Sunday, January 29th, 2023
Sunday, January 29th, 2023

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

By Sam Cook

Duluth News Tribune

Duluth, Minn. (AP) — The primary goal of ice anglers at the
mouth of the French River was to avoid joining the trout swimming
below. The possibility of falling through the ice on the French
River was real.

About 15 anglers were clustered on a thin skim of Lake Superior
ice about 20 feet from the river’s open water. The ice in most
places was just 1 inch thick. Nobody had taken the plunge by
midday, but it had happened before.

Later, the nearshore ice was gone and Kamloops anglers were
fishing open water from shore.

In early March, anglers had been casting from shore to catch the
hefty Kamloops rainbow trout gathering to make their spawning run
up the French River. But when east winds pushed a broad sheet of
ice back to the North Shore, anglers who wanted Kamloops rainbows
had no choice.

Andy Wizik, formerly of Duluth and now of Plymouth, was jigging
a looper bug and a spawn bag in about 3 feet of water. A little
more than a week ago, he’d fallen through the ice twice.

“I’d been standing in the same place for two or three hours,”
Wizik said. “All of a sudden, she gave way underneath me.”

He climbed out and got back to fishing.

“I went through again in five minutes,” he said.

He climbed out again and kept fishing.

Wizik had had better luck than his fishing buddy from Superior,
Wis., that day.

“He went through three times,” Wizik said.

The water is shallow where the anglers are fishing — about 3 to
5 feet in most places — so there’s little danger of anyone
drowning. Still, it can’t help the fishing. It must spook a
rainbow, casually eyeing a waxworm or a ‘looper bug, to suddenly
see a couple of hundred pounds of human come dropping in.

The anglers who had decided to venture out on the ice were
catching a few fish. About half a dozen were caught through about
11:30 a.m.

These Lake Superior rainbows can get up to 8 or more pounds and
offer a strong fight, especially on the 6-pound-test line that most
anglers use in the clear water.

Sun beamed down on the anglers. The day was almost windless.
Most of the anglers fished in proximity to one another — sometimes
just a few feet away. But they exchanged no casual conversation.
The atmosphere out on the ice was reminiscent of a library. If one
angler hooked a fish, as Jake Mattila of Ely did, another angler
silently moved in to help land it, then returned to his own hole.
The smell of cigarette smoke drifted over the ice.

Mattila’s fish, probably a 6-pounder, gleamed in the sunlight.
Its skin was an olive-gold, flecked with dark spots, a brush-swipe
of crimson down its flanks.

“He’s showing me up again,” said Mattila’s father, Dale Mattila
of Mora.

Even when they weren’t catching the big rainbows, anglers would
see them swimming by in the shallow water beneath their holes.

“There goes a big one,” someone would say. “Headed your
way.”

Not everyone considered ‘loopers worth the risk of walking on
that ice. Like ravens perched in a tree, four men looked on from
the parking lot along Scenic Highway 61.

“I got poles in the truck, but I’m not going out there,” said
Mike Collier of Kettle River.

“I’m waiting for the ice to go out. Then I’ll be a shore
fisherman,” said Curt Setterquist of Duluth.

“I saw at least a half a dozen guys step through (the ice),”
said Doug Malnati of Saginaw. “Another guy went through about to
his waist.”

Nick Rectenwald, 15, of Duluth arrived about 11 a.m. carrying
his fishing gear and a cup of coffee. He ventured out onto the ice
gingerly, walking along a plank another angler had placed over a
small crevasse.

“I’m a little bit nervous,” Rectenwald said. “I went through the
other day.”

He borrowed a chisel from another angler. He poked at the ice
four times, and the chisel broke through. This is not normal in
ice-fishing. Rectenwald sat down on a folding chair and began
jigging a chartreuse-and-white ‘looper jig tipped with
waxworms.

Going through the ice wasn’t fun, Rectenwald said.

“It was real cold,” he said. “It couldn’t have been more than 5
feet deep. I tried to stay and fish for about 15 or 20 minutes.
That didn’t work.”

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