I’m on the way home from our annual Chippewa Retreat Ice Fishing Invitational held in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin. Technically a tournament, this is really a fun fishing trip with a little friendly competition amongst friends. The get-together is hosted by George Hillenbrand and based out of John McGraw’s resort, Chippewa Retreat. Well known Wisconsin fishing guides Joe Pestka, Brett Jolly and James Pestka lead us during the event. It’s great fun. George takes incredible care of us and best of all; we catch lots of fish in one of the most beautiful winter settings imaginable.
Over the years this event has brought out the worst in weather. We’ve suffered through snow storms, subzero temperatures and high winds. Last year the final day greeted us with 25° below zero temps and wind chills down to 75° below zero! But this year Mother Nature treated us to two of the nicest days on the ice we’ve experienced in years. Day 1 was easily 45° and calm. The biggest concern was frying the face from sun and snow reflection.
Our fishing on Day 1 did not disappoint. In the state of Wisconsin, three lines are allowed per angler. For most, that means setting up two tip-ups and working one jigging rod. Fishing was so good that we never got all our lines in the water. Northern pike were setting off tip-up flags so fast that no one had much time to drop a jig. By the end of the day we had exercised over 50 pike up to 25”s! David Baker landed 17 pike himself. Mixed in were some very respectable largemouth bass. The biggest taken by John that measured 19” – not bad for a largemouth through the ice!
Catching fish all day is hard to beat, but rather than another pike filled day, we spent Day 2 trying for walleyes. From personal experience chasing walleye through the ice, I knew a 50 fish day was not in the cards. With all the tip-ups set out, we kicked back and waited . . . and waited . . . and waited. Two hours into the day only four flags had popped, none of which produced a fish. The walleye weren’t feeding, but rather perch were tripping the flags. I broke out the jigging rod and started whacking the perch. In a short time I iced over 20. George’s tournament judges you on numbers of fish caught and I felt I had “most fish” in the bag. I moved to deeper water in search of a mid day walleye on the jig. Walleyes don’t feed particularly well during the day so I knew it was a long shot; however there’s always a chance.
I took a seat in our ice shelter with George’s friend Marvin Hirn and joined him in some jigging. We put in a couple hours of effort, but we managed nothing more than some great conversation and a few Leinenkugel’s. It was soon brought to my attention that Larry F. Burtschy II, a fierce competitor in his own, had found a school of perch and his fish count was now eighteen. Even though a fun tourney among friends, that was all it took for me to head back to my perch hole. I dropped my jig down and after a few minutes regained the proper jig motion and began hammering the perch. Larry remained hot on my tail until his 26th. His 27th fish eluded him for some time and I broke away and ended with a final count of 49. The tournament ended at 3 pm.
It was another enjoyable day despite the lack of walleye, and while most of the gang left after the tournament, Rick Schreiber, Larry and I and the guides hung out through sunset in hopes the walleye bite would occur. It didn’t. We had about ten flags pop, but only two cigar sized walleyes to show for it. Although some of us were reluctant to leave, at 6 pm we used the last light of the day and collected our gear and returned to Chippewa Retreat.
After a good shower, George took us all to dinner at one of the finest restaurants in Manitowish Waters, Smokey’s. Eating on this trip is as much fun as the fishing itself. George does not mess around. No one has ever left one of his dinners hungry. NO ONE! To give you an example, we had about ten people at the table, yet we ordered over a dozen appetizers. Some of these appetizers weren’t appetizers at all, but rather full entrees that we split up. Two of these entrees were the king crab dinners! Needless to say, we relished in several major feasts over the last few days.
This fantastic trip ends with our rest-up day. This day generally entails hitting some of the local taverns that Northern WI is famous for. Rick and I love to play pool and there’s no better place in the world. We had a great time shooting and watching Olympic Hockey and the NASCAR Race with the locals while the others rolled dice and challenged us on occasion.
Unfortunately all good things come to an end. George announced weeks ago that this was our last ice fishing trip. However, not all bad news, George is replacing it with a fully guided fly fishing for musky trip in October 2011. It’s a ways away and it’s sad to see five great years of ice fishing come to an end, however the new trip will be extremely exciting.
Now, Rick and I are somewhere in the air between Minneapolis and Salt Lake City. I’m already back to work on the computer getting this blog done and gearing up for a weekend in Pleasanton, CA in which I will be speaking at the Fly Fishing Show. I have several presentations to give and some casting demonstrations. I’ll look forward to seeing some of you there!