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Woods, water & worse/Jim Junttila

January 15, 2010
By Jim Junttila

"We're going all the way from ice to nice," said Paris Hiltunen, who was tickled pink to be riding shotgun to Florida; she had lobbied long and hard to come along on the trip. Her folks, Don and Jean, winter in Wildwood and we'd be paying them a visit on our way to Tampa.

Two of my favorite winter fishing tournaments I love to cover are the Saginaw News "Shiver on the River" with Mark Martin's Ice Fishing School on Saginaw Bay, and the Filthy Pelican Sheepshead Invitational on Tampa Bay. It's when I make that tantalizing transition and yes, transformation from walking on water to wading in it.

Let's compare and contrast these two oh-so-different venues and vices. I like to strike a balance in this column: A little freshwater, a little saltwater; a little science, a little fiction; enough of both to blur the line and keep you guessing which is which.

Going from perch to permit and walleye to wahoo isn't as traumatic as it might sound. Muskie to mullet, splake to specks, steelhead to reds, she added, rapidly running low on transitional fresh-to-saltwater fisheries alliteration.

"It's the ice belt here and the bikini belt there," Paris milked the subject for all it was worth.

Here it's the dead of winter, there it's alive with spring. Fish are jumpin' and flowers are bloomin'. It's not just transition time for fishermen, it's transition time for fish. When Florida water reaches that magical 70-degree mark, the bite is on.

"Oh, it's on all right," Paris added, emphatically snapping her teeth.

Tournament-winning fresh and saltwater trophy fish run about the same size; walleye and sheepshead in the 12-pound range. Both have spiny-ray dorsal fins that can draw blood.

Walleyes like emerald shiners and Berkley Gulp Minnows on jigheads. The sheepshead's favorite food is the fiddler crab, either live or the Gulp version. All Florida fish eat pinfish, glass minnows, live shrimp or the Gulp saltwater version, rigged like you rig live bait.

My favorite double-duty transition tool is my ice scraper. The windshield doesn't need it, but it comes in handy for scraping barnacles and crustaceans offa piers, pilings and docks.

"Which chums the water, excites the fish and brings on the bite," Paris added.

This mid-January thaw reminds me of the warmest weather I've ever ice fished in my life; last Feb. 10 it was 52 and sunny on Saginaw Bay. The ice was hard as a rock and looked freshly Zambonied.

The temptation for many ice anglers is to move into or near shantytown, set up shop and stay there.

While shantytown is usually a pretty good piscatorial indicator of fish concentrations, the more holes you drill in a concentrated area, the more pressured the fish become and tend to disperse or radiate out from town.

"All fish don't swim in the same school," said Paris, "It's good to have more than one school of thought."

"As long as it's conservative," said Sarah Palinen. "Go rogue," she added, clueless to the irony. "When those around you are using vertical jigs, go horizontal.

"Vertical jiggin' spoons are ones you tie on the end like Vinglas, Do-Jiggers and Northland Buckshots," she clarified. "Horizontals are ones you tie on the side, like Jigging Raps and Lindy Fat Boys."

"If they're tippin 'em with grubs, tip yours with Berkley Gulp minnows," she continued in her roguish way. "When they zig, you zag."

Suits me fine and sounds like good advice. I have a history of adapting to the curve-balls, change-ups and vicissitudes of life.

"Sometimes, you want to break away from the pack and go exploring; Grab your electronics, jump on your sled, find your own fish-holding humps, lumps and structure and probe some new fishing holes," she added adventurously.

I agree. I, too, like to run and gun. The more mobile you are and the more test holes you bore, the more likely you are to score fish. Besides, riding snowmobiles and 4-wheelers across frozen lakes suits my Nordic nature to a T.

"Yet there's still a lot to be said for sticktuitiveness," said Dolly Vardenen. "Persistence pays off; if at first you don't succeed, try, try again."

"I'm not the DNRE; I like divergent opinions," Paris added, "especially when they're both right."

"Besides, that theory has pretty much been busted by "If at first you don't succeed, try something, or somewhere, else," she argued. "Or someone else," she added, putting her foot down, which stopped well above the floor. She'd already switched out her Sorels for her 5-inch stilettos.

This is our first winter with the new reg of three lines in the water; that means three rods, three tip-ups or any combo thereof. Whether you're shivering on the river, drilling through Saginaw Bay for walleye or wading the lukewarm grass flats of Tampa Bay for tailing reds, 100 percent of the fish are caught when your line is in the water.

Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at



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