Warm Weather, Cold Fishing for Winter Carnival

By Dennis Walikainen | Published

The Winter Carnival Ice Fishing Tournament was held Saturday on Chassell Bay under warm conditions (28 degrees), and that’s what we are blaming our lack of success on.

As they say, the fishing was great, but the catching was not, at least for our team. Tom Suchenek of Chassell was my host, and after a quick snowmobile ride out about a mile from shore, we joined a shanty-town of anglers, none of whom seemed to be having any luck.

The fish had been finicky as of late, and the buzz was that no amount of "Swedish pimple" or "Weasel" lures with minnow attached would give rise to the northern pike or walleye that we sought.

Other anglers had other stories to tell.

Kenny Barnt of the second-place DaWgs (Pep Band) team used minnows and had "four or five tip-up lines going, starting at about 9 a.m.," he said. "It was the first time we caught anything in quite awhile." (Tip-ups are lines rigged to fish without handling and have a flag that tips up when one is caught.)

The DaWGs fish, a 27-inch, 4-5/8-pound northern pike was caught around 10:30. The team, "all tubas and bass-line players who just go out to have fun," had a tough time finding their spot, and once they had the fish weighed, they put it back in the water, and it got off the stringer.

"So, our winning fish was also the one that got away," laughed Barnt, a fourth-year computer network and system administration major.

And even those who didn't catch any had a story or two. Tiffany Wilson of Alpha Gamma Delta was part of a three-woman team that fished from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. They dragged their shanty out by hand and were thankful for the warmth and storage it provided. And, they did have a near catch.

"Someone had driven over an old tip-up," she said. "They asked if it was ours, and we said 'no,' and when we tried to fix it, we had a fish on it! But, just as we got it up to the top, it fell off."

Wilson, a fifth-year biomed major, blamed their lack of luck on the wax worms they used instead of fresh bait.

Finally, Ben Brusch, a biological sciences senior who is heading to medical school at Wisconsin in May, said they had a "secret rig" with minnows that worked for the Sigma Phi Epsilon winning team.

"We headed out at 6:30 a.m. and drilled about 20 holes," he said. "We were ready to go at 8 a.m. If one hole didn't work, we just moved our tip-up to another."

Seven Sig Eps took turns during the day, and they tried many different depths. They landed three northern pike. Brusch also said it was "slow overall. Maybe it was the changing weather." Intense winds buffeted the Keweenaw all that night.

The fraternity boys had plenty of food, Frisbees and snowmobile jumps to keep them occupied. Brusch hopes to pass on the winning tradition (it was the Sig Eps second straight win) to younger brothers before he moves on to Madison and fishes Lake Mendota.

Back in the Shack
Meanwhile, back in shantytown, we had some unique tools to use. A fish-finder would give a color-bar hint when the fish were rising off the bottom, about 16 feet down, including the two-foot-thick ice on top. A small propane gas heater kept us warm enough to shed our coats, and a two-way radio kept us in touch with the other shacks in our group.

The fishing spot was not chosen by chance. The area had been mapped with depth finders to discover rises off the bottom, where pike prefer to catch minnows. And GPS would help locate the same spot every year.

Although our day and evening was clear, there were tales of sudden blow-ups that had fishermen headed in the wrong direction, toward Torch Lake, in the middle of a whiteout. Suchenek kept the snowmobile pointed toward Chassell to make sure that didn't happen.

The tranquility of sitting in the 50-degree shack amid quiet conversation was occasionally broken by the muffled buzz of snowmobiles going back and forth to their shacks.

After bobbing our lure/minnow combos for a couple of hours, Suchenek did get a nice walleye up to the top, only to have it flop off the lure by banging off the bottom of the ice.

The experience, my first, reminded me of the silence of a deer blind, where I had spent many quiet hours only to come home empty-handed.

The difference, of course, was sitting on "hard water," walking on slush, and the outside temperature permeating my toes.

And I didn't go home empty handed. Suchenek had some nice walleye fillets, caught earlier this winter from the same shack, for me to take home and share with my family.

In ice fishing, it seems, you have to know how to choose your days and your partners.

The first-place winners and categories:

Student Organization Division
Concrete Canoe

Community Division
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church

Women’s Groups Division--no one caught a fish

Fraternity Division
Sigma Phi Epsilon

Residence Halls
Mama's Boys

The largest fish was a 14-1/2-pound northern pike caught by Jason Kneibel.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.