Snakes on the Ice
First Whitefish of the Year
I have made no secret in this space about my ambivalence about fishing Kangaroo Lake. I fish there because it is convenient. Although I believe it is improving, I just have never been enthusiastic about the quality and number of fish in the lake. That said, The ‘Roo has very high “fishability” for visitors and locals alike. By fishability I mean good access and availability of fish. Kangaroo provides both. There is a good boat launch for trailered boats on the east shore. At low water times this launch can be a bit shallow and has limited parking, but it provides good access for most fishing boats. There is also a canoe/kayak access on the west shore at the end of Kangaroo Beach Road. Of course, the feature that makes Kangaroo uniquely accessible to the fishing public is the County Highway “E” causeway. This artificial isthmus separates the lake into an oblong body of water to the south of the causeway and a smaller, shallow lobe to the north. The “pouch” of the Kangaroo. On any summer day and into the early evening, anglers, young and old, can be seen lined along on either side of “E”. No boat or special equipment is required. Just walk out and toss in a line. Oh, you do have to watch for moving vehicles. It is pretty convenient for anglers of all stripes to wet a line in the waters of The ‘Roo. And there are fish in Kangaroo. In fact, the thing I like most about this body of water is the wonderful diversity of fish in the lake. I personally have caught nine different species of fish out of the ‘Roo from bass to walleyes. I even caught a rainbow trout one spring that apparently had lost its way up Heins Creek. I have seen gar swimming in the warm surface water. There are even rumors of a lake sturgeon lurking in the waters of the lake. You can usually find something that is biting. Kangaroo is one of the first lakes to warm up in the spring and the first to produce safe ice each winter. It is this last attribute that has found me fishing Kangaroo Lake more than I typically do. The warm start to the season has made it difficult for ice to form on Green Bay. It has only been in the last couple weeks that numbers of anglers have ventured out on the Bay targeting perch, walleyes, and my favorite, whitefish. So, I have had to satisfy my fishing addiction with forays on Kangaroo and The ‘Roo has indeed produced some action.
Northern pike are my target species on the early ice along with perch and bluegills. I typically set up a couple of tip-ups baited with golden shiners on the north side of the causeway. I then position my black Frabill shack in a location where I can observe both tip-ups and, jigging through a hole at my feet, wait for that magic flag to go flying indicating a fish has taken the bait. This year, I have not had to wait too long for action. One of the real magic experiences of ice fishing is that long, slow walk (when I was younger, it was a sprint) to a tip-up with its spring mounted flag waving teasingly in the wind. The anticipation is exhilarating. Is it a false alarm? Was the flag blown off by the wind or perhaps a fish just grabbed the bait and dropped it when it felt the resistance of the line? No wait, you see the spool on the tip-up rotate slowly, then spin wildly! The fish is still there. You gently kneel beside the tip-up and gingerly lift it out of the hole being careful not to make any movement that will startle the fish below. Grasping the line in your bare hand, you pull some extra line off the spool to give the fish plenty of opportunity to engulf the bait. Then you slowly, almost tenderly, gather up the loose line until it becomes taught. You feel life at the other end of the fishing line. This is the moment of truth. Should you give the fish more time? Should you pay out more line? Set the line too soon and the fish is lost. Wait too long and the fish may become wary and discard the minnow. You decide. This is the right instant and you pull the line tight with a sharp draw upward. Fish on!!! You are in direct connection with a wild animal struggling for its life. No seven-foot graphite rod or hundreds of feet of trolling line to separate you from the writhing mass. It is just you and the fish coupled in battle with a thin strand of polymer binding you. You feel the fish’s pulse and make decisions based on the information it provides. You may respond to its thrusts by surrendering line or simply hold fast. You angle the line around the hole to keep it from abrading on the sharp edges of the ice. Often, especially in the shallow waters of Kangaroo, the fish will become entangled in masses of weeds in its frantic efforts to break free. Often this tactic is successful, and the fish is off. Not this time. You slowly gain line on the fish and draw it closer to the hole separating the watery world below from the air above. You still have not seen the fish. You have made mental guesses as to species and size, but you cannot be sure until that first fleeting glimpse appears below the ice. A flash. A dark shape. Then the head of the fish appears in the hole and you coax the fish out of its natural surroundings into yours. Finally, the skirmish is over. An olive green, cream-barred northern pike is thrashing on the ice confused by the weird flimsiness of the environment it now finds itself in. There is a “snake” on the ice.
Paul and I have put several “snakes” on the ice in our outings on the lake. The term “snake” is a rather derisive term used by anglers to indicate small Esox Lucius or northern pike. Northerns go by many colloquial names including pike, great northern pike, snot rocket, slimer, slough snake, jack, and hammer handle. Many of the terms are not meant as complimentary. Small pike can be a nuisance particularly when you are after larger fish or other preferred species. But pike are aggressive feeders and small snakes will often bite when nothing else will. Most of the pike I catch on The ‘Roo are indeed small, 18-22 inches. I have heard “stories” of larger fish from other anglers and I have caught a few in the mid to high twenty-inch range, but nothing like the pike we hook in the summer and fall on the big water. However, catching fish is a lot more fun than not catching fish and an afternoon on The ‘Roo chasing flags can be quite entertaining.
I usually don’t keep northerns. I never keep large pike, anything over 28 inches or so. Larger pike are more often females and I want to keep those fish in the lake. I do, on occasion, keep a smaller fish. I find a northern between twenty and twenty-four inches produces perfect table fare. Many anglers don’t bother with northerns because they are very boney and difficult to clean. That’s true, but with a little practice you can produce boneless filets. I use the “five filet method” and I am able to quickly yield nice firm boneless filets for dinner. To me nothing beats fresh perch or walleye for eating, but a northern caught out of cold clear water is pretty close.
My fishing on Kangaroo may be coming to an end for the winter. As soon as I can get out on the Bay for whitefish and perch, I’m there. Paul and I made a trip down to Little Sturgeon Bay this week. We had gotten a tip from J.J. of J.J. Guide Service that the ice was good near the mouth of Little Sturgeon and the perch and whitefish were hitting. We parked near the Sunset Grill off Rileys Point Road. Dragging our sleds behind us, we walked out a couple of hundred yards near some other anglers’ shacks and drilled holes. We found a good 10-12 inches of ice covering about 28FOW. We set up originally for perch but also were ready for whitefish. It was the latter that produced the action. In several hours of fishing we managed to put a dozen whities in the bucket, lost several others and returned some smaller ones back down the hole. Paul out fished me two fish to one using a jig of his own design and manufacture. He even hooked into a small walleye. I caught fish on five different lures from Gulp waxies to Jigging Raps, but not at the rate Paul was hauling them in. Eventually I swallowed my pride and started using one of his jigs he graciously offered. My last couple fish succumbed to that lure. We headed home with the first whitefish of the season including several fish over twenty inches. That night my wife and I enjoyed broiled whitefish. I also had the first whitefish livers of the year sautéed with butter and caramelized onions, one of my favorites. Pam passed on the livers.
I just took a scouting trip along the shoreline near Egg Harbor. I saw no one fishing in the Bay and no signs of fishing activity. I checked the usual access points off West Shore Drive and north off White Cliff Road. Nothing. I never want to be the first guy out there, but then who does? With the cold weather this week, next week should provide good ice and some whitefish action.
I have two outings scheduled with J.J. to the southern end of the county this week, so I should have more information on the whitefish action in my next report. If you do get out fishing, just remember all ice is safe until it isn’t. Stay safe, dry and on the correct side of the ice.
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