Thursday, March 17, 2016

Chequamegon Bay part 2

On Sunday we woke up at the same time, hit the bait shop again, and then drove over to a spot Scott recommended on the western shore of Chequamegon Bay.  This time we were on our own, and we had to hike quite a ways to reach the 50+ feet of water that Scott told us would be good for lake trout and whitefish.

About a half mile from shore, we came upon a massive crack in the ice.  Wind, water currents, and thermal expansion cause the ice to crack, pull apart, and push together.  These cracks can be very dangerous to cross, so Brad and I took our time selecting the safest spot.  No fish is worth dying for, so if you find yourself in a situation like this and don't feel comfortable, don't feel like you have to cross it.  There are fish in the shallower water closer to shore as well.

We checked the depth every couple hundred yards, and when we marked 56 feet we stopped and set up our gear: four tip-ups rigged with fresh shiners and two additional holes for jigging.  Using light mono line in 56 feet of water was a bit more challenging than in 30 feet of water, especially with the water current that comes in from Lake Superior and circles the bay.  We couldn't use our smallest jigs, but we wanted lake trout and whitefish, so heavier spoons were preferred anyway.  Before long, we began catching smelt close to the bottom.  They're extremely fun to catch!

Rainbow Smelt (Osmerus mordax)

Brad also caught a few smelt, but I could tell his attention was divided between jigging and keeping an eye on the tip-ups.

Late in the morning one of the flags finally popped up.  Brad was on it in a heartbeat, and after waiting a few seconds to make sure the fish was pulling line, he set the hook and pulled it in.  He was pretty darn happy when he put his first burbot on the ice.  Nice work Brad!

Burbot (Lota lota)

We reset a few of the tip-ups with smelt instead of shiners, and then we got back to jigging.  I focused on doing big upward sweeps, letting the spoon flutter back down, and repeating.  The technique payed off when my rod bent over and I reeled in a nice lake trout.  It was a keeper at 22 3/4 inches.

Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush)

The action was heating up, because the next thing we knew, two tip-up flags went up at the same time!  Brad pulled the first fish up, another burbot.  I pulled the second fish up, our third burbot!

The nice thing about ice fishing is you don't have to worry about putting your fish in a cooler!  Our haul for the day was one lake trout, three burbot, and two smelt.  We caught quite a few more smelt than that, but they went on the tip-ups as bait.

Right before we packed up our gear to leave, I got one more hit on my jigging rod.  I could tell during the fight it was a smaller fish - it turned out to be another splake.  It was the same size as the one we caught the day before, so I bet they were stocked at the same time.  It wasn't big enough to keep, so back through the hole in the ice it went.

Splake (Salvelinus namaycush X Salvelinus fontinalis)

By noon we had all of our gear packed up and loaded onto the sled.  The hike back seemed to take less time than the hike out, maybe because it was warmer and we were feeling good from our successful day.

The view from shore speaks for itself.

It was a long drive back to Peoria, but we made it without any issues.  The next morning I cooked up the two smelt for breakfast.  I cut off their heads and tails, gutted them, and then fried them whole in butter.  After I flipped them over I added two eggs to the pan to complete the meal.  They were much better than I was expecting.  I wish we had brought more home!

Thanks again to Scott for all the help you gave us, and thanks to Brad for being my road trip buddy!

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