Several years back, we were having one of our wimpiest winters ever, inspiring me to coin the word "Wimpter" which you gotta admit pretty much nails it, and this one is starting to feel a lot like that one.
In spite of its lackluster performance with a minimal effort in the lake-effect snow department, Hancock ranks a respectable third among the Weather Channel's Top Six Snowiest Cities. Even when we slack off, we remain over-achievers with an average of 212 inches. Valdez, Alaska leads the Snowbelt League with 327 inches; Crested Butte, Colo., moved up from fourth to second place this year with annual snowfall averaging 216 inches.
With temperatures of late mood-swinging from single digits to flirting with 40, then diving back down to single digits again, our surrounding Lake Superior waters don't know whether to freeze over or what, leaving Copper Harbor and Keweenaw Bay in the WOW category, as in wide open water, with local wimpter anglers fishing from shore and boats insteada ice shanties.
This far-reaching mid-winter fishing report goes both ways, stretching from the tippa the Keweenaw to the bottom of K-Bay, Baraga and L'Anse with hardwater lakes in between.
"It's been pretty slushy and a couple of guys fell through by the marina last week," said WW&W inland lake correspondent Fanny Hooe at the Gas Lite General Store (289-4652) in downtown Copper Harbor. "Now there's no ice to stay off of, but who cares? They're catching splake from the docks on smelt and cutbait, some bigger fish are shagging Mepps bucktail spinners and Finn Spoons like it was summer."
Area inland lakes have plenty of ice, mostly with slush on top, and a decent bite for those willing to drill down. Try Lake Fanny Hooe, Rice Lake, Boston Pond, Alberta Pond, Lake Roland and Otter Lake. Clear blue or black ice is stronger than white ice that is mixed with snow or slush covered. Be careful for ice degradation, stay off two inches or less, four inches is safe for ice fishing, six for ATVs and snowmobiles, and 8-12 inches for cars and pick-ups.
"Whodathunkit, but a half dozen boats have been out on K-Bay the past couple weeks catching whitefish, lake trout, coho and kings very which way but loose; trolling, bobbing and anchoring and drift-fishing," said WW&W senior fishing correspondent Ed Wetelainen, too busy wetting a line himself to reveal his GPS coordinates. "Try yigging size 5, 6 and 7 Swedish Pimples yust off da bottom," he tipped.
I'm more the down-sizing type, going with teensy size 2 and 3 crushed ice Pimples and the smallest Jigging Rapalas they make, tipped with a Gulp Minnow head, but you can't argue with Ed.
"Whether you're out in the boat or on the ice, bundle up good," Ed said, zipping up his Ice Armor and burrowing into his hood, "there's a sub-zero wind chill on the water, it oughta be ice but it ain't."
"You can put your boat in at the Baraga Marina right now," said Steve Koski, Indian Country Sports (524-6518) on the downtown L'Anse Vegas waterfront. "They're fishing from shore as well," he added, "the only ice around is the southern enda Huron Bay just past the Ravine River, but it's iffy; they've been catching some nice 3-5 pound whitefish on a small single red or gold hook and single egg in 35-40 feeta water, along with some good-sized lakers, walleye, coho, kings and lings."
"It don't mean a thing if you ain't got that ling," sang WW&W cod correspondent Bridgitte Burbot in her famously-seductive French accent, seldom heard in this mostly Finglish-speaking conservative column, "eet ees zee feesh of many names."
A fairly common if unintended ice fishing catch on Huron Bay, lings love Lake Superior and average a foot to 18 inches, some reaching 8-10 pounds, world record 18 pounds, 11 ounces.
Whether you call 'em burbot (Lota, lota), lawyers, cusk, eelpout or worse, they're all the same fish, a freshwater ling cod that makes a delicious kala mojakka (fish boil) and kala leipa (fish bread). No one has ever called them pretty, but they eat good. I'm so ashamed, getting distracted by the first little lingcod that comes along; that slim, undulating body, single barbel on the chin, long second dorsal fin, brown back with lighter sides of mottled brown and tan graduating to an off-white belly, somebody stop me.
If you catch one and are grossed out by its appearance, release it to me. I know what to do with it and have recipes.
Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at jjunttila@ chartermi.net.