Who ever said “Don’t tread lightly, leave a deep impression,” must never have been ice fishing in Minnesota. Here the maxim is, “Get good tread and don’t leave a deep impression.” In more simple words for those of us who do not think too clearly because we have frozen our “punkins” a few too many times fishing hard water: “Don’t get stuck, dummy!” Here is a short primer on how not to.
First of all, put a “cautious” label on the word “mobility,” even though it seems to be the key element in most every ice fishing “how-to” story or show you might read or see. The “mobility” theory goes something like this: “If the fish are not in a positive feeding mode where you are, be mobile, move around, find the biters, and soon you will ‘fill the pail.’”
The counter theory to this is, of course, to go to what you think is a good fishing spot and hold on to the mantra, “Drill and sit and they will come.” If, however, the angling wanderlust overtakes you, consider the following:
If you are someone who likes the exercise or you simply don’t want the hassle of unloading/loading a snowmobile or wheeler or can’t or won’t drive your vehicle out onto the ice, go primitive, pull a flat-bottomed sled.
Before you pack it with your gear, however, put in a piece of old carpet or rug. It will keep things from sliding around and when you are on the ice, whether in a portable house or not, you can stand on it. It will be warmer and keep you from slipping. Totes will also help you organize and keep gear dry if moisture is in the air.
And speaking of slipping, be sure to put some sort of “cleats” on your boots, what the old-timers used to call “creepers.” They will not only give you good traction while pulling the sled out, they will keep you from slipping on the ice while fishing and knocking over the minnow bucket and having the surrounding fishing crowd howl at your misadventure.
Another work-saver is to use a harness from a portable deer stand to pull the sled. If you don’t have one, ask around, most bowhunters have several. Onlookers will “wow” at your ingenuity. Also be careful not to spill your minnows. Use a tightly secured cover. And if they still spill, be sure to drill the hole for more water far enough out so as not to drill through the ice and find it frozen all the way to the bottom and have sand fly here and there.
Finally, be safe, check the ice and slush conditions. Don’t over walk. Stay within your ability to get back to shore and be careful when it gets dark, you can’t see as well!
If you have a “wheeler” you bought for the “family” and it has somehow only been used during deer season, now might be the time for what the experts call “wheeler versatility.” Outfit that puppy with a back basket (which you probably already have anyway). Get a windshield so the kids or significant other won’t get cold, and slap on some hand and thumb warmers so the operator can deliver a great day on the ice.
You will need, to be sure, a pull-behind sled for gear and sled rides when things might get boring. Keep in mind that the sled should have a cover, snow shoots back from the tires like a snow blower. Also consider a set of chains for the back wheels. It is amazing how much more traction there is with them. For drifts and deep snow or slush, you will never be sorry for “chaining-up.” Remember, though, no matter how big, how powerful the machine, how expert the operator, some time, some place, you will get stuck.
So, plan accordingly. Bring a tow strap, a rope, something to get the “dummy” operator out. I have even heard of drilling a hole and inserting some sort of pole and winching your way out, but you had better go to a store or shop to find out if this is true or not. I usually just look helpless and some nice person pulls me out.
One good tip I did learn was that if you have a boat GPS and an electrical plug-in on your wheeler, you can get a power plug-in and take your GPS and its chip out on hard water and use it the same way you do on soft. Keep in mind, though, once the machine is off, the device will shut off. There is no constant power source. And, finally, remember a GPS certainly comes in handy when you are really stuck in “nowhere land” and you need to cellphone your coordinates to the rescuer!
Okay, you’re a “sledhead.” To you a sled without a motor is like “Starsky” without “Hutch” or macaroni without cheese. You realize the only thing a snowmobile is dependant on is, of course, snow; the more the better. You are also smiling because you know this is the perfect year for the “fishing snowmobiler.” There is minimal slush, almost too much snow for the wheelers, and definitely too much snow for most vehicles. You also smile because you understand there is much more to snowmobile fishing than meets the eye.
I found this out this year while out on Big Winnie, getting stuck and wrecking truck things in pursuit of those $100/pound walleyes. As I struggled to move around, I saw many a “sled” pulling portable fish houses/sleds, floating to the humps and bumps and bars like “Richie Cunningham” cruising the streets of Happy Days.
I immediately considered putting my old 300 cc into the fray, until I listened to the “talking helmets” that is, those who really know what they were doing. These wizards of the frozen waves let me in on things like a “long track,” “paddled” tracks, “studs,” and a host of other “fishing possibles” only “sledhead” shops/stores would know about; ask them, sledding is their life.
Okay, I’ll confess. I started my ice fishing career as a “primitive.” We did not use the wheeler/snowmobile to access. It was not, however, by choice or due to any purist philosophy. It was simply because these amenities had not yet been invented. Otherwise we would have been all over them.
No, our fishing fraternity was more dependent on baloney sandwiches and Nippy cheese than anything else. Here is how it went. Thanksgiving weekend saw us hoofing a mile out on Upper Red Lake, from the “Farmer’s” hand auguring holes and popping Swedish Pimples trying to ice chunky 13” walleyes. In December, we tried to hook Long Lake and Scooty Lake and Lawrence Lake crappies and lay them black and sparkling on white snow.
With relatively few four-wheel drives available, however, we were at the mercy of the “guy” with the plow. The lone exception was, and still is, the “guy” with “chains,” and better yet, the “guy” with the chains and four-wheel drive!
The myth is, of course (which we all believed and still believe), is that we cannot get stuck with a four-wheel drive vehicle. Yet, ask any kid or adult who remembers when he was a kid, about the myth of invincibility that surrounds the four-wheel drive vehicle. The feeling is that neither mud nor sleet nor snow stays the four-wheeler from its appointed rounds; this is an adage and belief that is usually followed by a call for help!
Anyhow, the “truckin” road is the best direction for the SNAFU (Scientific New Age Fishermen Unlimited) anglers of today. Follow the beaten trail, have everything either in the truck or in tow and enjoy! It is the safe way, the best way. But, it does have its drawbacks, like this year when the off road vehicles could not go “off road.”
Now you see the conundrum. The “off roads” can’t go “off road.” Now what? The first answer is a “bling!” Chain-up! Like with the wheelers, put those chains on the back wheels and you will be breaking through drifts like a hot knife through butter.
Once chained up, you will cut through the snow depths and compact drifts like you own the lake. The problem is…you can get stuck. I found this out the hard way. True, I went where most four-wheel drives (without chains) had not been. We even caught a few fish. That’s where it ended, however. Keep this in mind. When you get hung up with chains the chains don’t help, they spin in air. So, make sure you have a long handled shovel on board to reach under the truck.
Another thing to keep in mind is that once one of the back-wheel chains does engage, it will dig, and I mean dig, into the ice like a badger into a soft sand hillside. Before you know it, you will be a foot down into the ice. You might be all chained-up, but you will have no place to go!
My best advice to you and this is based on being lost, being stuck, being lost and stuck, is to go through a reputable resort who will rescue you (mine was High Banks Resort on Big Winnie). If you have trouble, they will be your “safety net.” Even though fishing friends and relatives might not be, these resorts will be discreet about the “dummy” who got stuck.
Finally, remember the number one rule is to always let someone know where you are fishing.
So… tread lightly… don’t leave a deep impression, and, if you do get stuck, call “MN Fishing Pros” and say, “Help, I’m stuck and can’t get out!” They will be all over it!
2017 Guided Fishing Trip Rates
|Number of Anglers||Full Day Trip
8am - 4pm
|Half Day Trip
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|Shore Lunch or Shore Dinner||$35 per boat|
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Walleye & Northern Pike - May 12, 2018
Largemouth & Smallmouth Bass - May 12, 2018
Muskie - June 2, 2018
Charlie Worrath talks early season walleye for the television program Jason Mitchell Outdoors on Lake Winnibigoshish in northern Minnesota. (watch the video)
Jason Boser appearing on an episode for the television program Jason Mitchell Outdoors on Lake Winnibigoshish in northern Minnesota. (watch the video)
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