Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tullibee Time

Earlier in the week my friend Bill Lundeen asked if he could once again use some of my ice fishing equipment for a large client outing he is having this week.  This presented a perfect opportunity to head up to Mille Lacs as the word was out the tullibees were biting with some bonus jumbo perch mixed in.  With the weather scheduled to hit the mid 40's on Saturday, I called my neighbor Lory to see if he was up for some tullibee fishing.  Having never caught one of these beautiful silver fish, he jumped at the chance.  Tullibees are a member of the whitefish family and are often referred to as cisco's.  Mille Lacs represents the southern most extent of their range as they are a cold water fish, thriving in the lakes north to the arctic circle.  On Mille Lacs tullibee die offs occur, especially if the surface temperature stays in the high seventies for too long.  The lake is shallow and windy causing the water temperature to mix and stressing these cold water fish.  3 years ago the lake experienced a considerable warm spell triggering a massive die off of tullibees.  In August, thousands of dead fish were floating everywhere.  Well of course, this has happened before however this time we had a new culprit, Global Warming!  The crash in the population at Mille Lacs generated new regulations.  Fisherman were now limited to a 10 fish limit and the fall netting season was cancelled, and remains so today.  At one time they were considered rough fish, bony, only catch able in the winter, and basically good for pickling and smoking.   The last 2 summers have been much cooler and the fish have rebounded tremendously.  Gill net surveys of the lake revealed a year class never before seen on Mille Lacs.   

Tullibee are a fun fish to catch. They generally inhabit the deepest waters of the lake and a good place to start is on the deep edge of the flats that are scattered through out the north half of the lake.  32 to 36 feet is prime depth.  These fish have a pertinacity to follow lure high off the bottom, and the flashier the better.  I have "jigged" them up over 25 feet to the point where I could see them down the hole.  Having a fairly small mouth, they will occasionally hit a lure dressed with a minnow head however a nice plumb waxy grub is almost irresistible.  I like to use a small panfish jig with a larger hook, say #6, tied about 6 inches below a hook less spoon, something shiny as an attractor.  Perch find this combination pretty tempting as well.  Drilling a number of holes starting from the top edge of the flat to about 30 yards off the deep edge we immediately started catching smaller perch. Sometimes these little perch will also follow a bait up high before plunging back down to the bottom.  When a tullibee hits, you will know it.  They are very powerful for their size, violently head shaking all the way to the surface.  By the end of the day we had 7 nice tullibees and 4 jumbo perch in the 12 - 13 inch range.  I figured we must have missed at least 10 more of the silvery fish as they were biting pretty light.  I made a deal with Lory, I'll clean them for you and you make your famous pickled fish.  Tullibee is a member of the herring family and have the same texture and flavor you find in gourmet pickled herring (although some may find that a contradictory term).  It will be a couple of weeks before they are done but I will let you know how they turn out.

Writing from 38,000 feet, I am on my way back from Denver.  Tuesday night we had the chance to take a quick ride through Estes Park, CO and the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. This time of year the town fills with wild elk that use this area as there wintering grounds.  I was surprised to see a large number of nice bulls gathered in small groups grazing along the roads.  This was an exceptional animal as you can see he has a few battle wounds from previous encounters with other bull elk.  His left brow tine is broken, his left ear is pretty mangled and his hair had evidence of past fights.  I guess they will begin losing their antlers soon, growing a new set by August.  Simply amazing!


Anonymous said...

The first time Jane ever caught a fish was about 15 years ago and I took her ice fishing for tulibees on Leech Lake. That was back in the days when you'd catch a hundred and they avg. 2 lbs. I heard Leech has been rebounding. Might have to try it in March. Smoked tulibees right out of the smoker are hard to beat.

AK Keith

Dave Anderson said...


We should plan to meet before you leave. My inside line says that they have been catching them like crazy. You could bring some back with you!