Springtime Ice Fishing Trip on Lake Superior

Discussion in 'Outings, Trips & Expeditions' started by Primordial, Apr 4, 2018.

  1. Primordial

    Primordial MOA #40 Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    Winter comes early and stays late in my land. The snow has been on the ground for 7 months now. While many of my fellow BCUSA forum members are already getting set to forage for wild edible plant greens, I had the opportunity to go after some different greenish colored food items. If a person doesn't partake in wintertime activities up here they may get stir crazy waiting for "spring" to arrive during this time of year. Stuff like this keeps me sane.

    Two weekends ago, my uncle called me up and asked if I wanted to go and try for some burbot fishing the deep water offshore on Lake Superior with him and some of his friends. Burbot (Lota lota) go by many names, eelpout, lawyer and lingcod are just a few of the aliases that this primitive fish goes by. They are the only cod-like fish that can be found in freshwater and their flesh has been likened to that of a "poor man's lobster" when it comes to its quality as table fare. I have never fished for them so I welcomed the experience.

    The evening before my fishing trip I made sure I had enough line on my tip-ups. My tip-ups were primarily set up for northern pike and walleye so I needed to make sure I had lots line to get the bait down to 50 plus feet of water and to be able to have extra to play out after a fish takes the bait. I packed up my gear and a few snacks. Then it was off to before dawn to reach the "big pond" by day break.

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    We got to the lake just at sunrise and headed out a via snowmobile. We would be a couple of miles out on the ice.

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    I love being out on Lake Superior in the winter. Being out on the ice makes me feel like I'm somewhere in the Arctic or some kind of exoic adventure. The ice, like the lake, has many moods. Sometimes there is a lot of pack ice which piles up and makes huge impassable formations. This year in the area the ice stayed as a nice, relatively flat sheet that spanned for miles and miles. The ride out was easy.

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    We reached the first area we wanted to fish and set up shop. We drilled a number of holes with the ice auger and noticed the ice was still about 18" thick. Plenty of ice for safe travel. Onc the holes were all drilled we set up 2 tip-ups each and used our 3rd hole for jigging. We used recycled smelt for bait. By recycled, I mean they were smelt taken from the belly's of previously caught lake trout. The lines were baited and I spooled my rig out making sure my baited hooks stayed only a foot or so off the bottom.

    Next, I set up my jigging pole with a hefty jigging spoon and began pounding it off the bottom. I would work the spoon with erratic movements and would jig it about 10 feet up in various intervals and then I would work it back down to the lake bottom. My hopes were that I could draw the attention of not only some burbot off the bottom, but also the resident lake trout that were cruising around just above it. It didn't take long for the first member of our party to hook into a lake trout.

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    Not long after, my uncle hooked into a burbot while jigging. He fought the eel like fish to the hole and landed it onto the ice.

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    Continued...
     
  2. Primordial

    Primordial MOA #40 Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    The eel like fish squirmed around as it was being unhooked.

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    I investigated this fish that I have never seen before.

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    A while later and the action slowed. The other people from our party started to focus more on lake trout and they moved further out into water that was deeper yet. Soon after they headed out, I noticed the flag up on my uncle's tip-up was triggered and after a decent tug-o-war, I gaffed the fish for him. We now had two of these prehistoric looking fish on the ice.

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    This was a larger specimen that what was previously caught and was quite portly. I couldn't stop marveing at their odd appearance. It's neat to see new creatures, especially when you can do it as a hands on experience and this fish was no exception.

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    They have a toothless mouth and a very large tongue. They must inhale their scavenged food and prey items much like a bass.

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    By this time I took a short break in the action to check out an old, froze over pressure crack. These rifts zigzag for miles.

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    Continued...
     
  3. Primordial

    Primordial MOA #40 Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    I had been jigging for over an hour and had a few hits and I lost one fish that I fought for about 30 seconds before it became unhooked. I was starting to zone out and was jigging in zombie like meditative state when I finally had solid hit off the bottom! Fish on!

    It only took about a thousand jigging motions to hook one and I didn't want to loose it, The fish fought surprisingly hard for an eel like bottom feeder and my jigging pole bent and bobbed with the strain. After a couple of minutes of bringing the fish up from almost 60 feet of water, my uncle was able to get a gaff into it.

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    At last I had a new ichthian species under my belt! It felt good to get that monkey off my back and finally get a fish on the ice.

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    After this fish was on the ice, we packed our gear up and headed further out to meet back up with the rest of our group. They were further out near the edge of the old ice. The old and new ice shelves are separated from each other by a narrow gap. When the shelves move they bump and grind into each making the ice rifts. This is a dangerous area to fish. If the wind switches and happens to blow from the south, the whole ice sheet can quickly separate and start drifting off towards Canada. About 7 years ago a rouge wave hit a much thinner ice sheet in this same spot. The wave shattered the sheet and marooned a number of fisherman who were instantly trapped on a series of rapidly forming ice flows of varying sizes. These flows started to drift into the open water and local search and rescue were called into retrieve the hapless fishermen. Everyone was rescued but a few men lost their ATVs and other gear. A sacrifice to the lake in exchange for their lives, so to say.

    Needless to say, I stayed on the south side of the giant open crack.

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    Seagulls had finally started to return and they were hanging around the only ribbon of open they could find in the area, which was the crack. It was my first sign of spring this year. I also seen a few greater Canadian geese fly along the crevasse too.

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    The seagulls eagerly awaited any handouts from the human intruders that were upon the ice. You can see the separation of ice behind them.

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    A few more lake trout were caught along with a nice sized whitefish.

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    The ice out here was about 10" thick. Still plenty safe to walk on.

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    I had one Lake trout hit and it was hooked for only a moment before it got off. I'm guessing it was a body strike because there was a number of trout scales impaled onto the hook of my jigging spoon.

    That hit was the last of my fishing action. We cleaned the burbot and packed up the other fish, and gathered our gear.

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    My equipment load for the day.

    With everything packed up, we got back on the sleds and headed for shore. It was great to be out on the the lake's ice and it's always an experience to be remembered even if a person doesn't catch a fish . Catching a new fish species just made the day that much more special to me and I look forward to catching more of these unsightly, but delicious fish in the future.

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    Thanks for taking the time to look!
     
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  4. Tangotag

    Tangotag Field Gear Junkie Supporter Bushclass I

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    Looks like a great day out. The Lake is mostly open on this side.
     
  5. Bobsdock

    Bobsdock Still going Supporter

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  6. seasonofthewoods

    seasonofthewoods Lost In the Woods Supporter

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    Love lake superior , thanks for sharing
     
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  7. gohammergo

    gohammergo I like sharp things.... Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    Glad to hear you got out. :) And caught fish too. Win-WIn situation. :)
     
  8. Muleman77

    Muleman77 Hobbyist Hobbyist

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    Sounds like a good trip to me. Well done!
     
  9. Red Yeti

    Red Yeti Mostly Harmless Hobbyist Supporter Bushclass I Bushclass II

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    Great adventure! Hope you had a good fish supper. Thanks for the beautiful post.
     
  10. wvtracker14

    wvtracker14 Hardwoodsman #9 Supporter Hardwoodsman

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    Awesome trip report thanks for sharing! Have only heard of the burbot before never seen one, like you say they look prehistoric!

    Whats the box in this picture?
     
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  11. Primordial

    Primordial MOA #40 Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    Thanks!

    That is one of my uncle's Vexilar fish finder/sonar graphs. The round dial like graph shows depth bottom, fish and even your tiny 1/64th ounce panfish jig as you lower it down the hole. They are amazingly accurate. If you see fish coming by, you can quickly adjust your lure depth to where they are at and even watch them "look" at your lure or bait. http://vexilar.com/
     
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  12. MrFixIt

    MrFixIt Old Jarhead Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    Nice TR although I'm freezin' my a$$ off just lookin' at all that ice!
     
  13. IA Woodsman

    IA Woodsman Overwatch Moderator Staff Member Super Moderator Vendor Lifetime Supporter Bushclass Instructor

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    Very cool. I learned a lot about those burbot. I seem to remember hearing about them but really knew nothing about them. Thanks for the report.
     
  14. wvtracker14

    wvtracker14 Hardwoodsman #9 Supporter Hardwoodsman

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    That makes a lot more sense than what I was thinking. Sounds very handy to have, thanks for educating me!
     
  15. CivilizationDropout

    CivilizationDropout -MOA #17-MYOG #71- Supporter Bushclass I

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    Excellent, it's been along time since I've been icefishing and I thought the lake I went on was huge....

    Grand Lake, (New Brunswick) is big to me, we've got a burbot population there too.

    Good to see your version of spring is in the air.
     
  16. Primordial

    Primordial MOA #40 Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    Thanks! 20 plus miles for a lake is plenty big! Did you catch any fish while you were there?

    Thanks! I'm glad you gleaned some info from my post. I have learned far more from yours.

    Ha ha ha ha. I'll send you some ice for your bourbon. (not to be confused with burbot)

    Thanks! I had some of the burbot this past week. I boil it in Sprite ( can also use 7-Up) for about 4 minutes, remove it and then dip it in melted butter. It was great!

    Thanks!
    You know it! I wanna see some gohammergo action from you soon!

    Thanks! the lake truly is GREAT!

    Thanks!
    Thanks! Where is your location, fellow Northlander?
     
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  17. CivilizationDropout

    CivilizationDropout -MOA #17-MYOG #71- Supporter Bushclass I

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    :D Considering I've been going up there visiting family since I was an infant, I'd say I BETTER have!
    I've fished Indian Lake, French Lake, Maquapit Lake and Grand lake. (They're all interconnected and empty into the Saint John River)

    Catfish, Pickerel, Perch, and Brook Trout are what we usually get.
    I remember hunting grasshoppers and mayflys to fish in French Lake at the camp. Catching perch with kernels of corn is a particularly fond memory of mine!
     
  18. Tangotag

    Tangotag Field Gear Junkie Supporter Bushclass I

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    Right now in Duluth.
    Pulled this one out last summer fishing for smallmouth, a Freshwater Drum Aploninotus grunniens or Sheepshead a non-native. Though they do eat Zebra mussles.
    IMG_4150.JPG
     
  19. Primordial

    Primordial MOA #40 Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    I bet you thought you had record class smallie on with that hook up! Did you keep it? If so, how is the meat??

    Nice! Sounds like I'd be right at home there!
     
  20. Tangotag

    Tangotag Field Gear Junkie Supporter Bushclass I

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    It hit and fought above it's weight class. Up there with smallies for fun but coming out of the water on the edge of a sewage treatment facility it went back in for another day and more Zebra mussles consumption.:18:
     
  21. CivilizationDropout

    CivilizationDropout -MOA #17-MYOG #71- Supporter Bushclass I

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    It's as much my home as any other place will ever be. I yearn for that meditative state you mentioned, just staring out at everything and nothing and suddenly feeling that insistent tug a my line.
     
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  22. Swarvegorilla

    Swarvegorilla Guide

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    What a cool looking fish. Look to be a pretty easy fillet too. Is the skin super tough like an eels?
     
  23. Primordial

    Primordial MOA #40 Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    They do have tough skin, much like a catfish. I never caught or handled an eel before but I'm guessing all smooth skinned/scale less fish have tough skin. You peel these burbot's skin off with pliers and remove the meat along each side of the spine, pretty much exactly how you would clean a catfish.
     
  24. CivilizationDropout

    CivilizationDropout -MOA #17-MYOG #71- Supporter Bushclass I

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    You should follow this recipe; Unadon

    You're welcome. :D
     
  25. Primordial

    Primordial MOA #40 Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    That looks delicious!
     
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  26. Grouse Hunter

    Grouse Hunter Supporter Supporter

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    Awesome trip, have read story's of people caught on the ice. Ling Cod is one of my favorites, pretty common off LI. Thanks for sharing it with us.
     
  27. RavenLoon

    RavenLoon axology student Supporter

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    Those make good chowder. I went out a few times on Lake Michigan ice several years ago when I lived in Manistique and got some free burbot because some guys don't think they are good eating due to their strange appearance. Good post.
     
  28. Tor Helge

    Tor Helge Supporter Supporter Bushclass I

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    Looks like a great day on the lake.
    Thanks.
     
  29. LongAgoLEO

    LongAgoLEO Guide

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    Poor man's lobster! I just cube the filets and boil them in 7UP, then dip in garlic butter. I love this stuff! Good report, nice looking fish. Eelpout festivals are a big deal up here.
     
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  30. Primordial

    Primordial MOA #40 Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    That's pretty much exactly how I made them lol...I substituted Sprite instead of 7-Up though.
     
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  31. LongAgoLEO

    LongAgoLEO Guide

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    Sprite is definitely better (sweeter), but my wife keeps 7UP around, so that's my default. People just don't understand these odd/ugly fish; they're phenomenal eating. Not to mention, they'll give you as big a tussle to land as any other cold water fish.
     
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  32. rustystove2017

    rustystove2017 Supporter Supporter

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    Awesome report and Pics....thanks!
     
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  33. Skruffy

    Skruffy Supporter Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    Very well written narrative & great pics! Thanks for sharing.
     
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  34. rbinhood

    rbinhood Tracker

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  35. Primordial

    Primordial MOA #40 Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    Yeah, the lake can be a dangerous place any time of year. You always have to be aware of the conditions when you are on it. We fish as a group to help mitigate the danger and have safety equipment with. There is more danger of an ice flow breaking off and blowing away than falling through though.
     
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  36. KIVALO

    KIVALO Scout

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    Cool trip!
    How do you decide where to ice fish? Is still all about the lake bottom or does the ice condition come into play??
     
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  37. Primordial

    Primordial MOA #40 Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    Depth is the main factor. The use of the "fish finder" is a major assat. The burbot live in deeper water so you want to be in about 50 feet of water or more for them, and to catch the lake trout you generally want to jig about a few off the bottom too in the same depths. For catching salmon and herring you can fish 20 feet or less in depth and they like cruise anywhere from 2 to 10 feet down from the surface so you'll jig there. Smelt and yellow perch can be caught right off the bottom.
     
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  38. GreenFrog

    GreenFrog In the Forest Supporter Hardwoodsman Bushclass III

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    Nice catch. Goes to show how much there is to fishing, so many species, techniques, gear choices...it's endless fun.
     
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  39. TD Bauer

    TD Bauer Scout

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    Looks like it was a great day. You guys get some of the snow over the weekend (4/13 through 4/15)? I'm in northwest Wisconsin and we got hit pretty good. I'm starting to wonder if ice will be off the BWCA lakes by the 4th week in May for my solo trip. Spring seems so far away now... lol...
     
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  40. Primordial

    Primordial MOA #40 Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    I don't know what the total is but I dodged most of the bullet. I think we got about 18" and it's still coming down. Thankfully the first storm went south or we'd have 30 plus fresh inches of snow right now.

    The ice will be on the lakes forever this year. there has been snow on the ground for 7 months here now...if we make it to May with snow, which I'm sure will happen in some form, we will make it 8 months with snow on the ground.
     
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