An Outdoorsman’s Journal: Home on the Ice

An Outdoorsman's Journal

Mark Walters, Contributor

Follow along each week on the adventures of Mark Walters, a syndicated outdoor adventure columnist who lives in Necedah, Wisconsin. He began writing his column, An Outdoorsman’s Journal, in 1989. It includes hunting, fishing, lots of canoeing and backpacking. He currently writes for around 60 newspapers on a weekly basis. He hopes you enjoy reading about his adventures!

Hello friends,

This weekend all of my immediate family and much of my extended family was supposed to be having a great time celebrating our Christmas together for two nights and days of being together while fishing, eating really good food, and laughing. Covid 19 put an end to that and so Michelle Chiaro and I along with my pup Ruby went on a four day winter camping and ice fishing trip on the Mississippi River near Buffalo City.

Saturday, January 23rd
High 31, Low 15

This week’s column will be all over the map due to the fact that there is lots to say and not a lot of room to say it. I have some rough news for those of you that may not have read last week’s column.

Fire passed away literally last night, and this trip would be our first without her.  Fire was Ruby’s mom, and it is very obvious that she is hurting just like the rest of us.

So, my plan was to take my Polaris “Classic” snowmobile into the backwaters near Trempealeau for about a 3-mile trip and that is where we would camp and fish. I first fished this area 20-years ago and have had some incredible success on giant northern pike. I even had studs put on the track this week, but my plan was cut short due to poor ice conditions.

Looking back, so far this column is a bummer, COVID-19, Fire and bad ice. My daughter Selina and I camped and fished near Buffalo City and did well which is why we ended up here today. First thing that we had to do was three trips per person pulling gear out to where we would camp.

We spoke with two different groups of fishermen and were given really bad fishing reports but at this point nothing was going to stop us. I have written about the following subject for years but here goes again, late January and the first half of February is the poorest fish catching conditions of the year in the lands of frozen waters.

The reason is that the lowest oxygen levels of the year occur at this time and so fish shut down their metabolisms. In other words, it takes more out of them to catch and digest food then it is worth because of the lack of oxygen in the water.

Anyways we set up a beautiful camp on the ice had homemade chili with everything coming from my garden but the venison and had a “we made it party”. As far as fishing goes, we did not catch any.

Sunday, January 24th
High 23, Low 14

Four inches of snow fell on camp last night and it was a very pleasant experience as we were in the comfortable confines of our insulated Eskimo “FatShack”. This morning would be the 7th prime time that I fished here this winter that a fish was not caught, and it is not just Michelle and I.   

Today I tried hard and fished from 4 to 28 feet of water for my favorite quarry which is northern pike and I kept wondering what it would have been like if I had been able to get my snow machine back to my original destination. The subject of poor ice for a person that earns a living like I do is an important and sad one the last few years.

I specialized in going remote with my campsites which meant traveling beyond the crowd with a truck, atv, or snow machine and every ice junky knows that is not so simple anymore.  Remote is where the most big fish are not being caught!

So even though we were fishing hard and not catching we did not care because we were going to listen to the Packers put a hurting on Tampa Bay and have steaks from beef I grew on my property. Long story short another prime time with no action and the Packers “choked”.  The steak was good and listening to rock and roll was better than the Packers.

Monday, January 25th
High 28, Low 10

Despite fish that are not hungry my favorite sport is winter camping and ice fishing; you have a cabin on the lake and no checkout time. This morning was prime time number 9 and it was rather on the quiet side but I had high hopes and about 9:00 Michelle had a flag and after a good showing on her part landed a northern pike that would weigh about 8-pounds.   

Last year and the year before she caught gators in the 12-to-14-pound range on our winter adventure but this one put a big smile on her face and would make a fine meal the next night for Michelle and her twin daughters Sophie and Kylie.

Fishing can be tough; all you can do is keep on trying and enjoying everything about the experience!


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