. of water.

The lake is host to northern pike, walleye, smallmouth bass, perch, some crappie, blue gill and pumpkinseed, and an occasional white fish or sucker.

I have been a fishing guide and a United States Coast Guard Licensed Captain for many years now, starting out guiding on the Lake Winnebago system, the Petenwell Flowage, and the Bay of Green Bay. I am currently guiding on Lake Gogebic, The Bay of Green Bay, and some areas of Lake Superior.

The Lake Gogebic area averages over 200 in. of snow annually. This can create a situation out on the lake during the winter months as far as travel on the lake goes. One thing is consistent, it’s always changing. To be safe, I would say the only way to get around on Lake Gogebic is with a snowmobile pulling your portable behind.  There are times when you can get around on a four wheeler, or a tracks machine, but a sled is a guarantee.

The north end is typically the first part to freeze up in late fall and I am usually one of the first people to start venturing out onto the ice with spud in hand checking ice conditions as I go. First ice is some of my best walleye fishing of the year; just a couple hundred yards off the shoreline in the Bergland Bay where I can reach the first break line with the water dropping off to the 5 or 6 foot range with good weeds. I try to find the weed edges or pockets within those weeds.  Lake Gogebic walleye fishing is typically a low light condition bite.  Early morning a couple hours before day break to about mid morning, and then again in the evening hours.  I like to fish a couple hours before dark until a few hours after dark.

Most of the local people that are fishing for walleyes are fishing with tip-ups and using the white sucker minnow as their bait of choice.  These minnows are 3 to 4 inches in length. I like to use a number 2 circle hook, hooking the minnow near the tail. By hooking them in this area they tend to stay more active than if you hook them in the back near their dorsal fin. I actually caught my largest perch ever using an underwater tip up with a 4 in. sucker minnow in the weeds. The perch was caught on the north end.  She was just shy of 16 inches!

Tip-up fishing is one technique and it can be very effective, but I also like to jig for walleyes.  I like to use spoons. One of my favorite “go to” jigging spoons is the Northland buckshot rattle spoon.  I fish the spoon along with having a dead stick sitting in the hole next to the one that I am jigging. There are so many different variations to jigging.  Jigging with the spoon tipped with a sucker minnow, or a fathead minnow, or a fathead with a broke back, or a fathead minnow head. You have to let the fish tell you what they want. One very important technique that I use helps call fish in. That is to just start banging bottom with my presentation stirring up the bottom creating a big dusty cloud in the water. This simulates other fish feeding. When your target fish comes into the area to see what all the commotion is, they will usually come in and just smoke the bait that you have there. Sometimes they come in to see what is going on and then they will hit your dead stick.

One way to run your dead stick is to have it set up with a slip bobber leaving your bail open so the fish can run with your bait and not feel any resistance.  Again, there are many variations of this dead stick set-up. Experiment with it and find what works for you. 

My friend Jon Sibley is a professional ice fishing guide and part of the Clam Pro Ice Team here on Lake Gogebic. Jon, or as some people refer to him, “Guy,” likes to target the jumbo perch that are common to Lake Gogebic.  Jon has been instrumental in developing some new fishing technology that we believe will revolutionize jig fishing on cold winter days. Here is what he has to say:

Jon Sibley

The old saying “you make your own luck,” rings true.

Increase your catch by increasing your odds. I think this holds true for all things.  Put in the work and results will follow as in all aspects of life, especially fishing.

Incorporating cutting edge fishing equipment into your arsenal can pay off big in productivity. This falls into the “making your own luck” category.

This means using everything available to you to make the result you need. Hard work and smart work, in various doses, make the winning combination, and gets the job done. Being able to just accept the new and combine it with the old making something even better and is the foundation for success.

Onto the old or current technology of the dead stick.  The definition of a dead stick is “A rod that’s rigged for the sole purpose of increasing your odds of catching fish without constant attention.”  The rod is set in a holder and in the past was monitored visually for a bite. New technology has updated this technique in a fantastic way.

The evolution of the dead stick in ice fishing is an ongoing process with new equipment and techniques are being developed constantly. These are some of latest and greatest advancements in ice fishing:

First, electronics that transmit to a personal device letting you know when a fish is at or near your bait.  This will allow you to get to the rod and jig when needed. This is one of those advantages that I mentioned earlier that will affect your productivity greatly. Being able to react immediately to the conditions of the bite is critical.

Also, the evolution of heated boxes that go over your hole and electronics that transmit to a personal device has taken a great leap forward. This is an area that has tormented fishermen since the first caveman decided to chop a hole in the ice and see what would happen next. What happened next was their hole froze over. Not anymore. You take a box, place it over the hole, and then add some heat so the hole doesn’t freeze over.  Why didn’t I think of that?  Even if I didn’t think of it, a good idea is a good idea. 

The new ice fishing equipment changes everything. This one is not a gimmick and will give you positive results.

An example of the effectiveness of these new techniques was on one of my latest fishing trips for perch and walleye. The bite on this day was slow, yes even pros have challenging days on the water. Back to the slow bite. There was a low pressure system slipping down from the north. Weather is the ever constant companion to the outdoorsman. The effects of weather on fishing can be very dramatic on most bodies of water and low pressure is bad.  On this particular day the dead stick method turned out to be deadly. We placed the rods, heated boxes, and cutting edge electronics out in front of our Jason Mitchell shelters. This allowed us to cover as much ground as possible. The result of these cutting edge techniques has been an increased catch of 40% or more on most species of fish.

When fishing, hedging the odds in your favor is a sure way to catch more fish. As fishermen we are always on the constant lookout for new and innovative ways to increase our odds of catching fish.