Great Lakes Ice
Although it is not time to be out on the big water in a boat, I still managed to find a way to get out fishing with folks with whom I previously had very little acquaintance. Over the past few months, I’ve been trading emails back and forth with CMFish51 (Corey) about duck hunting and fishing. Come to find out, the Reel Naughty boys have their stuff together when it comes to ice fishing, to go along with their extensive repertoire of open-water walleye and steelhead fishing tactics. Convinced that I would someday need the appropriate gear, I managed to spend over $150.00 over a 10 day period on ice fishing rods, reels, jigs, and various other “must haves” for ice fishing. To put it kindly, my wife just shook her head…”here we go again…you buying stuff that you do not need…”
I accepted an invitation to fish with the guys for the weekend of February 17-18th, 2007. Saturday would find us plying for perch on Lake St. Clair. This lake was one of two in the Great Lakes system that I had yet to fish. Reports were solid for much of the western shore of Lake St. Clair, so I met up with Corey at 5:00 am just north of Toledo to head up to the lake, picking up Jerome (JD) at his house near Brest Bay on the way. You just have to love it when you pull into a guy’s driveway, he opens the garage door, and you see 10 trolling combos lying across the back of a car. Nice….
We were pulling Corey’s enclosed trailer, in which his new Polaris 800 four-wheeler was tied down, along with JD’s shanty and most of our gear. Never for the life of me would think that 3 guys would need so much stuff. Holy cow, it looked like a outdoors shop in there. We drove about an hour up to Chesterfield Township, Michigan to the Brandenburg Memorial Park DNR launch. Very nice facility indeed, adjacent to the Selfridge Air National Guard base (SANG for short). We unloaded everything (well, I thought everything) and then Corey says to me…”Clark, can you help me get MY shanty out of the back of the truck?” No problem…until I see this thing…quite possibly the Taj Mahal of shanties. Wow! Molded seats, side-view windows, hot tub…ok maybe that is stretching it a bit, but what a nice piece of equipment. I hopped on the FRONT of the quad while JD jumped on his shanty and Corey took us out to the zone. Imagine the strange looks from all around as they see us coming across the ice…even I was a bit skittish at first, but eventually couldn’t stop laughing as the looks of awe and curiosity abounded around us. One can only imagine the thoughts (and possibly prayers) that were going through the minds of our fishing neighbors as they watched this motley crew motoring across the ice.
We set up in 6 FOW about ¼ mile offshore on a tip from an internet report that Corey had read that week. We drilled a bunch of holes, 4 for Corey’s shanty, 2 for JD, and a couple for the other guys who had met us up there. Word of caution regarding power augers…make sure your feet are firmly planted before you hit the gas on a 10” blade. Nothing like watching guys experience the vertical Stand-n-Spin all day long. We set to fishing using wigglers, minnows, and small spoons with Jensen eggs. The water was crystal clear, and the method was to jig the small spoons to attract the schools of perch into the area, then to hopefully pull them on the jig or one of the live-bait presentations. Our luck was poor, and even after moving several times, the perch remained elusive. JD broke up the doldrums by cooking venison brats in his shanty (actually looked like it was on fire judging from all of the smoke rolling out of it) of which we all partook until we were full. Seemingly content with all of that, we pondered our situation and decided to let the fish win on this day and try again on Sunday.
Corey called that evening and suggested we go to Lake Erie and fish for walleyes. I had only been on Erie once during the winter, and I recall plenty of “Boom. Boom. Boom.” and such as the ice would move and heave. Overcoming that memory, and surely not one to turn down an invite to fish, I eagerly accepted. We met up at Crane Creek State Park at 6:30am, which is adjacent to the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge just West of Port Clinton, Ohio. Reports had been solid for the Bass Islands area, but parking access is limited in that region, hence the decision to try Crane Creek. The parking area was filling up quickly upon my arrival (delayed by a stop for a stranded motorist who had swerved to miss a deer on the snow covered county road) with trucks from several Midwest states in attendance.
Our plan was to pull everything out 1.75 miles to a location that had been decent the previous day, per a report from another friend (Chris) who had fished in that area. Our party consisted of 5 fishermen, along with two shanties and all the gear. We were warned by a fellow from Wisconsin prior to departure that “quads were getting stuck all over the place in the snow yesterday, you guys really need a snowmobile” Well thanks, but we didn’t exactly have one in our pocket to use.
At that point, it began to snow quite heavily, limiting visibility to about 1/8th of a mile. Corey took off with the shanties and gear in tow, and the rest of us decided we would go on foot for awhile to see how things would work out. He made it about 100 yards off the beach before he ran into a slush pile covered by drifted snow. I managed to step into a somewhat deeper area up and over my right boot. Not exactly the way one wants to start a 1.75 mile march on a day where the high temps were forecasted to be in the mid-20’s. It took all 5 of us to get the quad out of the slush, but soon we were stuck again…and again…and again. I quit counting, but to be honest I think we worked 8-10 times to get the quad out of trouble. Nearly exhausted, the group decided we would drill holes about 0.2 of a mile short of our original desired destination. We had also passed over a pressure crack that had developed on Saturday. Even in the winter, “Erie” applies it would seem.
Regardless, the group was upbeat about our situation, as the first hole that was drilled and then subsequently probed with the Vexilar showed several green blips on the screen, 16-17’ down over 18fow. No more than 10 minutes later, the call of “FISH ON” came from JD’s shanty, soon to be followed by another. Corey and I were in his ice penthouse, and he had his Vexilar probe in front of him, and I had the Aqua-Vu camera in front of me. He had given me a brief tutorial about the equipment, and I was anxious to see it work. Wasn’t long, and he says…”hey…there’s one right under my jig…” I could see the mark moving up in the water column as he raised the jig, and soon the marks overlapped, and he set the hook. Fish on baby! FISH ON!. What a great thing to see that walleye pop-up through the ice. Our labors had been rewarded!
I kept my eyes on the Aqua Vu screen, and soon saw a fish move into view (as I’m thinking “this is just like a video game”). As I slowly jigged the gold Buckshot spoon and minnow, the walleye drew closer and closer. A quick flare of the gills and the jig was gone, and I quickly set the hook. Oh what a different feeling fighting a walleye on an ultra-light rod that is 24” long, a far cry from an 8’ planer board rod with a Church board attached to it. I finally brought the fish to the hole, and Corey grabbed it behind the head. In the process, the fish had tangled itself in the camera line and my other “dead stick” line. Quite the mess, but I didn’t care. We laughed about that situation, as I had previously asked “now what happens when you get a fish on and he gets tangled in all that stuff down there on the way up?” To which Corey had responded…”well, it really hasn’t been a problem in the past…” Maybe someone from the site should have clued him into the intricacies of fishing with BFG, where anything and everything is possible on any given day.
We managed 5 fish on the ice for the first hour of fishing, and several other hit-and-misses, along with a couple lost fish on the way to the top. Unfortunately, the bite shut off just as quickly as it had begun. We tried for a few more hours, and enjoyed a sumptuous lunch prepared by JD courtesy of his friend Kurt (marinated venison tips and onions). Sometime around 1:00 we decided to pack it up and head for the shore. The walk back was much more enjoyable than the trip out, as Corey only got hung up once, and that wasn’t even his fault.
Although our take was not enormous by any means, the arduous adventure out onto the Erie ice with the Reel Naughty boys had been an absolute riot of a good time. Two fun-filled days of laughs, great food, and fantastic new friends still has me smiling today. I had been introduced to several different techniques and modes of technology. Thanks again guys, my sore legs and arms notwithstanding.
Until the next trip…