EDITOR'S?NOTE:?This column was originally published March 28, 2008.
It's quite the adventure and culture shock driving from the summery subtropics back to the frozen tundra, but if Verna Equinox can take it, so can I. Traveling from gator country to glacier country, from 80 degrees to 8, quantum leaping from the deep south to the far north in five days is a pretty quick turn-around time for me. From wading the 70-degree shallows of Tampa Bay to jumping back on the water with both feet, ice fishing on Lake Superior.
If there's one thing both places have in common, it's reliable sources of information if you're willing to get off the beaten track, know where to ask, and take a proactive approach to your work. Thanks to local fishermen, guides, knowledgeable bait shop guys, bartenders and waitresses from Tarpon Springs to Tapiola, I manage to get steered in the right direction, and so can you.
Whether you're in Orlando or Ontonagon, backroads bars are universally valuable research resources offering somewhat reliable anecdotal information, mostly sincere and well-intentioned. If strangers are tight-lipped, offering to buy a beer usually lubricates the conversation.
This isn't merely hypothetical, I'm gonna name names and places. When I'm going fishing in Ontonagon, I start at one of my most valuable natural resources in town, Jarv Jarvi's Dry Dock. They catch a lotta fish and shoot a lotta deer in there, and before I knew it local ice fishermen Carl Brees and Todd Karttunen were bringing me up to speed and giving me GPS coordinates of productive, pre-drilled holes at the moutha the Mineral River, about 10 miles westa town. The glorious full moon that straddled the Vernal equinox lit up the snow-covered sand dunes and pressure ridges, giving the icescape that off-planet look and feel of a frozen asteroid.
The next morning, a dozen tents dotted the mouth of the river and another dozen guys were perched on buckets in the broiling equinox sun, ineffectual by Florida standards, but warming up to a balmy 20 degrees where you could unzip your snowmobile suit to the waist. A week earlier, I'd waded luke warm grass flats in 80-degree sunshine, casting to snook and specks. The round trip had taken me from lake trout to ladyfish, perch to pompano, coho to cobia, and from walleye to wahoo; a nice winter mix of fresh and saltwater fish.
The first day of spring and Easter weekend is early for any river flowing into Lake Superior to be flowing at all, but the mineral is. Hope not only floats, it flows under the ice shelf, warming the lake water and carrying with it natural chum and feed from upstream that can trigger a hot bite. It was the same skinny water, 3 to 6 feet, that I'd been wading in Tampa Bay, except now I was standing on 10 inches of ice on top of it.
"The bite's been so slow in Baraga, they're coming over here to fish," Brees said. "We've been doing pretty good out there, catching some bluefin in the 14-22-inch range and nice 15-20-inch coho, a few suckers, and a few surprises."
My favorite kinda surprise is when a big 8-pound lake trout or brown strays into the inshore shallows and gobbles the little Swedish Pimple on the end of my little ice fishing rod with 4-pound test line. I feel the same way when a hungry snook ravages my shrimp.
My wanderlust had taken me from winter to summer, from fresh water to saltwater, from ice fishing to nice fishing and back again. Walking around Calumet and Laurium, where snowbanks and glaciers still rule, I'd say we're down to our last 45 days of snow on the ground, but winter's on the run. March 31 is the DNR deadline to remove ice shanties from U.P. waters. Rumor has it there's a pretty hot shallow water splake bite at Copper Harbor (Call Gas Lite General Store), the perch are turning on at Lake Gogebic (call Hoop 'n Holler), and the bite on K-Bay in Baraga is heating up (call Indian Country Sports).
There's still time left to place your bets on ice-out in the Keweenaw, but it's fleeting.
Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at jjunttila@ chartermi.net.