Ice Fishing on the 'Roo
What Are My Options?
First off, I don't even like ice fishing. Don't get me wrong. I do plenty of it. Each winter I am out on first ice and usually end up the season leaping open water gaps to crawl out on the last rotting ice of spring. But I really don’t like it. What sane person would like ice fishing? By its very nature it requires you to go outside during the coldest times of the year and place yourself on the most exposed spaces available: flat, barren ice. Then you have to drill a hole. Once you start fishing you can only access the fish in an eight-inch cylinder extending into the water from the ice to the bottom. If there are no fish in this small volume of the lake, guess what, you are out of luck. If you want to fish, say ten feet over there, you have to move your stuff over there, drill another hole and start all over to access another eight-inch cylinder of water. Imagine in the summer if every time you wanted to cast, you had to drill a hole. My guess is that fishing would not be a very popular summertime activity. Oh yeah, and you have to risk your life to ice fish. Often there are only a few inches of fragile ice between you and an unexpected "Polar Plunge" with the associated hypothermia.
Ice fishing does have its virtues, I guess. It can be done simply and cheaply. Note I said can be. That, of course, is not they way most guys do it, but I remember when I first went ice fishing as a boy with nothing more then an ice spud and a salvaged old broke off casting rod with some monofilament wrapped between two nails protruding out of the handle. Simple times. Ice fishing is also good way to get out of the house, get exercise and fresh air, lots of it. In fact, I think it speaks volumes about the severity of northern Wisconsin winters that there are as many anglers as there are out on the ice each year. People in Wisconsin will do just about anything to escape a severe bout of "cabin fever" including such bizarre acts as strapping wood, plastic and leather objects to their feet and clomping around on the snow, attempting suicide by tree by racing a snow machine at insane speeds through the woods, or even intentionally leaping, half naked, into near frozen water. Don't believe me? Be in Jacksonport on News Years Day and you'll see.
Ice fishing is probably not the stupidest thing you can do in the winter but it's right up there. So why do I go ice fishing? Well, because it's the only way you can fish in the winter in Door County. Duh!!! Give me another option, and I'm in. I'd much rather be fishing in shirtsleeves and shorts in my kayak sending out long arching casts in search of smallmouth bass. Or watching the sun set over Baileys Harbor on a warm summer evening while waiting for a silver salmon to slam into my lure and send the reel screaming. Those are not options in the winter. So, if my only alternative is not to fish then I guess I'm ice fishing.
So that is how I found myself sitting on three inches of ice on the north end of Kangaroo Lake earlier this week. It had been almost three weeks since I winterized the Pamela Ann and backed her into her winter storage space. I had not fished since then. Withdrawal was setting in. I needed to go fishing. Even ice fishing.
I don't fish Kangaroo Lake very often. Even though it is less than two miles from my house and does contain a variety of fish species as I have discussed previously, once the bay and lake become available, the prospect of catching pan fish or a "snakes" from the Causeway loses its appeal. Even the chance at a decent bass or walleye is not enough to tempt me. But there are times when Kangaroo is the best and, occasionally, only option. This was one of those times. The Bay is weeks away from having enough ice to target whitefish, perch and walleyes. There are very few options for ice fishing on the lake side. Several of the other inland lakes including Clark and Europe are options as well, but neither is teaming with active fish. So Kangaroo it is.
I loaded my Frabill portable ice shelter, Eskimo power auger, electronic sonar and padded carrying case with a half dozen specialized ice fishing rods into the back of my pickup truck along with various buckets, tip-ups, skimmers, three types of Gulp bait and an insulated pail with minnows. As I said, it ain't simple anymore. I bundled myself with an Under Armor base layer, various shirts and fleece covered with a wind-proof, water resistant outer layer. And boots. Thick warm Sorels. I felt a bit like the little brother in "The Christmas Story". I hope I don't fall over.
I drove the short distance to the Causeway and unloaded all my gear. With everything loaded on the sled, I man-hauled it out onto the ice. There was nobody else fishing (go figure), but I had seen some guys out here earlier in the week. I never like to be the first guy out on the new ice. Of course, the north end of Kangaroo is so shallow that even if you do break through you will only have to deal with a wet leg and embarrassment, not potential death. In short order I drilled about a dozen holes (a few extra is always a good idea), set up a couple of tips ups with golden shiners and moved my tent shelter over one of the remaining holes to drink coffee and jig for northerns. I was set up on about 3-4" of ice in two feet of water. Once I started jerking a large Swedish Pimple, I was reminded about one of the problems in Kangaroo Lake. Swarms of tiny yellow perch. I could not jig more then a few times without snagging another one of the little buggers. Catching a mess of perch can be fun, but these were so small that I would have to catch about a hundred just to produce a plate of hors d'oeuvres. After removing about twenty of these nuisance fish from my jig, I spied a large ominously dark object move under the ice and position itself near my jig. The perch had disappeared. Then with a blur the northern pike slashed at my lure. Missed. Then again. Missed again. Finally he positioned himself just under my jig, I yanked upwards and it was "fish on". Then "fish off". In a blink he had broken me off. It was nice pike, maybe 25". Of course, any fish would look like a giant monster in comparison to all those little perch. Anyway, my one shot at catching dinner had been lost. I did manage to hook another, smaller pike but that one went back down the hole. The tips ups produced nothing except one wind-blown flag. After about two hours out on the ice, I had enough. I had gotten my "fix". I reversed the whole load-up process and headed for home. I guess it's fish at the Cornerstone tonight.
Ice fishing is a lot of work. I really don't like it. But I'll be out on the ice again soon. What else can I do, not fish?