Wisconsin State Journal - Invited to go Fishing? Be sure you know what you're in for
Patrick Durkin: Invited to go fishing? Be sure you know what you're in for...
TURTLE LAKE – The next time you’re talking to a friend you seldom see and he says, “Let’s go fishing sometime,” stop and do something about it.
Scan your calendar for dates that specify “sometime.” If you don’t, you’ll never go.
That’s my fishing tip for today.
And if you actually want to catch some fish when you get where you’re going, be sure you chose your friend wisely. If you show up to go bluegill fishing and your friend hands you a bass rod with a No. 2 jig hook, you’re in for a long day.
My wife, Penny, and I chose wisely when visiting our friends Dave and Karen Larsen at their family’s cabin in Barron County two Saturdays ago. They drove over from their home west of the Twin Cities with their son, Cody, the night before. Dave’s brother Walt from St. Paul arrived shortly after us.
We’ve known the Larsen clan since Dave and Karen lived in Weyauwega 20-plus years ago. And as long as we’ve known them, they’re posing in photos with fish, ducks, deer, elk or turkeys. So, when I asked if we should bring our own ice-fishing gear or just borrow theirs, I wasn’t surprised when Dave said to just show up; that he’d handle everything. That’s because Dave has everything. And then some.
The Larsens have a lakeside cabin about 65 miles northwest of Eau Claire, and they’ve fished every lake within easy reach of their place since Dave’s parents built it 45 years ago. When we arrived about 8 a.m. on Feb. 11, Dave and Cody were returning for breakfast after setting up their portable ice shanty and cutting a few holes. They reported some crappie action, which sounded great to us.
We were on the ice by midmorning, with me, Karen and Penny inside the shanty. Dave set us up with light-action jigging rods, tungsten ice jigs and a split-shot sinker about a foot above the jig. After hooking on minnows for bait, we lowered the rigs and monitored their descent on portable sonar units.
No matter how many times I’ve ice-fished with sonar units, I’m always amazed they can detect something so small as ice-fishing jigs, especially 20 to 30 feet down and deeper. Of course, I’m even more amazed when a second little bar lights up on the screen, and you realize it’s a fish and it’s likely eyeing your bait. And then I’m disappointed when the little bar disappears, signaling the fish decided it’s not so hungry after all.
We got a few bites the first half-hour, and Penny and Karen reeled in a couple of small crappies. By that time Dave had joined us after helping Walt and Cody drill and clear ice shavings from several holes nearby. But before long, Cody stuck his head inside.
“You need to get out here,” he said. “I’m getting bites every time I put my bait down.”
We didn’t need further prodding. Plus, the temperatures were climbing and we no longer needed gloves or mittens to keep our hands warm. Penny chose a free hole about 20 yards south of Cody, Karen went a few yards farther away to the southwest, and I found a hole about 25 yards west of her. We had Cody half-surrounded.
Within a few minutes Cody had five good-sized crappies on the ice and was trying to coax another bite as I hovered with my camera. Penny and Karen then took turns reeling up crappies, unhooking them and rebaiting their jigs. For good measure, I returned to my spot and caught a couple, too.
And then I hooked an unexpected bonus: a yellow perch. Walt started needling me. Minnesotans are forever fascinated by Wisconsinites’ fixation with perch. Whether it’s northern Minnesota or the Dakotas, if perch start biting, Wisconsinites soon outnumber resident anglers after descending like locusts.
I suspect our attraction to perch relates to our state’s love affair with Friday night fish fries, and the perch’s status as the events’ fish of choice. Or maybe not. I can’t cite surveys or other sociological proof to support my assumption. Instead, I quote my father, who often says the Friday night fish fry is the best tradition we Catholics established across Wisconsin. True or not, Dad’s comment always makes me smile.
Anyway, we caught roughly 25 fish between us by the time our crew started clamoring for lunch. Walt grilled sandwiches as we discussed thought-provoking topics like whether you catch more crappies by hopping hole to hole, or sitting in one spot and waiting. Personally, I’m more of a sitter … until roamers like Dave, Walt or Cody locate a feeding school.
About 2 p.m., as Walt and I discussed news from the hunting industry, we noticed everyone else reeling up and packing gear back into our trucks. We hadn’t caught much the past hour, so Dave and Cody decided we should try some nearby lakes.
We didn’t catch much on the next lake, but after cutting in on the third lake about 4 p.m., we caught another dozen or so crappies before ending the day about 5:30 p.m. By Dave’s count we had 45 crappies and one perch between the six of us. I would have been filleting fish all night if I’d been left alone, but four of us completed the job in about a half-hour.
The Larsens won’t have to ask twice the next time they ask us to go fishing.