A rosy-cheeked dawn crept over Lake Gogebic as I stomped through the surface ice that had refrozen an inch thick on our drill holes overnight, scooped the slush outa the hole with my skimmer, tipped my Swedish Pimple with a frisky minnow, and dropped it to the bottom. Forty-some shanties dotted the icescape of Bergland Bay.
"It's c-c-ccolder than a bikini bottom in Bergland," WW&W wildlife correspondent and ice fishinista Paris Hiltunen shivered audibly as she fired up the propane heater and poured our first cuppa strong, hot coffee.
With temperatures topping out in the teens and the water beneath eight inches of solid ice holding steady at 32 degrees, I was snug and warm inside my Ice Armor, ready for a 10-hour shift. This is Yooper snowmobile suit fishing, dressing in long-johns and layers is critical; you came to catch fish, not cold.
We were fishing with AIM walleye pro and ice fishing icon Mark Martin (markmartins.net) and Lake Gogebic guide Captain Tim Long (eyes-guy.com, 575-3542), outa The Timbers Resort, (thetimbersresort.com), on the north shore.
I like sharing a shanty with Mark and Tim and was stoked to fish my way outa 2011 and into 2012 on Lake Go, one of my favorite ways to end an old year and reel in a new one. The lake straddles the Eastern and Central time zones, so lake residents celebrate New Year's Eve twice. The morning and evening bites can be an hour apart, depending if you're fishing in Ontonagon or Gogebic County. If you believe that, I've got a sweetheart deal for you on the Portage Lift Bridge and I'll throw Bridgetender Butch Paavola in for good measure.
Since they furnish the transportation, shanties, augers, bait, heat, fish finders, underwater cameras and gear, all I have to do is bring my camera, hop on a snowmobile, and tag along with my camp chair and a little something to warm the innards. I pack a thermos of hot coffee, a thermos of hot venison booyaw, a back-up thermos of clam chowder, a flask of my favorite antifreeze, and a stash of Dove dark minis.
I carry a small, pocket-size tackle box with an assortment of Swedish Pimples, Jigging Raps, Haley and Northland jigs, hooks, splitshots, tiny bobbers, Gulp minnows, grubs and tails, pink and white are hot colors, and a flashlight to fire up the glow-in-the-dark stuff and see what I'm doing.
If you'd like to gear up like the pros and do some comparison shopping, visit clamoutdoors.com, otteroutdoors.com and frabill.com. If you'd rather shop local, call Isaac Knuuttila (guess what nationality he is), 281-3777, go to allseasonsupholstery.com or his shop, and check out his teepee-style ice tents.
From Bergland Bay to Ice House Bay on the south enda the lake, it's a quick 18-mile run by sled, but gregarious Lake Go restaurateurs encourage you to stick to the trails that run from bar to bar like God intended and take time to eat, rehydrate, enjoy all the northern Yooper hospitality you can stand, and don't be bashful about it. The route runs from Antonio's and Bergland Bay Bar in town across the ice to the Hoop 'n Holler at the northwest corner of the lake in downtown Merriweather, then south to Gogebic Lodge, Fish Tales and the Root Cellar.
That's 11,800 surface acres of hard water to play on, 36 miles of shoreline, and a maximum depth of 37 feet populated by yellow perch, walleye, northern, smallmouth bass and black crappie that all know how to bend a rod. Not just any walleyes, but the prized golden walleyes of Lake Go; chubby 17- to 20-inchers with broad shoulders and meaty filets, same goes for their 10-16-inch yumbo yellow perch. Yummmmm isn't too strong a word.
These fish are early to bed and early to rise, and are careful on the rising part so they don't bump their heads on the ice. The hottest bite happens at dawn, 7:30-9:30 am, and dusk 4-6:30 pm. I've gone five hours without a nibble, then at five sharp, a migrating, maurading school of hungry perch and walleye moves through, tip-up flags go flying, and rod tips bend to the hole as every hook in the water gets bit and an all-you-can-eat fish fry comes northa the ice in about 20 minutes flat.
Then it's over and time to fire up the sled and head for the Hoop.
For ice fishing, snowmobiling and lodging information, visit lakegogebicarea.com or call toll-free 888-GOGEBIC (464-3242). Russ Hewitt, Russ's Bait & Tackle, 365-5505, has minnows, grubs, wigglers and everything you need to hook up with a delicious winter fish fry.
Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at firstname.lastname@example.org.