Ice Fishing In 'The Great Outdoors'

By John Campbell and Orlan Love, Reporters

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By Grant Burkhardt

WILLIAMS, Minn. — You’d hate to think that experiencing ambient air temperature of 40 degrees below zero would be the highlight of four days’ ice fishing in the “Walleye Capital of the World.”

But for me and six fishing buddies, the memory of our unprecedented exposure to such frigid air will outlast our recollections of cranking up the occasional foot-long sauger from daylight-deprived depths along the 49th parallel.

From our vantage in wood and Styrofoam igloos on a seemingly infinite expanse of 2-foot-thick ice, we had front-row seats for the 2013 Lake of the Woods Walleye and Sauger Lure Rejection Tour. We did not buy the T-shirt.

We know we were rejected, rather than ignored, because we could see the electronic blips indicating fish on our sonar units.

“Lookers,” we called them — red marks hovering, sometimes indefinitely, near the electronic blips indicating our minnow-tipped jigs.

While the approach of a fish to a jig often signals an imminent strike, the “lookers” almost always left without doing anything else.

The guys who ran the resort said the walleyes were preoccupied with a hatch of crustaceans and could not be bothered to bite a minnow. An examination of the entrails of fish we cleaned supported their assessment, as did the fishes’ occasional regurgitation of a ¾-inch-long, olive green shrimplike creature.

The seven of us — Richard Brace of Cedar Rapids; Don Dutler, Doug Reck, Jim and Dan Brace, all of Winthrop; and Bill Sloan and I of Quasqueton — cleaned about 80 saugers and caught a fair number of a malodorous species known both as cisco and tullibee, as well as several eelpout, an amphibian-like fish known also as burbot and poor man’s lobster.

In four days the seven of us caught a combined total of six walleyes, which together would have fit within the white tail spot on the 40-foot statue of “Willy the Walleye” that helps proclaim the city of Baudette the walleye capital of the world.

Homeward bound at 6 a.m. Feb. 1, with the ambient air temperature at 28 below zero, the pickup engines sounded as if they were on their last turns before they groaned to life.

Ninety minutes later, as our convoy dipped into an ice-fogged hollow outside Northome, Minn., the thermometer on Richard’s pickup registered 41 below — a reading confirmed as realistic by the National Weather Service, which reported the day’s lowest temperature in the contiguous 48 states as 39 below in Northome.
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