Ice Fishing Adventures in the U.P.

Prior preparation equals success

Although many sportsmen have deer hunting on their minds, they know ice fishing is just around the corner, and the preparation for it. The snowflakes will start to fly and the remaining leaves will flutter to the forest floor in the U.P., so perhaps now is the time to ponder how abruptly a sportsman’s perspective will influence his attitude in the coming months.

Will he succumb to winter’s doldrums or welcome a happy holiday spirit and challenge himself in the woods and on the frozen water?

Winter is not just a season to simply tolerate—it’s pure serenity.

To me, ice fishing is a quiet sport, and a time to enjoy the outdoors relatively crowd-free. It’s a time to breathe in the cool, clean, fresh air and watch a small herd of deer crossing the ice and watch and listen to the “V” formations of geese flying across the sky.

Down in my basement there is a plethora of buckets, from muskie lures to ice fishing items, including tip-ups galore. I check the old Dacron muskie line on the tip-ups’ spools to see if there is enough line to let a northern pike make a good run. Then I cut about 4 feet of line off and check it for any weak spots and then put on a new leader. Next, I put a shiny, new spinner blade on, a couple of split shot and sharpen all hooks or replace them.

I have a few ice fishing rods—old favorites and a couple of new ones—with the new line-straightening, fly rod-type reels and some small spinning reels. Clean and lubricate them. Change the mono or fluorocarbon line too, if necessary and have plenty of jigging lures ready.

U.P. lakes to explore
The Cisco Chain of Lakes: Let’s start out by traveling west in Gogebic County’s Ottawa National Forest. There are six or seven other beautiful lakes; we will concentrate on the Chain’s namesake, Cisco Lake. This 506-acre lake has northern pike, bluegills, perch, crappies and muskies. From talking to a friend and notable angler, there are three places to fish. Because ciscos swim in these waters, northern pike can and do get big from eating this protein-rich forage. There are also lots of smaller pike that you might have to put back as you catch them instead though. Look for the larger pike in a cluster of islands on the east side of the lake. There are also good numbers of bluegills and other sunfish around these islands that the pike feed on. Fish these islands and then drill holes over by the group of islands on the southwest side of the lake. Look for panfish in the center of the lake in 10 to 20 feet of water and on any rock bars in 10 feet along the shore near the landing. Try wigglers for perch, and waxworms for sunfish, including the crappies. Finally, work the shallows and narrows on the southeast end of the lake in 6 to 8 feet of water

To get there, take U.S. 2 west to Cisco Lake Road (13 miles southwest of Watersmeet). Go to the northeast corner of the lake where the landing is located. For more information, call the North Shore Resort at 906-358-4309.

Sunset Lake: This popular spot in Iron County in the central U.P. is 15 minutes from my house and one of my favorite winter lakes. The sunfish, pike, walleyes and perch can keep an angler entertained from sunrise to sunset. Start immediately by drilling holes just to the left of the boat landing in 6 feet of water and all the way out on the drop to 20 feet. You just might catch some nice ‘gills right off the bat with waxies for the ‘gills and shiners for any pike you encounter. Next, travel to the east end for pike and bluegills. Later, the nice cabbage weeds will not be up high or nearly as green, but don’t be discouraged; just fish in 6 to 8 feet and then out to the drop in 18 feet. Watch for locals in their shacks, and keep a comfortable distance. For good fishing year ‘round, from the landing, go to your left and to the northwest area. It’s an area that you cannot see from the landing and is like a dogleg on a golf course. You may need a snowmobile or even a truck, but when on the ice, watch for other vehicles. You will see a large section of downed cattails. Fish out from them several hundred yards. Drill holes until you locate 6 to 15 feet of water. There may be some fine bull bluegills waiting for your presentation of waxies, spikes, mousies or some of the new plastics, with or without scent. Try the soft, plastic bloodworm made by Northland for Brian “Bro” Brosdahl or the Fat Boy Jigs in the Techni-glow color designed by Dave Genz. Add three waxies to these jigs and watch the action. Use an underwater camera to work these waters below.

Productive lakes and tips
Sooner or later, an avid ice fisherman’s thought turns to that magical fish that can’t stay in one place, moving around and presenting a challenge. Crappies, the surly members of the sunfish family, are nothing but fun toward the end of the ice fishing season. Get a couple of buddies together and drill lots of holes in shallow water or out in the deeper water, sometimes in the deepest part of the lake. Fishermen exaggerate, but I’ve gotta tell ya, the best fishermen in the North Country are the ones who know how to keep their mouths shut.

However, I will give you some tips on a few good crappie lakes known only by a few. The Kauffmans are a father and son team from Crystal Falls, and are excellent crappie and all-species anglers.

“If you are not sure how to jig for these speckled, wily and unpredictable fish, try concentrating for crappies on the 7 to 15 feet of the water column, especially when you’re fishing deep or looking for suspended fish,” Mark Kauffman said.

He added that you would be surprised at how many fish you can catch by doing so. And he also reminded the angler to always start jigging from the bottom up. They also recommend using a fish finder, as these make the game much easier. An underwater camera is just too much fun to leave at home.

Another tip mentioned is to use glow jigs in different colors, but the white or green work really well. Make sure you have some soft plastic tails, scented or unscented, and have live bait—waxworms, wigglers, mousies and spikes. Most important of all, don’t forget to carry small minnows for walleyes or sucker minnows big enough to use for the northerns. Tip jigs with a whole minnow or just a minnow head.

The Kauffmans say the point is to be prepared; you never know what your target fish likes to eat from that lake or another one from day to day. Ray and Mark Kauffman say their favorite lake in Iron County is any that produces a couple of tasty panfish meals. Lake Emily and Stager Lake in Iron County are recommended as good panfish and walleye lakes.

Other good choices for ice fishing in Iron County are Bass, Tamarack and Brule lakes, and some on the Michigan-Wisconsin state line.

In Dickinson County, some of the better lakes are Gene’s Pond and Silver and Sawyer lakes.

Contact Luckey’s Sport Shop on U.S. 2, just east of Iron River, Mich. Or call Gloria, a knowledgeable and notable angler herself, at 906-265-0151 to be pointed in the right direction. Contact the DNR in Crystal Falls for additional information and maps at 906-875-6622.