Bay Trip Ends Club’s Season
by Larry Damman – March 7, 2020
March 7 began early for the intrepid 8 heading for the pre-dawn rendezvous at River Rock Bait Shop in Ashland. Everybody arrived on schedule. We stopped there to pick up the right minnows and hot local lures you can’t get at inland shops. Emerald shiners, native to the Great Lakes, are the only minnow sanctioned by Coach Amos. Then it was back into the vehicles and around the Bay to Bayfield. Here we loaded up the trailers and sleds and hitched up the ATV’s. A bumpy, several mile trek on the ice put us on the edge of a 30- to 70-foot drop off. Everybody spread out to cover the area with holes, set up the tents and got fishing.
The emerald shiners seemed too small for the monster trout I envisioned catching. Amos says, “Trout and salmon are hard to catch on standard tip ups. They hit on the run but quickly sense something is wrong and spit them out.” We were using various jaw jacker type rigs instead of tip ups. Trout instantly take the smaller bait, hook and all, and the jaw jacker sets the hook mouse trap style, before they figure out their mistake. The other way to hook them is jigging spoons and other lures, plain or tipped with wax worms or minnows. Jigging is a slow moving video game. You jig your lure while watching it on a sonar unit. When a fish shows up on sonar you tease it into taking your lure. That assumes the fish show up, which they didn’t. After a few hours one of Amos’s spies reported some fish were biting not far away. So we packed up moved and set up again. Things were still slow but better. Sonar readings showed there were fish on the bottom which proved to be smelt. The picky biters were hard to hook. I would have loved to get 30 or so of these small fish for a meal but the picky biters were hard to hook in the deep water. We managed to get some to use for burbot bait later. Burbot are in the cod family and eat most anything near the bottom, live or dead. They are most active late in the day or at night.
The emerald shiners were starting to see some action. Layne Olson managed 2 splake, a 17-inch keeper and one that didn’t quite measure up to the 15-inch size limit. Splake are a man-made cross between a brook trout and a lake trout. Splake don’t get real big but are very popular as table fare. Castin Melton bagged a small brown trout and a nice splake. I got a herring.
The action was not overwhelming so we packed up again and moved all the way across the bay to the Ashland lighthouse area in hopes of finding coho and burbot. The day had warmed, and we all got splashed with slush on the long trek. We had the area to ourselves. A large ice heave, running for miles, prevented people from nearby Ashland getting out to us. Ice on massive water bodies is more like a jigsaw puzzle than a continuous sheet. The pieces act like the earth’s tectonic plates. Shifting wind and water currents, push and pull on the pieces creating ice mountains or pulling them apart leaving open water gaps. Ice mountains are tempting to climb on but too dangerous. They can be unstable and hollow with open water underneath.
The coho and burbot proved to be more than a match. Tommy Peoples managed to add another splake to our catch. Then it was time to pack up and get back to Bayfield before dark. Diehards Riley Cronk and Tommy Peoples just couldn’t give up on burbot. Coach Amos put them on a Burbot spot near the Bayfield dock and the rest of us headed home. We didn’t have a lot of fish to clean. That’s why it’s called fishing and not catching. Just going somewhere new and trying your best is worth it. As usual Layne had given his all and was asleep before we got out of the parking lot.
P.S. The burbot boys reported that the after dark score was burbot 2, anglers nothing.
Larry Damman is a retired Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Fish Manager who is current president of Friends Into Spooner Hatchery (FISH) and coach of the Spooner/Shell Lake High School Fishing Team.