An auger and line winder are a few of the basic items needed for this type of fishing.
If you live in the northern Midwest, then the opportunities for ice fishing on Lake Superior and the surrounding inland lakes are endless. Walleye, salmon, bass and northern pike can all easily be targeted and caught by the novice and experienced ice angler alike, making this area one of the true great ice fisheries found throughout the US.
With that being said, the Chequamegon Bay presents one of the most unique types of ice fishing opportunities found anywhere in the world, and that's deep water bobbing for lake trout. Who would think that jigging herring at 200 feet could hook you a 20+ pound laker. Well, it can, but whether you are determined enough to actually land one of these behemoths is another story.
Bobbing lake trout is not only attractive to those looking to land the big one; while fishing, you'll find yourself nestled away amongst the scenic Apostle Islands, which include Hermit, Basswood and Madeline Island.
Bobbing for lake trout has come a long way in the last couple of years from a technological standpoint. In years past, ice anglers used wooden line holders and the thickest mono they could find in hopes of hand retrieving lakers through the ice. Nowadays, a coated wire coupled to a short stout rod makes hooking and fighting fish a whole lot simpler and less tiresome. The basic requirements for bobbing are pretty simple, but a few luxury items can make your days on the ice a lot more enjoyable.
Lake Superior's Chequamegon Bay is an ideal area to target large lake trout through the ice.
Bobbing for lake trout is done anywhere between 10 to 250 feet of water. In most cases, the shallower and more fished an area of water is, the smaller the size of the fish. The key to fishing big lakers is to stay mobile. In a normal day, experienced ice anglers can expect to travel 10 to 15 miles up and down the islands while looking for fish.
Pulling transportable shanties, anglers try and find key bottom arrangements such as rock piles or other structure that fish will target when trying to forage for their next meal. Lake trout are large predators that don't try and chase down their prey; they ambush it. So keying on bottom structure that these fish use while hunting will only improve your odds.
If you do happen to find fish one day, there is no certainty that they will be in the same spot the next time you come out. Lake trout are always moving, looking for their next meal and a safe spot to lay low. A good rule of thumb to follow is that if the bite is slow or you are unsatisfied with the action you are getting, try relocating to deeper unscathed waters.
The actual bobbing process is very similar to what most anglers do normally when ice fishing. After you have baited the jig with some type of oily baitfish, release the jig towards the bottom. Expect the travel time to be long. It should feel as if the line is falling forever, but keep your hand on the line while waiting for the thud and slack from the jig hitting the bottom.
After the jig is on the bottom, wind it up approximately one foot. With long, slow pulls of your line (raising your rod or line above your head), jig the bait up and down every few minutes. The lift and fall will have your jig acting like a wounded minnow, and in most cases the fish will bite on the drop back to the bottom. Fast vertical jigs should be avoided as most fish associate these types of movements with danger.
If the action is slow, try shaking your bait lightly every few seconds. This subtle movement will hopefully simulate lackadaisical fish into biting. If you do receive a bite from big fish, set the hook hard and more than once. Remember, there is 200 feet of line separating you and the fish, so slack will develop somewhere making your hook set not as effective as you would like it to be. Raising the rod or hand line to a position high over your head while walking away from your ice hole is a good way to get any extra slack out of the line. Once you have tension on the fish, set the hook solidly.
A nice lake trout caught through the ice.
Fighting fish at these depths is a slow and meticulous process. These are big strong fish that don't give up easily, so overexerting yourself early will not help anything. If you are not planning on eating your days catch, be very careful in how fast you bring the fish to the ice surface. Taking your time fighting the fish will allow the fish's air bladder to adjust to the changing pressure, enabling the fish to be released safely. Once on the ice, you have time for a few quick pictures before releasing the beautiful trout back to its deep, dark home.
If you're planning on taking a trip out bobbing, you have a few months to try and set a date. Normally the end of January, February and March are all good times to catch lake trout but one has to be mindful of the pending ice conditions. Being very careful and informed about current ice conditions is the only way to go when traveling out on the bay this far. Safe ice near the Apostle Islands is highly dependent on weather, and a few days of high temps and windy conditions can end the season early. If you are planning a trip, check with local area bait shops or guides as they will be up to date on the ice conditions.
The following is a list of necessities for lake trout bobbing:
- 300 feet of 60 pound coated wire line
- 12 feet of 20 pound test leader
- Various jigs
- Hand line winder, also known as a hoop
- 10-inch ice auger (power or manual) and scoop
- Baits (cut herring or smelt)
- Some type of transportation (Snowmobile or Auto)
Here are few extras to make your trip more comfortable:
The basics of bobbing seem pretty simple to those who haven't yet experienced this fishery, but once you factor in the incredible depths and sheer size of the fish you are chasing, things get a little more interesting. So pack your bobbing gear and ice shelter and travel to the Chequamegon Bay area; not only do big lakers await you, but the breathtaking scenery does as well. A 20-pound trophy trout is a possibility for anyone who spends a day on the ice.