One Last Ice Fishing Trip


As an outdoors enthusiast, I’m guilty of moving into the next season right away. Who can blame us? All the preparation to get ready for an upcoming season and we can’t wait until it is here and we jump head over heels into that season. My good friend and fishing colleague, Dave Rueckl, had been talking about an ice fishing trip all summer and our schedules just never seemed to get right to get away. Spring-like weather was already showing up, and soon we would both be totally engulfed in summer fishing.

Then I got the call: “Let’s go up North Saturday!” Dave exclaimed.

It was our last window to go. I wasn’t sure we would even have ice to walk out on, but it was a chance to get in some late- season ice angling. The thought of a jumbo crappie seemed like the perfect excuse to make a road trip.

North-central Wisconsin is full of small lakes, with some areas that have them only a half-mile apart. It’s a panfisherman’s paradise, with each lake holding schools of ‘gills, crappies, perch and more. Weather was predicted to be in the upper 30s to low 40s, and ice was not holding the best so it may end up being just being a road trip. I readied my ice gear and checked my box of crappie jigs and decided to think positive—I’m always up for a good adventure!

We left Friday around 11 a.m. for the three-hour ride north. Dave had checked with several of his friends who had been fishing near his cabin. It seems that there was a good chance that this would be last ice in the area. With all the nice weather, the ice had taken a beating and some lakes were questionable. For that reason, Dave had hired a guide for Saturday. He likes to do this not only for safety with late ice conditions, but it also gives him a chance to learn new techniques and learn another body of water or two.

We arrived at Dave’s cabin in Arbor Vitae, Wis. and sorted out our fishing gear. It was a beautiful day so we threw on some bibs and boots and headed one-half mile down the road to the landing. We decided to walk out, drill a couple holes and set up our equipment on the ice. A couple of hours wasn’t much time to fish, but we pounded a dozen holes and hole-hopped and managed to catch a few small ones to release. I got my trusty Titanium Tip Stick set for the morning with a teardrop jig and minnow combo.

Dave checked with a couple of locals who told him several lakes south of there about 15 miles or so already had poor ice and travel was not recommended. Ones to the north were still good, which is where we were headed. We headed up to the Manitowish Chain and to Island Lake where we met up with our guide for the day, Russ Sleight.

There are a couple reasons I like to hire guides. First and foremost is for safety. With changing ice conditions, having a local guide who pre-checks is very important. Second, learning or finding a spot to produce fish in a single day is no easy task. And getting us on some fish is worth the rate.

Russ looked the part of a Northwoods guide—scruffy, grey beard and all. As he unloaded his Argo and started loading equipment, we got a brief rundown of his plan for the day. Ice conditions were pretty good in the 30-mile belt across the area. This took away some of his better producing sports from the last weekend. We would start here and hunt for some big crappies. The cold night firmed up the ice, and with no wind and sunshine it looked like a beautiful day ahead.

You can be among the first to get the latest info on where to go, what to use and how to use it!

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

It was no sooner than I had cleaned out my hole that Russ drilled and tipped my jig with a minnow and slid out the titanium spring bobber end on my Beaver Dam Tip Stick, lowering it near the bottom that I saw my flasher light up with activity. Tap, tap, wham! The first fish was a nice 8 1/2-inch perch. Dave hooked a decent crappie that was not as big as we were looking for and we both went back.

For the next couple of hours we hole-hopped, looking for the big ones. We iced lots of fish, but most were smaller. With the sun getting higher, it seemed that the bigger fish were concentrated near the outflow on the lake. That was a spot we couldn’t get to. Visible open water in the corner had warned us to accept what we had.

During a short late-morning snack break, Russ mentioned another spot on another lake farther north. It was pretty good a few days ago, but we’ll have to check the ice first. We loaded up and headed up the highway to Long Lake. A short walk out and several holes showed us a honeycombed top layer, a few inches of water and about 10 inches of good ice under.

The Argo carried the equipment most of the way, and Dave and I walked. We decided to stay shy of the main channel because of current and drilled several holes. The graphs showed lots of fish. It started a little like the last spot, but every now and then a few bigger crappies came.

It was a great day to have been fishing, with little or no wind. And while bibs were needed to kneel by the holes, light shirts and hoodies were all that was needed. Between the three of us, we iced well over 200 fish the rest of the afternoon and kept about 20 each for a couple meals to take home.

The trip ranked right up there with one of my most memorable ever. Russ put us on some nice spots with some good crappies and bluegills. If you are looking for a guide in northern Wisconsin or the U.P. of Michigan, give Russ Sleight a call at 715-476-2966. I had made a new friend in Russ. And, Dave and I got to enjoy a little ice fishing. We are planning a repeat trip again very soon. March seems to be the right time, and I believe we can just fit it into our busy schedule.

For more information…
For current fishing reports or information on charter fishing check out Capt. Lee Haasch’s report page at

Tip of the month

Many of the jigs we use for ice fishing have swimming action to them. That, coupled with the way the line is wound around the spool, can allow the jigs to spin when lowered to the bottom. A spinning jig is not as attractive to a fish though, and tends to look unnatural. To remedy this, I spool my reels with Sufix 832 Advanced Ice Braid in 20- or 30-pound-test. I then tie on a small swivel, at 20 or 30 pounds, that’s small enough to go through the eye of the rod. To that I’ll tie 2 to 3 feet of 100 percent fluorocarbon leader in 2- to 6-pound-test, depending on the species. The swivel will handle any line twist and allow the jig to work naturally below the surface. Another advantage is when switching species: I can just retie a new leader of any pound test to match what I am fishing for quickly and easily. Ice braid also lays nice on the ice and does not have the stretch or memory that mono has.