Feb 10, 2018

ONE LAST ICE FISHING TRIP  

By: Captain Lee Haasch 

As an outdoor enthusiast, like many of us, I am guilty season after season of moving into the next season right away.  Who can blame us, all the preparation to get ready for an upcoming season and we can’t wait until it is here and we jump head over heels into it.  Last year, my good friend and fishing colleague, Dave Rueckl, had been talking about an ice fishing trip all summer and our schedules just never seemed to be right to get away.  Spring-like weather was already showing up and soon we would both be totally engulfed in summer fishing.  I got the call, “Let’s go up north Saturday!”  Dave exclaimed.    

It was our last window to go.  I wasn’t sure we would even have ice to walk out on, but it was a chance to get in some late season ice angling and the thought of jumbo crappie seemed like the perfect excuse to make a road trip.  

North Central Wisconsin is full of small lakes.  Some areas seem to have lakes only a ½ mile apart.  It is a panfisherman’s paradise. Each lake holds schools of gills, crappies, perch and more!  The weather that day was predicted to be in the upper 30’s to low 40’s and ice was not holding the best.  Many lakes to the south of there already had greatly depleted ice conditions, so we thought it may just be a road trip.  I readied my ice gear and checked my box of crappie jigs and decided to think positive.  I’m always up for a good adventure!   

We left Friday around 11 am for the 3 hour ride north.  Dave had checked with several of his friends that had been fishing near his cabin.  It seemed there was a good chance this would be the last fishable ice in the area.  With all the nice weather, the ice had taken a beating and some lakes had questionable conditions.  For that reason, Dave had hired a guide for Saturday.  He likes to do this not only for safety with late ice conditions, but it gives him a chance to learn new techniques and learn another body of water or two.    

We arrived at Dave’s cabin in Arbor Vitae, Wisconsin and sorted out our fishing gear.  It was a beautiful day so we threw on some bibs and boots and headed ½ mile down the road to the landing.  There, we decided to walk out, drill a couple holes and set-up our equipment on the ice.  A couple hours wasn’t too much time to fish, but we pounded a dozen holes. We hole hopped and managed to catch a few small ones to release.  And, as a bonus, I now had my trusty Titanium Tip Stick set for the morning with a tear-drop jig and minnow combo.  Time for a northern Wisconsin fish fry!    

Dave checked with a couple locals who told him several lakes south of there (about 15 miles or so) were already experiencing poor ice and travel was not recommended.  However, lakes to the north were OK yet, which is where we were headed.    

We headed up to the Manitowish Chain and to Island Lake where we met up with our guide for the day, Russ Sleight.  Now there are a couple reasons why I like to hire guides.  First and foremost; safety. With changing ice conditions, having a local guide that pre-checked the fishing spot is very important.  Second, learning or finding a spot to produce fish in a single day is no easy task.  Getting us on some fish is worth the rate.   

Russ looked the part of a Northwoods guide; scruffy, grey beard and all.  As he unloaded his Argo and started loading equipment, we got a brief run-down of his plan for the day.  Ice conditions were pretty good in about a 30 mile belt across the area, north and south of that belt ice conditions were not good at all.  Unfortunately, this took away some of his better producing spots from the previous weekend.  We decided we would start here and hunt for some big crappies.  The cold night firmed up the ice and with no wind and sunshine, it looked like a beautiful day ahead.    

No sooner had I cleaned out a hole that Russ drilled, tipped my jig with a minnow and slid out the titanium spring bobber end on my Beaver Dam Tip Stick and lowered it near the bottom, I saw my Marcum flasher light up with activity.  Tap, tap, and wham!  The first fish was a nice 8 1/2” perch.  Dave hooked a decent crappie; not as big as we were looking for and both went back.  Our wives only request was they wanted a meal and the rest could go back.  For the next couple hours, we hole hopped looking for the big ones.  We iced lots of fish, but most were smaller.  With the sun getting higher, it seemed that the bigger fish were concentrated near a creek outflow on the lake, but that was a spot we couldn’t get to due to thin ice.  Visible open water in the corner warned us to accept what we had.   

During a short late morning snack break, Russ mentioned another spot on another lake further north.  It was pretty good a few days ago, but we would have to check out the ice first.  We loaded up and headed down the highway to Long Lake.  A short walk out and several holes showed us a honey combed top layer, a few inches of water and about 10” of good ice underneath.  “Let’s try it.”   

The Argo carried the equipment most of the way while Dave and I walked.  We decided to stay shy of the main channel because of current.  We drilled several holes and the Marcum showed lots of fish!  It started a little like the last spot, but every now and then a few bigger crappies were there to be had.    

It was a great day to be fishing; temps were in the low 40’s with little or no wind.  While bibs were needed to kneel by the holes, light shirts and hoodies were all that we wore.  Between the three of us, we iced well over 200 fish the rest of the afternoon and kept about 20 apiece for a couple of meals to take home.  Mission accomplished!    

This day ranked right up there with one of my most memorable ice fishing trips ever.  Russ put us on some nice spots with some good crappies and bluegills.  If you are looking for a guide in northern Wisconsin or the UP of Michigan, give Russ Sleight a call 715-476-2966.  I made a new friend in Russ, our guide, and Dave and I got to enjoy a little ice-time fishing.  In fact, we are planning a repeat trip again very soon.  March seems to be the time, and I believe we can just fit it in our busy schedule. Let’s just hope the ice holds out for us!  

For current fishing reports or information on charter fishing check, out my report page at www.FishAlgoma.com or find us on Facebook under HAASCH GUIDE SERVICE.  From Capt. Lee and the crew aboard the GRAND ILLUSION 2 - good luck and good fishing!