STURGEON BAY, Wis.--With nearly a week to think about it and with two days of smoking whitefish
under my belt, here are a few things I learned about handling whitefish rom Green Bay, from the
depths to the smoker.
Before people start calling, that is a photo taken on Day 3 by Mike Norris when he joined us. So that is a our near 3-man limit. Jeff Norris (right) and I were not over our limits.
Unfortunately, I think the ice season for that deep water fishing on Green Bay is near the end. But
save this for next year. Ice fishing in deep water for whitefish is one of those cool things to do.
I went up with Jeff Norris and we fished from two spots. The first day we drove out on the ice by
Dale Stroshein's place just southwest of Sturgeon Bay. The last two days we went out of George
K. Pinney (formerly Olde Stone Quarry) County Park, just north of Sturgeon Bay.
Both had plowed roads and the packs of shacks were easy to spot. But you can figure out from
any good map for places to begin looking for whitefish on five miles of reef.
Plowed roads or not, guide Brett Alexander pulled us out of a drift we got stuck in setting up the
DEPTHS: The general rule is shallower on cloudy days, deeper on bright days.
I am not sure of the significance of depth because we caught fish the first day in 60 feet, the
second day in 85 and the last day in 51.
Of course the full moon might have mattered. We fished--Wednesday to Friday, March
4-6--exactly around the full moon on Thursday.
GEAR: Originally, Norris favored medium action rods. But after our three days, both he and I were
leaning more toward medium heavy or even heavy action rods. Fishing at that depth it helps to
most importantly to feel the bite.
Here is the key point to gear: You have to be able to maintain and feel contact with the bottom
and with the fish after you hook one. It’s why Norris calls it a ``contact sport.’’
A camera adds a great deal to the experience and to understanding how fish reacts. Norris
bought one from Howie's Tackle in Sturgeon Bay for our second and third days. It was good
because it came with a 60-foot cord.
At those depths, braided ice line is essential for feel. Norris uses 6-pound braid with a
2-foot, 8-pound fluorocarbon leader.
We used a slider hook (No. 6 Aberdeen baited with a wax worm) above the swivel connecting to
the leader on Day 2. Some fishermen said they caught nearly all their fish on that. We only caught
two little ones on it and I lost two quality fish when the slider hook snagged the bottom of the hole
as I was lifting fish in.
So for the final day, we rerigged and took off the slider hooks.
JIGGING: Fish react differently, depending on the day or weather or depth or whatever mysteries
speak to fish.
On our first day, it took a suble jigging of about 2-4 inches, something that was tough for me
to learn, yet maintaining contact with the bottom.
On Day 2 in 85 feet, my jigging method, a form of hard walleye jigging of jerking the bait 10
to 15 inches in the air, then letting it flutter back was the ticket. I started out catching all the fish
until Norris adjusted.
On Day 3 in 51 feet, it was the exact opposite. Norris’ subtle jigging, really subtle of about 2 inches,
was essential and he caught all the early fish before I adjusted. On camera, I could see that my
hard jigging style, which had worked so well the day before, actually spooked the fish.
I mentioned this before, but contact and constant pressure on the fish when reeling
them in--what Norris calls ``sweet-ass horseshoes’’ for the way they curl up on the way
Put it this way: I went 1-for-7 on fish landed to fish hooked to start on Day 1 before I figured out
that my method of holding the line with my forefinger to feel the bite was at fault. When I hooked
the fish and let go of my forefinger, that momentary loss of contact was enough to allow
the fish to escape.
BAITS: Most of our fish came on a No. 3 black and silver Jigging Shad Rap. If you can find
an actual goby-colored Jigging Shad Rap, even better. We also caught fish with an
1/8th-ounce gold Johnson Splinter jigging spoon, a gold and black Darter and a gold
Buck-Shot Glider Spoon.
HOOKING: It is more a pull than a setting the hook when you feel the weight of a fish, usually
on the drop.
CLEANING FISH: In summer, there are all kind of cleaning options in Sturgeon Bay.
Not in winter.
Norris improvised. He set up his big pop tent in a far corner of the Comfort Inn parking lot,
fired the heater and we did a tag team. He filleted the fish and I basic cleaned them. It was odd,
but it worked. Apparently it was not that odd for Green Bay because no one bothered us.
GENERAL TIPS: If the wind is wicked, it is worth at least renting a shack from one of the guides.
We did that the first day.
Howie’s Tackle and Archery is keyed into the bite and has good knowledgeable people
in Sturgeon Bay.
A BAIT TIP: Mike Norris joined us the final day. The experience intrigued him enough that a couple
days later he found a bait shop that sold baits--Jigging Shad Raps--hand painted to imitate
gobies. It is AMA Archery Bait and Tackle in Brussels, which is just off Route 57 halfway
between Green Bay and Sturgeon Bay.
SMOKING WHITEFISH: This was my first time smoking fish in my old smoker. For the first time,
it went well, but I learned things.
Foremost, I learned that with that many fish. I need to finagle some sort of wire contraption so
I can smoke more at one time. With that many fish fillets to smoke, it took me two days to run
the four batches through the way I am set up now.
Second, I think the next time I will just gut the fish, then smoke the whole fish similar to the way
bloater chubs are smoked.
And I need to work on making my brine less salty. Tom Palmisano recommended using only
enough canning salt to the point where an egg floats.
The other thing is that some of the fish were in the brine for more than 24 hours while I smoked
the fish in batches. That is way too long. I would have been better off saving the fillets in
the refrigerator and putting them in to brine for only a few hours.
I used a mixed of hardwood chunks, apple and hickory.
FINALE: Boy, salty or not, the smoked whitefish are excellent with green onion, tomato slice
on a cream-cheese bagel. It is like reliving the trip.