Thursday, February 16, 2012

Like Old Times

Sunday I had the opportunity to do something I probably haven't done for the last 30 years, ice fish with my friend Kevin Aiona,  back at our old fishing haunts around Wabasha, MN.  Home of the movie Grumpy Old Men, we lived that lifestyle of fishing the back waters and sloughs of the Mississippi River.  Places like Cattle Pass, The Oil Tanks, Railroad Slough, The Boat Harbor, and Nelson Road, these areas provided all the entertainment we needed to make the winters more enjoyable.  Back 30 years ago our fishing poles were simple sticks with 2 posts to wrap the line around,  a nail to stick it in the ice and our quarry was mostly sunfish, crappies, northerns, and bass.  The depth finder definition was a piece of lead snapped to our line and dropped down the hole to check how deep the water was.  Holes in the ice were accomplished by using an ice chisel and chopping our way through and the Mora Swedish Ice Auger had just made it's debut.   After dropping my wife off in Osseo, Wisconsin I made my way to Eleva, arriving around 8:00 Sunday morning.  Kevin poured me a quick cup of coffee as we loaded our gear and headed west towards the  river.  Our first stop was the bait shop in Durand.  I love these small bait shops in the small towns.  They have plenty of minnows, waxies, maggots, a few lures, and the latest fishing reports.  Today's strategy was to use maggots or Euro Larva, a bit smaller than a waxie grub but I think a lot more hardy.  Minnows can be a great crappie bait but I think that grubs tend to be more versatile and will consistently catch more fish.  Crossing the railroad tracks assured us we were in Wisconsin/Minnesota Boundary waters and my fishing license was now valid.  Although we did pull out our portable ice shacks, the plan was to drill a few holes and look for active fish before setting up the shelters.   With the ice being relatively thin for this time of year (12 inches) we decided to simply use my new Eskimo 8" hand auger.  At the end of last season I bought an really nice ice fishing combo from Cabela's at over 50% off.  It included a Quikfish 3 pop-up shelter, the hand auger, a portable stool, and a small sled with a cover to put everything in.  My "big" Clam ice shelter is heavy, bulky, but works get for the colder situations or when I am using the ATV for transportation.  This new setup is a breeze for early and late season ice where the temperatures are warmer, the ice isn't so thick, and I am walking out.  The sharp auger really works slick for punching a few holes where you need them.

It was still pretty cold out as we started fishing, enough to skim our holes fairly quickly.  Immediately we began to mark fish on our screens, a great sign.  The fish seemed somewhat aggressive as they would follow our lures but were very reluctant to bite, or so we assumed.  While I used my trusty old spring bobber setup loaded with 3 pound test line, Kevin had a high end pole with a sensitive tip and 2 pound test line.  Spring bobbers are great for detecting the faintest of bites and work very well.  Unfortunately we were in 15 feet of water and the line stretch of 3 pound test line negates most of that advantage.  Almost immediately Kevin connects with a nice 3 pound bass.  Back when we used to fish the Oil Tanks with tip-ups and shiner minnows, bass were a common target.  One trip Kevin and I nailed 6 largemouths with the largest pushing over 5 pounds.  The top picture is that first fish.  Within minutes I caught my first fish, a nice 10 inch perch.  It is interesting that the perch in the Mississippi are much larger now than what I remembered.  I suspect the cleaner water, a result of Zebra Mussels invading the river has played a role in this phenomenon.  With a few more fish in the bucket we set up our shelters that would provide a place to sit down and warm up.  For me the bite was tough.  You could see the fish approach your bait, hang there for a few seconds, then slowly slip away.  A few jigs of the lure would call them in and repeat the cycle.  Occasionally you would see a fish rush to met your bait and slam it but this was few and far between.  In the meantime Kevin was holding a seminar on light bite pan-fishing and was catching 3 to my one including this nice 13 inch crappie he is holding.  Admittedly his reactions are faster than mine which in these conditions make all the difference in the world.  The fish were there and simply coming up to the bait, inhaling it then spitting it out as fast.  Both of us spend a lot of time switching baits and he ended up catching most of his fish on a small teardrop lure with almost a micro piece of black plastic attached to the hook.  I simply had to laugh.  Watching his line, he would slowly drop his lure through the fish zone and look for any slight change in the line.  You really had to set the hook before the fish realized what it just did and Kevin is a master at this.  For me, I am become familiar with the slam of a walleye, even the finesse bite seldom passes me by but this was totally different.  Not unlike tullibee fishing on Mille Lacs, they too will inhale but are not a particular about line size so it's easier to feel them.  That combination of the right gear and paying close attention to your line really paid off.  I am sure that of the 10 people or so that were fishing around us, we were the only guys consistently catching fish.

We ended the day with a bucket full of very nice panfish, 38 total.  Our take included 12 crappies ranging from 11 to 13 inches, 6 perch in the 10 - 12 inch range, and 20 nice bluegills all over 8.5 inches.  It was a lot fun returning to our old fishing spots and experiencing those things that seem like they happened yesterday.  The trains still cause the ice to tremble as they rumble along the shoreline heading to Minneapolis or Chicago.  It sure seems like there are more of them now then ever before.  The blue skies accenting the majestic bluffs along the river makes a perfect backdrop for a day on the river.  The river has changed quite a bit in the last 40 years as sediment has filled in and cut off many of our old favorite fishing holes.  Driving by some of our old duck hunting haunts, they are now leased out and impossible to access.  The old bait shops come and go, replaced by larger convenience stores and gourmet cheese shops.  Heck, even as a fellow fisherman was leaving the ice he stopped to examine our impressive catch, commenting how tough the bite was.  He whipped out his small portable Aqua View camera exclaiming that "There down there, just don't want to bite!".  Oh well, for all that has changed some things will always be the fishing with my friend Kevin on a relaxing Sunday afternoon.   We have better equipment, better clothes, better transportation, yet we still look at life no different that when we were growing up together.  Thanks Buddy!


Duane said...

I've always believed that you can never go home again. It looks like you did, and on more than one level....
Nice post!

Anonymous said...

Dave a very nice report of the old days. Who is this pro fisherman 28 to 10 what's up with that. You should spend more time fishing with your old buddy and maybe he can teach you something, maybe even buy you a matching rod. Is that the same guy that out fishes all the boys at the Leech Lake opener too!!!

Dave Anderson said...

Thanks Dewey!

And Kevin, you simply have to give credit where credit is due!