Saturday, March 5, 2016

Chequamegon Bay part 1

My trips in January and February were fun, but I was itching for a new species for my lifelist by the time March rolled around.  It was really exciting when plans came together to do another ice fishing trip to northern Wisconsin, this time to Chequamegon Bay by the town of Ashland.  My friend Brad got the ok to go as well, so after a half-day of work on Friday, we hit the road for Ashland.

On Saturday morning we stopped by the bait shop when it opened at 6am and then met Scott, a friend of a friend, at the town's boat ramp.  He took us out on his snowmobile, which saved us a full hour of walking one way.  Thanks Scott!

Modern Human (Homo sapiens)


The first thing we did was set up four tip-ups with shiners that we bought from the bait shop.  We added split shot to the lines and put our baits fairly close to the bottom.  We had 14 inches of ice, and my Vexilar said we were in 30 feet of water.



Once the tip-ups were set up, we sat around and jigged small lures tipped with wax worms.  My target was rainbow smelt, but honestly we were happy with anything.  Our first fish came on one of the tip-ups.  It was a splake, which is a hybrid between a lake trout and a brook trout.  They're stocked by the DNR, and the easiest way to ID them is to check whether or not the adipose fin is clipped off.  If it's clipped off, then it's a splake.  Also, the yellow spots on their sides are more round and uniform than the blotches on the sides of lake trout.

Splake (Salvelinus namaycush X Salvelinus fontinalis)


Jigging was really slow unfortunately.  We fished this spot almost all day and didn't catch a single fish jigging.



Brad caught the second fish on one of the tip-ups.  It was a yellow perch, probably not what he was hoping for, but a fish is a fish!

Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens)


It was a gravid female with quite the appetite.



Towards the end of the day Scott made the executive decision that we needed to move spots.  We fully supported his decision, because fishing was incredibly slow, and the smelt were nowhere to be seen.  We all piled on the snowmobile and pulled the gear across the bay to a new spot.  It was a good call, because at our new spot we started marking fish near the bottom right away!



I caught a few dinky perch while Scott caught several smelt right beside me.  I wanted one so badly!  All of the sudden, the small fish disappeared from the flasher screen.  Scott and I agreed that a predator was probably moving through the area, and sure enough we saw a really big blip near the bottom.  The next thing I know, my jigging rod doubles over and I have whatever it is on my line!  A minute or two later, we pulled a 27 1/4 inch burbot through the ice.

Burbot (Lota lota)


I bet he was eating the smelt that I was trying so hard to catch, haha.



After catching the burbot I moved to a new hole where I saw a lot of small fish near the bottom.  I practiced getting fish to come off the bottom and follow my jig up towards the surface.  It was a technique I've heard other people talk about but had not tried myself.  Finally, after the sun disappeared over the hills, I hooked up with a smelt.  Success!

Rainbow Smelt (Osmerus mordax) - new hook & line species #322


After the first one, they just kept biting.  Shiner tails and wax worms both worked well as bait.  I think I caught seven total on Saturday.



Before long it was completely dark.  We packed up our tip-ups and the rest of our gear and headed back to the boat ramp.  We thanked Scott by giving him a box full of Illinois beer (which unfortunately is not as good as Wisconsin beer).  It was really generous of him to take us out, and I hope someday I'll be able to return the favor by taking him to one of my fishing spots.

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