Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

February sun turns on crappies

Dean Bortz

Wisconsin Editor

Winter didn’t end in the Northwoods on Feb. 6, but it sure let
up a little bit, and that reprieve felt awfully good. What also
didn’t hurt is the crappies cooperated that day. It all started a
few days before that. The phone rang and I heard a familiar,
rumbly, grumbly voice on the other end. It was Steve Oestreicher,
the former Conservation Congress chairman. “Bortzy, I have the
crappies located – better plan on fishing Friday.”

Well, by the time Steve called, I had been tracking the forecast
for a week, looking for some kind of a break in sub-zeros where a
guy might go out and try to kill a coyote or catch a fish. The
forecast called for average temperatures on that Thursday, with
even better stuff in store on that Friday. Heck, that was a
no-brainer. I was in like Flynn.

But then on the morning of Feb. 6, it was 3 degrees at 6 a.m.
here in Vilas County. Not the worst news, but not as warm as
promised. Still, we weren’t meeting until 9:30 a.m., so there would
be some time for the sun to work. A couple of hours on the
computer, then I grabbed the jig stick tote, a box of jigs, and
even sun glasses, then headed out to meet Steve. The good news at
that point was that the thermometer read 15 degrees. Oestreicher
and his buddy, Ken Tjugum, of Tomahawk, had just finished burning
holes when I pulled up. Ken was skimming the last couple of holes
while Steve worked on setting up three tip-downs over 24 feet of
water. It wasn’t the deepest hole in the lake, but nearly so.
Oestreicher said he had looked for fish in shallower water near
weeds and in the 30-foot hole, but had found the best action in the
24-foot spot on previous outings.

I’ve seen people fishing with tip-downs before, but had never
used them myself – just tip-ups and jig sticks in this corner.
Steve was giving a quick rundown on the operation of a tip-down
when one of the other devices, well, tipped down.

“There’s one right there,” Oestreicher said.

He stepped over to the next tip-down and grabbed the line before
the rod stopped its water-ward descent. He set the hook and quickly
hand-lined an 11-incher to the nice.

Considering the little bit of flack Oestreicher had taken over
the 5 or 10 minutes leading up to the flopping crappie, his
response was understandable. “There, yah happy now? Shut up and

I didn’t exactly shut up, but I did fish. I just talked to
Tjugum instead. Besides, I had a burning question for Ken, one that
popped into my head when Steve introduced him as Ken “Chew-gum.”
I’d heard that name before.

“So Ken, you have any relatives that might be called P.T.? You
know, like Part Time?”

Turns out, P.T. is Ken’s son, and P.T. is also part of a
deer-hunting crew that storms the borders of Price and Ashland
counties on the Friday after Thanksgiving each year. I only see
P.T. and his buddy, Schnitt, once a year, but the last five or six
times I’ve seen those boys, and the rest of the gang, we had a
pretty good time.

It didn’t take long, then, to get the stories flowing. The only
thing slowing down the lies was the fish – the crappies kicked in
at 10:15 a.m., and every once in a while we had to stop talking to
set the hook, land a fish, grab a minnow, and send the jig back
down. Steve’s tip-downs stayed busy, too, but the crappies really
seemed to like a small, odd-shaped blue and white jig. Most of the
fish ran about 11 inches. Anything shorter than that went back in
the drink. One crappie challenged Oestreicher’s carpentry skills –
he had to really work the tape measure, but he finally declared it
at 141/2 inches. Nice fish, as they say on the TV fishing

By noon the beaming sun pushed the mercury to 37 degrees. Steve
broke out the herring, venison summer sausage, cheese, and

After what seemed like three weeks of 20 below, just sitting on
the ice with no gloves and the coat unzipped seemed pretty special.
Throw in the crappies, the food, and company, and Feb. 6 had all
the makings of a red-letter day in any fisherman’s book. Now we
just need a few more of those days.

Share on Social


Hand-Picked For You

Related Articles