Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Northwoods Hardwater Madness

I’m on the way home from our annual Chippewa Retreat Ice Fishing Invitational held in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin. Technically a tournament, this is really a fun fishing trip with a little friendly competition amongst friends. The get-together is hosted by George Hillenbrand and based out of John McGraw’s resort, Chippewa Retreat. Well known Wisconsin fishing guides Joe Petska, Brett Jolly and James Petska lead us during the event. It’s great fun. George takes incredible care of us and best of all; we catch lots of fish in one of the most beautiful winter settings imaginable.

Over the years this event has brought out the worst in weather. We’ve suffered through snow storms, subzero temperatures and high winds. Last year the final day greeted us with 25° below zero temps and wind chills down to 75° below zero! But this year Mother Nature treated us to two of the nicest days on the ice we’ve experienced in years. Day 1 was easily 45° and calm. The biggest concern was frying the face from sun and snow reflection.

Most ice fishing in Wisconsin is done with tip-ups. If that’s a new term to you, tip-ups are basically holders of your line that set in the ice hole. There’s a flag attached and rigged in such that if a fish takes the bait, up goes the flag and you get your butt over there and try to hook and land the fish from the icy depths. While you anticipate the pop of the flag, you can relax or you can jig. I personally prefer to drop a tiny jig in about 8-feet of water and beat up the bluegill, black crappie and yellow perch that fall for the treat.

Our fishing on Day 1 did not disappoint. In the state of Wisconsin, three lines are allowed per angler. For most, that means setting up two tip-ups and working one jigging rod. Fishing was so good that we never got all our lines in the water.
Northern pike were setting off tip-up flags so fast that no one had much time to drop a jig. By the end of the day we had exercised over 50 pike up to 25”s! David Baker landed 17 pike himself. Mixed in were some very respectable largemouth bass. The biggest taken by John that measured 19” – not bad for a largemouth through the ice!

Catching fish all day is hard to beat, but rather than another pike filled day, we spent Day 2 trying for walleyes. From personal experience chasing walleye through the ice, I knew a 50 fish day was not in the cards. With all the tip-ups set out, we kicked back and waited . . . and waited . . . and waited. Two hours into the day only four flags had popped, none of which produced a fish. The walleye weren’t feeding, but rather perch were tripping the flags. I broke out the jigging rod and started whacking the perch. In a short time I iced over 20. George’s tournament judges you on numbers of fish caught and I felt I had “most fish” in the bag. I moved to deeper water in search of a mid day walleye on the jig. Walleyes don’t feed particularly well during the day so I knew it was a long shot; however there’s always a chance.

I took a seat in our ice shelter with George’s friend Marvin Hirn and joined him in some jigging. We put in a couple hours of effort, but we managed nothing more than some great conversation and a few Leinenkugel's. It was soon brought to my attention that Larry F. Burtschy II, a fierce competitor in his own, had found a school of perch and his fish count was now eighteen. Even though a fun tourney among friends, that was all it took for me to head back to my perch hole. I dropped my jig down and after a few minutes regained the proper jig motion and began hammering the perch. Larry remained hot on my tail until his 26th. His 27th fish eluded him for some time and I broke away and ended with a final count of 49. The tournament ended at 3 pm.

It was another enjoyable day despite the lack of walleye, and while most of the gang left after the tournament, Rick Schreiber, Larry and I and the guides hung out through sunset in hopes the walleye bite would occur. It didn’t. We had about ten flags pop, but only two cigar sized walleyes to show for it. Although some of us were reluctant to leave, at 6 pm we used the last light of the day and collected our gear and returned to
Chippewa Retreat.

After a good shower, George took us all to dinner at one of the finest restaurants in Manitowish Waters, Smokey’s. Eating on this trip is as much fun as the fishing itself. George does not mess around. No one has ever left one of his dinners hungry. NO ONE! To give you an example, we had about ten people at the table, yet we ordered over a dozen appetizers. Some of these appetizers weren’t appetizers at all, but rather full entrees that we split up. Two of these entrees were the king crab dinners! Needless to say, we relished in several major feasts over the last few days.

This fantastic trip ends with our rest-up day. This day generally entails hitting some of the local taverns that Northern WI is famous for. Rick and I love to play pool and there’s no better place in the world. We had a great time shooting and watching Olympic Hockey and the
NASCAR Race with the locals while the others rolled dice and challenged us on occasion.

Unfortunately all good things come to an end. George announced weeks ago that this was our last ice fishing trip. However, not all bad news, George is replacing it with a fully guided fly fishing for musky trip in October 2011. It’s a ways away and it’s sad to see five great years of ice fishing come to an end, however the new trip will be extremely exciting.

Now, Rick and I are somewhere in the air between Minneapolis and Salt Lake City. I’m already back to work on the computer getting this blog done and gearing up for a weekend in Pleasanton, CA in which I will be speaking at the
Fly Fishing Show. I have several presentations to give and some casting demonstrations. I’ll look forward to seeing some of you there!

Jeff Currier Global Fly Fishing web site

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Time for a Show Break!

Speaking at shows, clubs and private seminars has been a lot of great fun to start the year. I’ve met some neat folks and hopefully entertained them well and even taught them a thing or two. This past weekend in Boise, ID went extremely well. Although the host, Jack Dennis arrived several hours late and nearly too exhausted to perform for the two day event, the rest of us were ready to rock. Pete Erickson, Phil Rowley and I grabbed the show by the horns and turned what could have been disaster into a fantastic weekend of presentations.

There was a nice crowd of 40 anglers eager to learn. Phil Rowley, a Stillwater fly fishing genius from Edmonton, Canada, gave several PowerPoint presentations on the subject. Not enough fly fishers take the time to fish lakes, but if you like to avoid crowds and catch big trout; lakes are the way to go. Personally, I like the lakes and learned a lot from tuning in on a couple of Phil’s presentations. One of the highlights for me was getting his perspective on fishing chironamids. Phil flat out knows how to catch large trout on a midge pupa.

Pete Erickson is a long time pal of mine. We have worked together on several occasions doing seminars. Pete’s one of the finest anglers I’ve ever had the joy of fishing with and when Pete talks everyone should listen. He provided programs and tips on lakes, European nymphing and a special knot class. Pete and I tag-teamed the Euro Nymphing tactics talking about how the Polish, Czechs and the Spanish do their own special techniques. Both of us are all too familiar with how well the Euros fly fish as we have both competed on the world circuit several times.

I gave presentations on Warmwater Fly Fishing and Saltwater Fly Fishing. Both are two of my favorite fly fishing subjects. Between presentations I gave a casting class outside and demonstrated the double haul and tricks to make a long cast in the wind. We were supposed to wrap things up at 6 pm on Sunday but folks asked to see one of my exotic programs. I enjoy the heck out of story telling so back out came the projector and I delivered a crazy one, “Fly Fishing Tales from Africa”. Everyone thinks I’m nuts to hitch hike across Africa with my wife, but they absolutely loved it and were amazed at tigerfish.

Today I’m packing to head to the hard water of Northern Wisconsin. First thing tomorrow I fly from Jackson to Central WI and then we drive up to Manitowish Waters. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday we will be chasing the Northern Pike, walleye, bass yellow perch, bluegill, crappie and hopefully a few other species. Last year I landed my first muskellunge through an ice hole – that was fun! Stay tuned. . .

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Frozen Gorgeousness

Entries have been far and few between this winter. It seems 2010 has been no fishing and all work. It’s been show after show and in between them, art projects and updating of PowerPoint demonstrations for the next weekend of presenting. But this last weekend, a trip to Texas to give a two day seminar was cancelled. Although a hit on my new business, this meant a chance to return home and catch up on some much needed rest and at last, go fishing.

It was in my sights to sneak in an afternoon of midge fishing on the Henry’s Fork to break up a day of working at home. That was until while on a big night on the town of Victor with Granny, I bumped into friends Andy Asadorian and Rick Schreiber. These two long time pals suggested I dig out my dusty ice fishing gear and join them for a little adventure they had planned.

To the surprise of many, I have been an ice fisherman my entire life. I grew up tip-up fishing the lakes and ponds of Massachusetts and New Hampshire for panfish, bass and pickerel to name a few. I purposely went to college in Northern Wisconsin and Minnesota to fish for northern pike and walleye. It didn’t take but “first ice” to realize that ice fishing for these species was about as fun as it gets. Then, upon arrival to Jackson, Wyoming in 1987, I found a whole new ice fishing world – jigging for big lake trout. Turns out, catching a big laker through the ice was one of the hardest fishing challenges I’ve had to crack, but in winter of 1995-96, I did just that. I landed 20 of North America’s super charged char over 10lbs, four of which were over 20lb and one monster of 26-pounds. Not bad for the south of the Canadian border!

These days, I find little time for the ice. Working the show circuit is a great way to make living and fly fishing expeditions to foreign lands is hard to beat. But I spend many a moment wondering how thick the ice is on my old haunts. So when Andy and Rick reminded me of just how dusty my ice gear was, without any hesitation, I was in.

In winter of 1995-96, I’d leave my house at 3:30 am and spend both my days off on the ice. I was in my early 30’s back then. Today, I met the boys at 10. In fact, I ran a little late from doing errands so they left without me like they should. I arrived at the trailhead at about 11am, clicked into my backcountry skis and began the trek to catch up with them. Winter in the Tetons is spectacular to say the least. I’m usually the first to bitch about winter, but get me on my skis in this frigid wonderland and I’m in Heaven. Today was no exception. Jackson Hole received a dusting of snow last night and the lodge poles and aspens were glistening with fresh powder.

The ski in is about two miles. It is nearly all up hill to the lake. This can be a grunt but makes for an easy and enjoyable ski out. Today I was lucky; Andy and Rick already busted a track through fresh snow in so I barely worked up a sweat. In fact, I got to the lake only minutes behind them. Rick was just dropping his jig to bottom and Andy was making the last few turns with the ice auger on his hole. The ice was thick. Andy was struggling to make these last few turns because there is about 3 feet of ice!

Looking for action rather than a trophy, I dug my hole in 55 feet of water and tied on a small jig with a Palomar knot. Normally, if I was in search of a big laker I’d bring my fish finder and set up in about 120-feet of water. I’d fish a 7/0 jig with a dead 6” long sucker rigged with a trailer treble hook. I’d jig all day and hope for one bite. Big lakers don’t come easy and many times the day ends with a big fat goose egg. Today was about catching fish.

By the time I dropped my jig, Rick had already broken a fish off on the strike and Andy iced an 18”er. It didn’t take long for me to join in on the fun. I felt my jig reach bottom. I reeled up three cranks of the bait caster and began to methodically swim my chartreuse fat gitzit jig. Trust me, there’s a knack to this. Within seconds I had a touch and I do mean a touch. Lakers often grab softly and those new to the sport often don’t notice. If they do feel it they usually reef on the rod. Rather than hastily set the hook, you must literally try to feed the jig to the fish. And remember, you can’t see what the hell is really going on down there. I like to raise my rod tip gently and than let the jig slowly flutter back down two inches at a time. When I see my line go slack the fish has it and I set the hook firmly. You need to set hard in order to compensate for any stretch in the line which does happen in over 50-feet deep. When chasing big lakers over 100-feet deep I use braid that does not stretch.

After teasing the fish below me for about a minute, the slack line I was waiting for happened and I struck. The laker was on and after a decent battle I iced my first laker of the year – a 21”er. That was all it took to realize it’s time to spend more time on the ice. It’s some of the most peaceful fishing time you can get. We had an entire lake to ourselves. It was dead quiet. No sounds of distant traffic. There was no sound of human life other than a chat with my friends. Just a distant coyote howl and ravens chatting about what lake trout remains we might leave behind to provide them a special meal. What a magnificent day to start the 2010 fishing season.

Today it’s back to work. I’m doing a little art, packing for the Amazon (leaving March 3rd) and preparing for some seminars I’ll be presenting in Boise, Idaho this weekend. The show should be great fun as I’ll be working with old friends Pete Erickson, Phil Rowley and Jack Dennis. Although this is fun work, I’m excited to say that I go nearly straight from Boise to Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin for four days of ice fishing for walleye, pike, crappie, bass and many other warmwater species. The fishy blogs are back again!

Jeff Currier Global Fly Fishing Web Site