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Hole-hopping the Portage in search of perch/Woods, water & worse

February 24, 2012
By Jim Junttila , The Daily Mining Gazette

"I'm looking forward to covering the ice fishing tournament on the Portage tomorrow," said WW&W wildlife correspondent and ice fishinista Paris Hiltunen as we scouted, test-drilled and pre-fished likely locales from the moutha the Pilgrim River to Chassell Bay, wishing the Oningaming was still open.

Paris gets more pumped about yumbo yellow perch than any two girls I know. Her strategy calls for sledding from hooch to hooch, Yooperese for tent to tent and shanty to shanty. We pattern the structure, drill a lotta of holes, set up tip-ups, and go "hole hopping" in the all out search for perch. I carry my binoculars to see if any flags are flying behind us as we go, and to scan the icescape for other action, photo-ops, and wolves trolling the shoreline for kids and dogs.

It's outdoor work, but somebody's gotta do it. There's a lot to be said for fresh air and seeing your breath.

I like snowmobiling around frozen lakes as much as the next guy, drilling down and setting up as I go, but if I have my druthers, I prefer a designated driver and driller. My favorite way to go is on the backa Paris Hiltunen's snowmobile where all I have to do is wrap my arms around her and hang on tight as she zooms around the lake like we plan to do tomorrow at the Chassell VFW-CCWA Ice Fishing Tournament.

The sixth annual tournament sponsored by the Chassell VFW and Copper Country Walleye Association runs 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with a $15 adult entry fee. There's a free youth tournament in the morning for kids through age 15. Kids fish 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. with hot dogs, refreshments and prizes at the 1 p.m. weigh-in. Five places will be awarded for northern and walleye, two places for crappie and perch. Adult weigh-in, prizes and food are at 7 p.m. For registration info, call Chassell VFW, 481-6200.

"The kids have fun and do well on Chassell Bay right off the boat launch and pier," said Carl Nordstrom of the Chassell VFW Men's Auxillary, "or try your luck along the waterfront out backa Sig Rho."

In case you're wondering, that's short for Sigma Rhohonen, the famous Finnish fraternity in downtown Chassell, one of WW&W senior fishing correspondent Ed Wetelainen's favorite places to wet a line and his whistle.

"Walleye, northern, crappie and bluegills are the main attraction, but don't forget those yumbo yellow perch," Paris said excitedly, holding her hands out like she was auditioning for a Subway foot-long commercial, "and you never know when an occasional big brown or coho will come along; hungry hammer-handle northerns are everywhere, hammering anything tipped with a live or Gulp minnow.

"Ed told me that crappies, gills and perch like to school up, and if you hit the bite just right, they're thick as two thieves in a pod," Hiltunen mixed her metaphors impressively. Notorious for catching more fishermen than fish in tournament competition, she's the first to admit that fish play harder to get.

Perch and panfish go on the prowl during the late ice period from now through March, looking for shallow sand and gravel beds and shoreline structure. Marauding packs 'o perch feed aggressively on the move, so if your rod tip suddenly bends for the hole and a half dozen tip-up flags go flying all at once, they've found you. Some lakes turn on during the day when the sun pops out, others are morning bites, still others come alive when the sun slips behind the treetops. Prime time, the bewitching hour, is the two-hour shift before and after dark, coinciding nicely with cocktail hour, just like God intended.

"That's when I pitch the tent, drill down, set up and stay put," Hiltunen said, poking through her Jigging Rapalas, Swedish Pimples and other jiggin' jewelry with a dangerously long red fingernail. "I like to yig in one hole and set up a dead stick with a minnow and a tiny bobber in the next hole so I can work two lines at once," she 'sprained, reaching over to tap the deadstick once in awhile so it vibrates and yiggles by itself.

After a long day of running and gunning the Portage, it felt good to kick back in the cozy heated hooch and unzip our Ice Armor, sipping Christian Brothers to celebrate Lent. Staring down a foot-thick ice hole is a form of self-hypnosis that puts me in a low-level trance, my favorite frame of mind for yiggin' where I can doze off with the best of them and catch the fish of my dreams, just in time for the weigh-ins.

Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at



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