HIT THE ICE ROAD

Grab your pals and set off for one of these killer D.I.Y. friendly hard-wa­ter hotspots.

Field and Stream - - CONTENTS - By mark mo­d­oski

If you’re any­thing like me, you’ve got a few good friends who make up your core ice-fish­ing crew. Thing is, you’re also prob­a­bly hit­ting the same hand­ful of lakes and ponds over and over. Your home game is di­aled, no doubt, so maybe it’s time to take the team on the road. Plan­ning a D.I.Y. get­away in the cold­est months def­i­nitely comes with more lo­gis­tics than a sum­mer trip. While we can’t stop a snow­storm from mak­ing high­way con­di­tions dicey, we can point you to the top des­ti­na­tions for lake trout, walleyes, bluegills, and north­ern pike that re­quire min­i­mal gear and mod­est ex­penses, and there’s no need to hire a guide. We’ll tell you where to sleep, where to get the best greasy break­fast and din­ner, where to get on the ice, and most im­por­tant, how to con­nect with fish so big, they’ll make your home­town per­sonal best look like a guppy.

WALLEYES Road-Trip Des­ti­na­tion: Lit­tle Bay de Noc, Gladstone, MI

Tucked away in the north­west cor­ner of Lake Michi­gan on the Up­per Penin­sula, Lit­tle Bay de Noc is renowned for its hard­wa­ter wall­eye fish­ery. In win­ter, troves of large adult fish move from the mas­sive main lake to the diminu­tive bay. These fish are stag­ing to spawn in the rivers after ice-out, and they’re ready to feed. While Lake Michi­gan is es­sen­tially an in­land ocean, Lit­tle Bay de Noc’s pro­tec­tion makes it per­fect for the an­gler who wants Great Lakes ac­tion with­out the main lake knowl­edge and risks.

Stay Here Lake Erie wall­eye sharpie Ross Robert­son has spent many days fish­ing Lit­tle Bay de Noc, and he says its clear wa­ter makes low-light pe­ri­ods most pro­duc­tive. Since fish­ing early and late in the day is a must, noth­ing beats stay­ing on the lake—lit­er­ally. Ad­ven­ture Out­fit­ters (ad­ven­ture­out mi.com) rents ice­houses that can sleep up to four. Owner Ray Tu­berville con­tin­u­ally moves his shed city to fol­low the walleyes, giv­ing an­glers the best chance to stay on top of fish. Wake up and drop lines with­out drag­ging all your gear on and off the ice in the dark ev­ery day.

Es­sen­tial Gear Al­though it’s fea­si­ble to com­mute from your tem­po­rary home into town via Honda Ac­cord, hav­ing a four­wheel-drive ve­hi­cle is cer­tainly a plus. Tu­berville can trans­port you to and from your bun­ga­low, but you’ll lack the means to head out for din­ner, beers, or break­fast if you don’t have your own ice-wor­thy wheels. There’s a propane heater and stove in ev­ery ice­house, but Tu­berville says to pack like you’re camp­ing. You’ll need sleep­ing bags, pil­lows, cool­ers, pots and pans, and what­ever food you’re go­ing to eat on the ice.

Key Tac­tics Lit­tle Bay de Noc is best fished with a stealthy com­bi­na­tion of tip-ups and jig­ging rods, Robert­son says. He stresses that the walleyes here are wary, so noise and light should be kept to a min­i­mum. Tip-ups should be set in a wide perime­ter around your shed and jig­ging holes. In bright con­di­tions, tip-ups that cover holes are bet­ter. Oth­er­wise, try to leave the slush in both your bait and jig­ging holes to min­i­mize light pen­e­tra­tion. Robert­son prefers Ra­pala Jig­ging Raps or a lead­head-min­now com­bi­na­tion for jig­ging, and a plain 1/0 hook with a min­now on his tip-ups. Long fluoro­car­bon lead­ers are crit­i­cal with both pre­sen­ta­tions. —

Lo­cal Grub After the ear­ly­morn­ing bite, head to Jack’s Restau­rant in Rapid River for the Camp Break­fast. The two eggs, a pile of home fries, sausage or

ba­con, and toast made with bread baked on the premises should prime you for the af­ter­noon nap you’ll need to be sharp when the late-day bite kicks in. —

Side Trip Got some down­time after break­fast? You’re only min­utes away from Rapid River Knife­works. Its huge se­lec­tion of cus­tom, hand­made blades in ev­ery style is jaw-drop­ping, and ev­ery­one needs a good sou­venir from a road trip, right?

LAKE TROUT Road-Trip Des­ti­na­tion: Pac­tola Reser­voir, Dead­wood, SD

Pac­tola Reser­voir lies in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Not only is it a hid­den gem for big lak­ers, but it’s also a D.I.Y. an­gler’s dream. Park­ing is con­ve­nient, and a short 100-yard walk onto the ice puts you over 80 to 150 feet of wa­ter. Lake trout break­ing the 20-pound mark are caught reg­u­larly, and given that Pac­tola is rel­a­tively small—only 782 acres—your chances of hook­ing a tro­phy are sig­nif­i­cantly higher here than on larger bod­ies of wa­ter.

Stay Here Pac­tola Reser­voir is only 35 min­utes from the his­toric city of Dead­wood, which is con­sid­ered one of the most haunted places in the coun­try. Its law­less­ness dur­ing the gold rush of the 1870s re­sulted in countless mur­ders, and many spir­its are said to have never left town. The his­toric Bul­lock Ho­tel (his­toricbul­lock.com) is a bucket-list land­mark for ghost hunters, and lucky for you, it’s also one of the few ho­tels in town open all win­ter.

Es­sen­tial Gear Ice Team pro staffer Craig Oyler may very well be the most knowl­edge­able an­gler to have ever fished Pac­tola, and he says you’re only as good on Pac­tola as your jig­ging game. Oyler stresses the im­por­tance of a qual­ity flasher. Lak­ers can hold at any depth, and you’ll need to know ex­actly where they are to catch them. Oyler adds that your rod se­lec­tion is key. He re­lies on the 36-inch Ice Team Pro­fes­sional Se­ries Jig­ging Rod, which has the sen­si­tive tip you’ll need to de­tect bites, but with plenty of back­bone to mus­cle big lak­ers up from the depths. —

Key Tac­tics Oyler says the most es­sen­tial part of your ap­proach is a will­ing­ness to move, not­ing that if you catch fish at one lo­ca­tion, don’t stick around when the ac­tion dries up. As for lure se­lec­tion,

Oyler’s go-to is the Clam Leech Flut­ter Spoon. It’s a heavy lure that sinks fast, doesn’t foul when jigged quickly to goad re­ac­tion bites, and gives off a ton of flash in the clear wa­ter.

Lo­cal Grub A meal at the rus­tic, dimly lit Dead­wood So­cial Club is one you won’t for­get. The menu fea­tures a num­ber of game spe­cial­ties, in­clud­ing pasta dishes with pheas­ant and boar. After din­ner, head down­stairs to Sa­loon 10 for a lo­cal craft-beer night­cap, where the walls are cov­ered floor to ceil­ing with thou­sands of pic­tures and ar­ti­facts de­pict­ing Dead­wood’s his­tory.

Side Trip While Dead­wood has no short­age of at­trac­tions, Mo­riah Ceme­tery, where Wild Bill Hick­cock and Calamity Jane are buried, tops the list. If you’re will­ing to drive an­other 30 min­utes past Pac­tola, pay a visit to Mount Rush­more.

BLUEGILLS Road-Trip Des­ti­na­tion: Bass Lake, Deer River, MN

Vet­eran fish­ing guide Brian “Bro” Bros­dahl chases ev­ery fish that swims in north­ern Min­nesota, though one of his true pas­sions is hook­ing gi­ant bluegills through the ice. You’ll find him feed­ing that ad­dic­tion on Bass Lake. This 2,400-acre body of wa­ter av­er­ages only 10 to 12 feet deep, and come win­ter, the lake’s gi­ant bluegills swarm the shal­low­est ar­eas, mak­ing them easy for the do-it-your­self an­gler to find. Bass Lake has had a five­fish limit on bluegills for more than a decade, and its stun­ning pop­u­la­tion of din­ner-plate-size fish is a di­rect re­sult. Bros­dahl notes that lo­cal an­glers con­serve the tro­phy pop­u­la­tion by keep­ing only medium-size fish, al­low­ing the larger ones to pass on their genes.

Stay Here There’s sim­ply no place more ac­com­mo­dat­ing to ice an­glers than the White Oak Inn and Suites in Deer River (whiteoakin­nand­suites.com). They start serv­ing break­fast at 5:30 A.M., have a fish-clean­ing house out back, and of­fer rea­son­able rates that will help lower the over­all cost of your trip. The Out­post Bar and Grill is a 20foot walk from the Inn, and in ad­di­tion to their full menu, they’ll gladly cook your catch.

Es­sen­tial Gear Bros­dahl warns “not to come up here if you don’t have a good pair of boots.” While there are a num­ber of

pricey snow boots on the mar­ket that will do the job, Bros­dahl swears by a pair of white mil­i­tary bunny boots. These are no longer be­ing pro­duced, but a quick in­ter­net search will turn up new and used pairs from mil­i­tary sur­plus sites priced any­where from $40 to $100. With a sin­gle pair of qual­ity wool socks, Bros­dahl says, the bunny boots keep his toes toasty all day. Also, be­cause ice can be more than 2 feet thick in the North Woods, an ex­ten­sion for your auger is good to have on hand.

Key Tac­tics Bros­dahl uses a com­bi­na­tion of ul­tra­light tackle and live bait to en­tice Bass Lake’s mon­ster bluegills. A 25-inch noo­dle-tip rod is what you’ll need to fish tiny jigs on light line, be­cause it al­lows you to de­tect the sub­tlest bites. Most of the time he uses 1-pound-test line and re­lies al­most en­tirely on North­land Tackle’s Gill-Git­ter and Mud Bug jigs to match the size of in­sects that bluegills feed on. Lastly, Bros­dahl says a small, por­ta­ble un­der­wa­ter cam­era is a huge plus; drop it in each hole after drilling and move on right away if the screen is blank.

Lo­cal Grub The Gosh Dam Place in Deer River is a pop­u­lar stop for ice an­glers, of­fer­ing break­fast, lunch, and din­ner. If you can’t de­cide what to eat, the Gosh Dam Break­fast or Gosh Dam Burger are good choices. Trust us. In the evening, join the lo­cals for a few beers at the Pick­led Loon Sa­loon. Ev­ery Wed­nes­day night is their famed “meat raf­fle,” in which you can win a va­ri­ety of fresh or smoked pork, chicken, or beef prod­ucts from a lo­cal butcher and smoke­house.

Side Trip The Lost Forty Sci­en­tific and Nat­u­ral Area is a sec­tion of for­est un­like any most peo­ple will ever see. Due to a sur­vey­ing er­ror in 1882, it has never been logged and is truly vir­gin for­est. The red pines are 240 to 250 years old and of­fer vis­i­tors a rare glimpse of the past.

NORTH­ERN PIKE Road-Trip Des­ti­na­tion: Black Lake, Ham­mond, NY

While the North­east may not jump out as the coun­try’s pre­mier pike re­gion, Black Lake’s in­sane num­ber of north­erns and easy ac­cess make it a D.I.Y. ringer. An­glers can ex­pect steady ac­tion re­gard­less of con­di­tions, with fre­quent shots at fish in the up­per 30- to low 40inch range. You also don’t need to go far from the car or cabin to con­nect, be­cause you’ll find the near-end­less weedbeds less than 100 yards from shore. The lake is less than 30 min­utes off In­ter­state 81, pro­vid­ing fast high­way ac­cess for an­glers com­ing from any di­rec­tion.

Stay Here Rogers’ Old Oak Camps (roger­sol­doak­camps.com) was the orig­i­nal Black Lake des­ti­na­tion cater­ing to the ice crowd. The cab­ins are lo­cated on the north­east side of the lake, which hap­pens to be a fa­vorite side for lo­cal pike hunters. An­glers can step out the door of their cabin, walk onto the lake, and have tip-ups set within min­utes. The cab­ins are fully heated for cozy sleep­ing and quick warm-ups dur­ing the day. Each can sleep up to eight peo­ple and has a full kitchen com­plete with pots, pans, uten­sils, and a cof­fee maker.

Es­sen­tial Gear Pike fish­ing on Black Lake is a tip-up game, so make sure you have an in­su­lated bucket to keep your live baits from freez­ing. You can be suc­cess­ful with­out elec­tron­ics here, but just make sure you have sounder weights to check the depth. Be­cause you won’t be mov­ing around be­tween jig­ging holes, a small, por­ta­ble shel­ter is a good idea. It will of­fer pro­tec­tion from the wind and cold while you’re wait­ing for flags to pop.

Key Tac­tics Guide Dave Gas­con has been fish­ing Black Lake for more than 55 years and says that to keep tip-up flags fly­ing, big, lively baits are the key. Large shin­ers and sucker min­nows are his sta­ples, and nearby Chap­man’s Sport Shop has them in stock all win­ter. Gas­con spools his tip-ups with 40-pound ice braid and fin­ishes with a 25pound-test fluoro­car­bon leader. He doesn’t add a weight to his leader, be­cause he says a No. 6 tre­ble hook is heavy enough to get the bait near the bot­tom while still al­low­ing it to move nat­u­rally.

Lo­cal Grub Gas­con says the pike will bite all day, so there’s no need to go out at sun­rise, when the air is the most frigid. That leaves you time to head to nearby Og­dens­burg for a gut­bust­ing break­fast at the old­school Phillips Diner. For din­ner and drinks, the Turner Inn is close to the lake. Thurs­day is wing night, Fri­day is fish-fry night, and Satur­day is St. Louis– style ribs night.

Side Trip You’re a stone’s throw from Dark Is­land Spir­its in Alexan­dria Bay. Take a tour and sam­ple its hand­crafted bour­bon, brandy, vodka, gin, or other spir­its. Just be sure to have a D.D. and call ahead to check the hours be­fore driv­ing over.

Wally World Lit­tle Bay de Noc of­fers easy ac­cess to huge ’eyes.

Filled to the ’Gills Bass Lake’s regs make it a tro­phy bluegill hotspot.

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