Lake Superior claims life of fishing guide Hudson

Bayfield, Wis. — Lake Superior coldly claimed the life of one of her biggest fans and supporters on Saturday, Jan. 26, when Jimmy Hudson’s snowmobile went through the ice on the South Channel.

Hudson, 34, a well-known Bayfield fishing guide succumbed to frigid waters despite determined rescue efforts by fishing partners and La Pointe ice rescue volunteers.

One of his fishing partners, John Esposito, of Ashland, saw Hudson go through the ice and quickly put himself in harm’s way in an attempt to rescue Hudson. Esposito pulled Hudson to the edge of the ice, but the ice broke as he and Hudson struggled to get Hudson out of the water. Esposito went in himself in trying to pull Hudson to safety.

Esposito was wearing a Stearns float suit and was able to get back onto the ice. He then pulled Hudson to the edge of the ice one more time, but the ice sagged and then broke again, sending Esposito back into the water a second time.

A dripping Esposito then raced back to Hudson’s fishing group on his snowmobile, and asked another friend, Tommy Hicks, to call 911. Esposito then returned by snowmobile to continue rescue efforts.

Five members of the La Pointe Volunteer Fire Department ice rescue team responded with the team’s ice rescue airboat. The crew included one operator, or pilot, and four rescue personnel.

The La Pointe crew took the call at 1:07 p.m., according to Mick Brennen, Ashland County sheriff.

Jay Wiltz, one member of the ice rescue team, said the crew had the GPS coordinates from Hudson’s fishing partners and headed straight for that site. Brennen said the crew pulled Hudson from the water at 1:38 p.m. Wiltz said the rescue team took him straight to the Bayfield lake access and performed CPR the entire way. They were met at the landing by the Bayfield EMS crew and Bayfield Fire Department paramedics.

Hudson was transported to Ashland’s Memorial Medical Center. Friends and family gathered at the hospital to lend support to Hudson and his wife, Hannah, and his brother and mother. He was then flown to Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth, where he was pronounced dead.

The U.S. Coast Guard estimated that the water temperature was at about 33 degrees that day.

Hudson broke through the ice in a area that’s known locally as the South Channel between Houghton Point and Long Island. Hudson was not near any land mass when he broke through the ice. The GPS coordinates put him centrally located between Grant’s Point on Madeline Island, the Bayview Beach in Bayfield, Houghton Point, and the ice road between Bayfield and Madeline Island. That area would have 110 to 120 feet of water.

“We knew where we were heading and there were also two groups of fishermen. One group appeared to be in distress. We headed toward that group,” Wiltz said. “Conditions were really bad (when they reached Hudson). The ice that we could see was no thicker than an inch. It’s hard to say how large of an area was bad. We broke ice with wind sled and there was broken ice and open water where we found Jim.”

The Coast Guard, Ashland County Sheriff’s Department, and DNR were alerted, but only the La Pointe ice rescue team went out on the ice.

Estimates of the amount of time Hudson was in the water range from about 30 minutes to about one hour.

Sources say Hudson was guiding a group of eight to nine clients from Indiana that day. Esposito and a friend went out on their own ahead of Hudson, two assistant guides and their clients, but all of the fishermen were heading to the same general area in 60 to 65 feet of water that had safe ice. Two Oneida County fishermen who were friends of Hudson’s also were fishing in the area at the time, and left the Washburn landing with Hudson, but were not with Hudson’s group.

Those two men, as well as other sources, said Hudson had his clients on safe ice. Hudson had been scouting ice conditions almost daily and had fished that particular spot the previous day, on Friday, Jan. 25, and knew he had a minimum of 8 solid inches of ice from shore to that area. On Saturday, Jan. 26, Hudson, his assistants, and the clients traveled 4 to 5 miles from Washburn to the fishing spot.

The Oneida County fishermen were Jeff Taege and Jeff Koser, both of Rhinelander.

As Hudson was being transported to Ashland, Taege, Koser, and the fishermen in Hudson’s group raced to the Ashland hospital to wait for word on Hudson’s condition.

“We launched, along with Jim, at Washburn. When we heard what happened, his crew, and us, loaded up and went to the Ashland hospital and waited,” Taege said. But not before they offered some spiritual assistance to Hudson while they were still out on the ice.

“Tommy Hicks was in Jimmy’s group. Tommy made the 911 call,” Koser said.

Hicks informed everyone in the group that Hudson had been pulled from the water and was nonresponsive.

“Tommy was a wreck. We all were. I asked if there were any Christians in the group. We gathered around and said a prayer, trying to pull him through this,” Koser said.

It didn’t take long for the loss of Hudson to reach his close and extended group of friends. Tweets and Facebook messages came rolling in to Hannah, other family members, and to Hudson’s friends and colleagues in the fishing world.

Hudson worked closely with the staff at River Rock Bait Shop in Ashland and with the Clam Corporation. He was a member of Clam’s Ice Team, where he spent much of his time teaching novices and veterans alike ice-fishing techniques.

One of his close associates at Clam is Nick Chiodo, director of marketing at Clam Outdoors in Medina, Minn.

“I don’t think there are words to describe what many of us are feeling,” Chiodo said. “Jimmy was a big part of the family over here at Clam. He was always so careful. It wasn’t that he was disrespecting the body of water that took him … this sucks.

“Jimmy was well-known in the fishing community, not only locally, but everywhere. I’ve been here at Clam for four-plus years and he was already working with us at that time. He was involved on many different fronts – researching products, on the Ice Team sharing knowledge with new and current ice anglers, there was nothing but upside for him. Jimmy was always there and willing to help … you could always count on him. Everybody liked him. It’s hard to find (those qualities) in people. It takes quite the individual. He will be missed, no doubt about it.

“He had a great deal of respect amongst his peers (in the fishing industry). I’m glad that he was able to experience (working his dream job) for the time that he did,” Chiodo said. “It doesn’t make any sense. It’s just hard to lose a person of that caliber.”

Taege and Koser also said that Hudson had a great respect for Lake Superior and its ability to humble mortals.

“The ice was 8 and more. We never saw less than 8 inches,” Taege said. “Jeff and I had been planning on going for two to three weeks. Jim recommended I didn’t come because of cracks and questionable ice. He was always cautious. Despite knowing how much I wanted to go up there, he said no, don’t come up yet.

“I don’t think he was taking a risk. His fishermen were safe. I think he was caught off-guard.”

Hudson normally had a Nebulus inflatable life raft on his sled, as well as an inflatable vest on his person. That day, because he was returning to a known area, he removed the raft and other safety gear so he could ride clients double on his sled.

Once the group was set up and fishing, Hudson headed over to Esposito’s location to see how he was doing. Esposito was catching fish. Hudson and Esposito then decided to scout the ice in other areas. Each riding their own snowmobile, they headed toward deeper water where they might find lake trout. They found one small seeping crack at the first stop, but found a way around the crack on good ice and found good ice the next three times they stopped.

They saw two tents about a mile away and decided to check on those fishermen. It took Esposito two more pulls than Hudson to get his machine started, so Hudson headed out first. Esposito took a track about 150 feet to the left of Hudson.

He saw water splash up from under Hudson’s skis, then slabs of ice kicking up. Esposito stopped his sled about 200 feet from Hudson, ran full out, and slid up to the hole on his belly. He took off his gloves, grabbed Hudson’s hood, then his shoulder, and the two men were then able to get a leg on the ice. But the ice sheet bent down, then broke off. Esposito then put his ice picks in Hudson’s hands, closing his hands to make sure Hudson had them. Esposito then grabbed his spud and tried to anchor it into the ice so he had something to pull against.

That’s when the ice that Esposito was on broke, putting him in the water. He flipped to his back and, with the float suit lifting him somewhat, was able to kick back onto the ice. He got a grip on Hudson once more, but the ice broke again. After he kicked back onto the ice a second time, he couldn’t reach Hudson, so he jumped on the sled, raced back to Hicks, told him to call 911, grabbed a rope, and raced back to Hudson. He made a lasso, but couldn’t see Hudson at that point.

The ice rescue team came rushing up and two divers immediately hit the water and pulled Hudson to the surface. Two more divers jumped in and the four men got Hudson into the air boat and started CPR as they raced to the Bayfield landing.

“Everyone had the utmost respect for Jim. He was always so careful,” Esposito said. “He was on good ice to start with and crossed onto the thin ice without knowing it. There was just a very subtle crack. He might not have seen it because of the snow. He was only 20 feet from good ice.

“If any one thing hadn’t happened, it could have been different. I left my cell phone in my tent, along with my rope. If I’d had my cell phone. If he had been over 20 feet. If I’d had my rope to tie to my snowmobile. If he’d had flotation.

“No one gets out of here alive, but when things occur outside of the natural order, it’s very difficult to process,” Esposito said.

“It’s a hard deal,” Taege said. “Jim had become quite a close friend over the last two years. We did a lot of fishing together, spoke frequently. It’s a horrible loss for his wife, Hannah, and the fishing world.”

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