By Steve Weisman
Last week my son, Curt and I spent three 8-hour days in a permanent ice shack way up at Lake of the Woods’ Northwest Angle. Crazy? Well, maybe to some people, but for us they were three days of “ice angler heaven!” We headquartered out of Jake’s Northwest Angle resort (www.jakesnorthwestangle.com) and utilized the guiding expertise of Big Mike Jenison. In his 14th year of ice fishing the Angle, Curt has struck up a strong friendship with three anglers from Kansas City, MO: Bob Switzer, Michael Burris and Doug Sutton. Their reason for coming up each year is to make connection with Big Mike who left Kansas City nearly 20 years ago to be a guide at Jake’s.
A year ago we fished the Angle in early January, and the fish were only a 20-minute ride via Jake’s bombardier. By early February, however, it becomes an hour trip south. We traveled 18 miles, but it was a winding, meandering trip as Big Mike worked his way through a series of ice heaves to get to our fishing spot where permanent shacks had been set up on a deep rocky reef in 25-27 feet of water or out in the muck in 25-32 feet of water. Big Mike and owner Paul Colson had just moved the shacks down there a day before we arrived, so the first day was one of experimentation to find where the fish were located.
Our first day was on the reef, and though we moved twice, fishing was slow and we only tallied 18 fish all day. However, Big Mike moved us again the next day, this time to the house out the deepest. Day two included 43 (a mix of walleye, sauger and perch). Day three was a 36-fish day. Of course, there were lulls during the eight hours, but the last two days gave us plenty of action to keep us motivated.
Curt caught our largest ‘eye, a 25 incher, while I caught the fattest 23-inch walleye I have ever caught. Anything over 19 inches must be released and only one walleye over 28 inches can be kept. Still we had enough to feed the six of us at Jerry’s Restaurant, enough for an “ice shack lunch” cooked on the propane heating stove and enough to transport our limits home of walleye and sauger, along with a dozen jumbo perch.
Curt and I each had our own side of the ice shack to fish, so we set up one line with a slip bobber. I used a plain pink hook, while Curt used a pink jig. We tipped them with a lively minnow a foot to two feet off the bottom.
For jigging lures, Curt’s best turned out to be a Northland Tackle’s gold Buckshot Rattle Spoon, while my best turned out to be Clam’s firetiger Psycho Shad (just as it was a year ago).
We also tipped a minnow head to each of these lures. Our target area was bouncing the lure off the bottom and working the lure up at least 6’ off the bottom. Jigging ranged from a sharp upward swing to rip the lure up followed by a free fall back down or maybe a jiggle, jiggle, jiggle back down. Sometimes we would let the lure sit totally still; sometimes we would jiggle it up a few inches and then let it sit. The bottom line: we tried to let the fish tell us what they wanted.
A major key to our success here were the Velixar flashers. Curt used a new FL-28, while I used an FL-22. In that way, we could “see” the mark of the lure as we jigged it up and down and also a mark when a fish came close to the lure. If a fish became really interested in the bait, the mark would get darker, going from a green color to red, becoming bigger and a deeper red as it “eyeballed” the bait.
We actually used a split screen, one that gave the six-foot auto zoom on the left side, while the right side gave the full depth down to 32 feet. While most fish were taken in the bottom six feet, Curt did catch a 23 incher 10 feet below the ice, and I caught my 23 incher about eight feet off the bottom. Both times we saw the mark up in the water column and moved our lure to that spot. That’s where the split screen was a real advantage.
The really aggressive fish would appear on the screen and move with our baits as we moved them. The bigger and darker red the mark became, the more we knew that particular fish was interested. If we missed a bite, we immediately jigged the dead stick, which often produced a bite on the live minnow.
A final thought
Bob, Michael and Doug fished together in one shack, and we each had walkie-talkies to share updates. However, for them, much of their day was spent with lines in the water and the playing cards on the table. That’s what makes the trip so great; to each his own! Plus, the evening was spent swapping fishing tales and giving each other a bad time.
If you are thinking of trying some ice fishing on Lake of the Woods, there are lots of options. My suggestion is to Google Lake of the Woods ice fishing and look at the resorts and guide options. You can also contact Lake of the Woods Tourism at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (800) 382-3474. My contact there is Joe Henry, executive director of Lake of the Woods Tourism.