Sturgeon Fishing on the Rainy River/Lake of the Woods [Video]

Not many anglers get the opportunity to fish for sturgeon.  When the opportunity presented itself to my wife and I, along with my colleague  Brandon Butler to fish the Rainy River near Baudette, MN, we jumped on the chance.

None of us had ever fished for sturgeon before, so we were not entirely sure what to expect.  However, the days leading up to our trip allowed us to talk to friends who had previously had the experience so we weren’t completely blind going in.

Brandon Butler is all smiles with his sturgeon.

Our guide from the Sportsman’s Lodge was more than knowledgeable on the species, and it did not take long for Brandon to land the first sturgeon.  My wife quickly followed, and eventually I was able to put one in the boat.

Throughout the morning we landed several sturgeon along with a few walleye.  I don’t know of any angler that will complain about tossing a few walleye in the cooler.

Our guide Matt explains to my wife Lotte how to safely handle the fish.

Our tactic was to anchor upstream of a hole in the river, toss our bait out and let it settle to the bottom, allow the scent of the bait to move downstream to the fish and wait.  Sometimes the bite would happen within seconds, other times several minutes passed before we felt a light tug on out bait.

Using circle hooks, there was no need to set the hook.  The fish basically hooked itself, and all we needed to do was reel the fish in.

You can count on catching plenty of walleye while fishing for sturgeon.

Our bait was 2 or 3 night crawlers balled up on a circle hook along with an Emerald Shiner that is a natural baitfish in the waters we were fishing.

Lake of the Woods is known for their world-class walleye fishery.  What many don’t know is about the amazing sturgeon fishing that is available.  However that is quickly changing.

Lake Sturgeon fishing has some dates you need to be aware of.  For the 2017 season it began April 24th and ran through May 7th.  Anglers are allowed to keep one fish per calendar year, fish must be 45-50″ inclusive or over 75″.  It was catch-and-release only from May 8th through May 15th.  It was closed from May 16th through June 3oth and was open again from July 1st through September 30th with the same limits mentioned above.  Be sure to check the regulations before heading out next year.

For more information about the Lake of the Woods or the Sportsman’s Lodge, click on their links.

Photos: Brandon Butler



Green Bay – More Than Fishing

When I got an email from Mark Smith, Director of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers to join a few other outdoor journalists on a walleye fishing trip to Green Bay with Wolf Pack Adventures I jumped at the opportunity.
Packing for the trip, I tossed my normal fishing clothes into my bag, along with a couple of sets of “normal” clothes for other activities besides fishing.  But, in the back of my mind I could not see past big walleyes, and couldn’t think of anything else that I would possibly do while I was there than fish.
Our first night in town, we met up with the crew of Wolf Pack Adventures out of Sheboygan, WI., Jarod Higgenbotham from Yakima Bait, a Washington based company, Josh Lantz with St. Croix Rods and Brenda Krainik, director of marketing and communications for the Greater Green Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Our night began with a fabulous supper at St. Brendan’s Inn. To say the trip was off to a good start was an understatement.  Old friends reunited, and new friendships were born.
The crew from Wolf Pack Adventurers did a great job putting us on fish.
Six o’clock came early the following morning, but all were eager to see what the day would bring.  The weather forecasters were not on our side, but we were optimistic for a good day of fishing.
On day one, I would be fishing with Paul Smith, Outdoors Editor for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  Tyler Chisholm would be at the helm of the boat for the day.  Our plan was to troll Slip-N-Glo rigs, nightcrawlers on spinner harnesses, and Mag Lips behind planer boards in about 10-feet of water.  We had a total of eight lines in the water.
Crawlers on a harness worked well on the walleye.
Because of the Spin-N-Glo’s buoyancy, you can troll at speeds as slow as .3 mph and still get the action you are looking for from the baits.  On this day, the cruise control was set at 1 mph. The Mag Lips are high action trolling plugs that dive deep and entice many species of fish to strike with its erratic, darting “skip-beat” action.
The setups did exactly as they were supposed to do, and it did not take long for the first rod to double over.  The only question was what might be on the other end of the line.
A St. Croix rod tipped with a Spin-N-Glo at the business end was a deadly combination.
We were hoping for walleye, but University Bay where we were fishing has many species of fish ready for a quick meal.  The battle was tough fought, but unfortunately the first fish of the day was a respectable sheepshead.  None-the-less, it was a fish, and the Spin-N-Glo proved it is a multi-species rig.  Throughout the next few hours, we boated a few walleyes, sheepshead, and even a couple catfish any “river rat” would be proud of.
After a morning of fishing, lunch was served at Mackinaw’s Grill and Spirits.   Josh Lantz from St. Croix Rods gave a presentation about the rods we have been using.
If you leave Green Bay hungry, it is your own fault.
Boarding the boats for the afternoon trip, it was obvious we were going to get wet, but nobody knew how dangerous it was about to get.
Shortly after departing the harbor, the winds increased speeds, calm waters turned into rough seas, thunder began to roll with lightning strikes not far behind. As we were preparing to head for safety, a lightning strike within 100 yards of the boat was enough to get us to the safety of the harbor a little quicker than we had figured.  Needless to say, our nerves were a little rattled.
After a brief break, the weather finally broke, and we were able to get back out on the water.  Either the fish were going to have lockjaw, or be on a feeding frenzy after the storm.  We were hoping for the latter.
The fishing started off slow at first, but  we were catching the occasional walleye, sheepshead, and catfish.  We were on a schedule that would have us off the water by four pm in order to make it to supper at 1951 West located in Comfort Suites.
Wouldn’t you know it, with 10 minutes left to fish, the bite came on.  In the last 10 minutes, we boated 5 fish between 18 and 22-inches.  As hard as it was to leave, we had reservations that had to be kept.  Hopefully the following morning would start as good as this day had ended.
With full bellies, a game plan was hashed out and boating assignments were made for the following morning.  I would be sharing the boat with fellow AGLOW members, Kristen Monroe, Barb Carey, Gary Nski and Director Mark Smith.  Captain Pat Kalmeron, co-owner of Wolf Pack Adventurers would be our guide for the day, as well as provide the entertainment through his never-ending comical side.
Barb Carey with another walleye for the cooler.
The day started out fast, and continued to hold that trend the rest of the morning.  Several respectable walleyes were netted, sheepshead that put up battles as if their lives depended on it, and Kristen managed to land an 18-pound blue cat, along with several channel cats.
Kristen Monroe got it done with this lunker Blue Cat.
The waters outside of green bay also hold good numbers of perch, smallmouth bass, musky and northern pike.  Each strike is truly going to be a surprise as to what might be on the other end.  One thing is for certain though, the fish are going to fight, and you are going to have fun fighting back.
Jarod gave a presentation about Yakima Bait after our meal at Hagemeister Park. Yakima Bait is based out of Washington, and is just finding its way into the hands of Midwest anglers.  Once the secret is out, the way walleyes are fished will change in the great lakes and other bodies of water.
The afternoon fishing segment proved successful as several walleyes hit the cooler.  The crew at Wolf Pack Adventures went out of their way to get us on fish.  Yakima Bait provided lures that were unlike any I had fished before.  St. Croix offers several fine trolling rods that can take punishment from the biggest of fish.  Paired together, they made a deadly combination.
The trip ended with dinner at 1919 Kitchen & Tap at Lambeau Field.  Not only is there great food served at Lambeau Field, but I heard mention of a football team or something that plays there.  We were fortunate to get a tour of the stadium to see where the Packers play.  Tours are available throughout the year for anyone wanting to see where history was made.
I heard mention of a little football team that plays here.
If you get the chance to visit Green Bay, don’t hesitate.  The fishing is some of the best you will experience, and the historic city has a lot to offer when you are not fishing.  Whether you want to shop, check out the museums, or just spend the day eating, Green Bay has it for you.

Chautauqua County, New York – An Escape from Reality

Growing up in rural Central Illinois there was not a lot to do but fish, hunt, and spend time outdoors.  We did not have all the electronic gadgets that kids entertain themselves with today, and I’m thankful for that.  My version of a spinner that the kids are playing with today was a weedeater.

Spending all the time I did pursuing squirrels, deer, and other game animals, along with plenty of fishing for bluegills and bass as a child only fueled my fire for the outdoors.  With the fire fully engulfed when I entered my adult years, I decided to take my passion for the outdoors and turn it in to a way to make a living.  That is not an easy task to accomplish, but I chose to try my hand at writing about my experiences.  Mainly because I don’t have a T.V face, or a radio voice.

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to do some pretty cool things.  I have been able to hunt and fish some amazing places across the globe.  But, a place I had never visited was the state of New York.  Unfortunately, I would think of New York, and only see the big lights and hear the loud noises associated with the “Big Apple”.  Because of this stereotype I placed on the entire state, I stayed far away.

When it was announced that the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers would be holding their annual conference in New York in 2016, I was a little skeptical.  Again, because I had stereotyped the entire state to be something it wasn’t.

The conference was scheduled to take place in September at Peek’n Peak ( in Chautauqua County, New York.  Chautauqua County ( is the westernmost county in the state of New York comprised of rolling hills, farm ground, beautiful scenery, and the home of Chautauqua Lake.

It did not take long for me to realize that we were far from the hustle and bustle of the big city as we drove through the rolling hillsides and winding roads.  Cottages and vacation homes replaced the big skyscrapers I had imagined seeing.  Cows replaced taxi cabs, and the only smell was fresh, not smog.  OK, so I should have been more open-minded about visiting the state of New York.

Beautiful Peek’n Peak Resort. Photo: Jason Houser

Upon checking in at Peek’n Peak, I was quick to realize this was not your normal resort.  It was almost a town in itself.  Restaurants, a convenience store and gas station, golf courses and more were all available without ever leaving the beauty of the resort.

Throughout the conference we were able to relax in comfort, enjoy fine dining, and experience the thrill of some amazing outdoor activities.

Now, growing up in central Illinois, our biggest bodies of water are lakes comprising of a few hundred acres.  On a good day, an angler might catch a few catfish or bluegill for supper that night, or possibly hook a nice largemouth.

The author with a nice walleye caught while fishing with DreamCatcher Sportfishing. Photo: Lotte Houser

When my wife and I had the opportunity to go fishing with DreamCatcher Sportfishing ( with Capt. Jim Steel on Lake Erie, it was a no-brainer.  My wife, Lotte, had never fished on any of the great lakes, or for that matter, landed a walleye.  That was about to change though.

After a short boat ride, we were ready to fish. Photo; Jason Houser

After a short boat ride, we arrived where we would be fishing.  The Capt. and his deck hand made quick work of getting the lines in the water, and now all we had to do was enjoy the calm waters and wait.

We didn’t have to wait long though.  Within minutes the first rod began to shake, and a respectable walleye was being reeled to the boat.  For the next 3 hours, the excitement continued as we reeled in some impressive walleye.  My wife not only caught her first walleye, but it measured 32-inches.  To top that off, she also caught her first yellow perch measuring 13-inches.  To say she, and the rest of the boat were happy anglers would be an understatement.

Not a bad first perch. Photo: Jason Houser

Unfortunately, we could only spend a few hours on the boat before heading back to the resort to get back at the business in hand for the conference.

Throughout the conference, we had our normal meetings, and banquets, but we were able to throw in some other fun adventures as well.

One of those adventures happened to be ziplining there at the resort.  Not many resorts I know of have their own zipline course.

Lotte is preparing to take the step off the zipline tower at Peek’n Peak. Photo: Jason Houser

Neither my wife or I had ever attempted such a thing, and were a little indecisive if it was something we wanted to try.  But, after talking with others who made the jump, watching their accomplishment, and the smile on their faces, we said yes.

After a thorough safety speech, and putting on plenty of protective gear, we made the ride up the “mountain” on a ski lift (another first).  Waiting at the top was an experienced crew that put our minds to ease.

After some self-motivating talk, and reassurance from the staff that everything would be fine, my wife took her first step in to thin air, and I was quickly following.  I don’t know exactly how long the trip down took, but just for a few seconds I could imagine how a bird feels as he soars over the treetops taking in the beautiful landscape.  As my feet touched solid ground again, a sense of relief went through my body.  But, the exhilarating rush of what just happened swept through and replaced any fear or anxiety I might have felt.  What a rush!

There is so much to do near Chautauqua.  My wife managed to escape the conference to visit the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum and Center for Comedy, along with visiting the final resting place of Lucille.  This was a must do for my wife as she is one of the biggest fans of I Love Lucy that I can think of.  Afterwards, she was able to do some wine tasting at one of the many wineries in the area.

Inside the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum and Center for Comedy. Photo: Lotte Houser

If you enjoy hiking and/or biking, be sure to take advantage of the many trails that run through Chautauqua County.  I you would like to visit Amish country, they have that too.  Even the opportunity to visit a lighthouse is available at the Dinkirk Historical Lighthouse.

Just about anything you could imagine doing sits in just one county in western New York.  If you’re looking for a trip for your family, whether it is fishing in the summer, a round of golf, skiing in the winter, or just relaxing without the pressures of work, home and the everyday hustle and bustle of reality on your mind, be sure to visit Chautauqua County, New York.

Peek’n Peak has a great golf course at their resort. Photo: Jason Houser






How To: Fishing From a Kayak

Have you ever considered fishing from a kayak?  Here is a great article from discussing strategic kayak positioning.

Yes – a fish can be almost anywhere, but your odds increase drastically if you focus on 3 key areas: Points, Pockets and Trenasses. Points make great places to catch fish because fish tend to use them as ambush points. This can be particularly true when you have some tidal movement – especially on a falling tide. Pockets are areas where fish hang out also. I tend to have better luck in pockets in three situations: strongly moving tides (fish are lazy and like to hide out), slack tides (not sure why) and incoming tides. The third area with high fish probabilities are trenasses. Trenasse is a Cajun word for small ditch or waterway. These areas congregate fish who gather and wait for food to wash out of the marsh. [Continued]

Learn How to Never be Without Bait Again

Fishing season is upon us. Bluegills will be the focus of many anglers in the following weeks, even months. Many of today’s anglers remember as a youngster the times spent with an adult in search of earthworms that would later be used for bait on a small hook with hopes of landing a mess of bluegills for supper later that night. Many of today’s anglers still search for their own bait, carrying on the tradition to their children, but others do not. Fishermen have options today. They can dig for their own bait, buy it from a retailer or raise it.

Some fisherman see little point in paying for fishing worms when they can dig up their own in abundance. If you have the extra time, you really can save money by locating this awesome fish bait in their natural habitat without a lot of effort.

It is best to dig for earthworms when the ground is soft and moist. I prefer to dig right after a rain when the worms begin to burrow to the surface of the ground. You will have to dig a lot deeper if the ground is dry.

Worms prefer dark, damp areas. Earthworms often frequent logs and large rocks in wooded areas. It is likely to see a few wiggling out in the open when you lift the rocks.

Using a small shovel or spade, dig up moist sections of the ground. As you bring up mounds of dirt, sift through them with your fingers looking for worms.

Place some soil in a small pail to keep any worms you find nourished, and to help prevent them from drying out before they can be used.

Dig only what you will need for your next fishing trip, as worm storage can sometimes be tough. If you think it will be a while before your next fishing trip, consider releasing your unused worms back to the earth. I have also kept earthworms in my refrigerator for up to one week after I have caught them. Just be sure to keep them covered with moist soil.

Maybe you do not feel like digging your own worms. Raising them is easier than you might think. In about six months it is possible to have thousands of healthy worms to choose from.

Begin by purchasing about 100 Red Wigglers worms for breeder stock. You can find worms to purchase for this purpose off of the internet, or ads in many outdoor publications. These are top feeders and will not burrow in the soil like garden worms.

Next, in a watertight container, I like to use plastic storage containers, fill the container with soil (4 to 8 inches deep), depending on the containers size.

Mix in an inch or so of organic matter, such as leaves or rotten straw. Then mix 1 pound of cornmeal and one-half pound of vegetable shortening into the top 2 to 3 inches of the soil. Then add the worms.

Cover the tub with a damp burlap bag or board planks. Add another dose of the cornmeal/shortening mixture in one month and then every two weeks afterward. Add about 1 quart of water while feeding.

Keep the worm bed cool and moist in the summer; it’s best to place it in the shade. A tub 2 feet in diameter and 10 inches deep will give you about 3,000 to 5,000 worms in a year. When you harvest for bait, be sure to leave some worms for breeding stock. Do not feed worms’ meat scraps or bones.

If red wigglers are not your forte there are companies that sell kits that help anglers raise their own meal worms and wax worms. You can find such a company in the back of this publication in the classifieds.

With fishing season at its prime get outside and enjoy it. This weather will only stay around for a while. Whether you dig your own bait, buy it from a local sporting goods store or raise it yourself, you are sure to have a good time, make memories and catch plenty of fish.

Bullheads – The Underrated Fish

No doubt, bullheads are not the prettiest fish in the water, but, boy do they taste good. Seasons and limits on bullheads are very generous compared to other fish. Bullheads are aggressive feeders that put up one heck of a fight once hooked. They might not be known for pulling hard, but they will not give up easily. All of these put together make bullheads a great fish for fast and fun fishing action that keeps fisherman happy for hours.

Because of the bullheads aggressive feeding habits they are a pretty easy fish to catch. They will eat anything from bologna, hot dogs to dough balls. However, my favorite bait is a night crawler on a size 2 long-shank hook. Bullheads are known to swallow the hook more times than not. The long shank on the hook will makes it easier to get to with a pair of needle-nosed pliers. Another good hook is the circle hook that will likely hook the fish in the corner of the mouth, but not always.

There is not much involved with fishing tackle for the bullhead. A light-to-medium spinning rod and reel with 6-pound line is more than adequate. Add a splitshot sinker a foot above the hook and you are ready to fish. Bullheads feed on or near the bottom and the sinker will put your bait right where it needs to be.

Bullheads are relatively shallow during the springtime and throughout early summer, with the fishing be good during daylight hours as well as after dark. They can be found feeding aggressively in areas with muddy bottoms. All that has to be done is throw the night crawler out, let it sink, and then wait. There is no need to put any movement into the bait. If there are bullheads around, they will bite.

After the bullheads have spawned and we get more into the summer months, the fish will move to deeper water in the 12 – 16 foot range. During these warm summer months I recommend night fishing. Everything else is the same though: fishing the bottom with a night crawler.

Bullheads are nothing more than a catfish. They too, like a channel cat, has the dorsal and lateral spines that can “sting” you. Hold the fish by the fishing line and with your other hand, slide the fish up from the tail section until your palm comes to the back side of the dorsal spine. Next, grip the bullhead while keeping a watchful eye on the lateral spines. Before you know it, handling a bullhead will be second nature.

Some people like to fillet bullheads like any other fish. I like to clean bullheads the same as I do any catfish. Skinning a bullhead is very easy with a couple of cuts and a couple of pairs of pliers. That way the spines can be eliminated by simply snipping them off, which makes the fish easier to skin. Use one pair of pliers to grab the lower lip of the fish, cut a line in the skin around the head, grab this skin with the other pair of pliers, and pull. With a little practice, you will be able to peel the skin back in one piece.

The only thing that is left to do is enjoy the taste of the delectable fish. They are wonderful to eat with a texture unlike any other fish I have ate before.

Black Walnut-Crusted Bullheads

4 fresh or frozen bullhead fillets
Salt and pepper
¼ cup milk
1 egg
2 cups cornflakes, finely crushed
¼ cup finely chopped black walnuts
1 Tablespoon butter
¼ cup pure maple syrup
¼ cup butter, softened

Thaw fish if frozen. Rinse fish; pat dry with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper. Measure thickness of fish fillets. In a shallow dish, beat together milk and egg with a fork. In another shallow dish, combine the cornflakes and walnuts. Dip fish fillets in milk mixture, allowing excess to drip off. Dip coated fish fillets in walnut mixture, turning to coat evenly. In a large skillet, melt the 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Cook fish, half at a time, in hot butter for 4 to 6 minutes per ½-thickness, or until golden brown and fish flakes easily with a fork, turning once. Reduce heat as necessary to prevent over browning. For maple sauce: In a small saucepan, bring syrup to boiling. Remove from heat and whisk in ¼ cup butter until well combined. Serve with fish.

How to Remove the Y-Bones from a Northern Pike [VIDEO]

Northern Pike are plentiful, but too few people take advantage of the tasty fish. The reason is that most folks don’t know how to take the Y-bones out of a pike.

When I first started catching pike many years ago, I didn’t know how to remove these bones either. I’d grind the pike up, bones and all, and make pike patties, very similar to salmon patties.

Now that I know how to remove the Y-bones, I’m able to enjoy this fish like I would any other type of fish.

Learn how to remove these bones, and enjoy Northern Pike the way it should be, by taking in the tips offered in this video.

Why Not Choose Why Knot Guide Service for Ice Fishing?

With Illinois having above normal temperatures this winter, ice fishing opportunities have been hard to come by.  Actually, there have only been a couple days of “safe” ice that I was able to drill holes through.

It was nice to be able to catch a few bluegills for the frying pan, but my ice fishing needs were not getting fulfilled.  The only options I had was to wait it out and hope for ice that might not happen, or go to where the ice was.  Option one was not really an option at all, so I decided to go to where the ice was.  My nephew Ray, and wife Lotte decided to join me.

After doing some research online, we chose Why Knot Guide Service out of Dyckesville, Wisconsin with Captain Zach Burgess located 5 hours north of my home in Central Illinois. We would be fishing on the Bay of Green Bay.  On the day we arrived, there was plenty of ice, and the perch and whitefish were just beginning to bite. 

Why Knot Guide Service did an exceptional job putting us on the fish.

Upon our late-night arrival at our hotel, Lipsky’s On the Bay, we checked in to get some rest before we hit the ice at first light the next morning.  The temperatures were forecasted to be in the low teens, and the ice thickness was nearing 10-inches thanks to below zero temperatures the previous 5 days.

After a short drive onto the lake, we parked at our fishing grounds.  A warm shack was waiting for us, and our guide quickly took up the task of drilling holes.  The plan was to have tip-ups outside of the shack that we could keep an eye on while we sat in the warmth of the shack and fished with small jigs tipped with grubs inside.

The tip-ups provided plenty of action throughout the day.

While setting our third tip-up of the morning, the first tip-up we set just minutes before sprang to life, and Ray quickly pulled up a nice whitefish.  If this was any indication as to how the rest of the day was going to be, we were in for a treat.

Plenty of big whitefish like this one were pulled through the ice.

After a short introduction of the techniques we would be using to jig, and a quick course on what we were seeing on the electronics, we were ready to begin jigging and catching fish.

It did not take long for the first fish to be coaxed into biting Lotte’s grub tipped jig.  It wasn’t a perch she was hoping for, but we were happy to be pulling any fish through the ice.  In this case, a nice whitefish.

The warm shack made fishing enjoyable.

The action continued on throughout the day as we were pulling perch and whitefish through the ice at a pace that did not allow us to get bored.  We brought a football along for a worst-case scenario situation, but we never had to resort to tossing the football back and forth on the frozen tundra.

There were two times that the electronics showed the fish had moved off, but Zack was always ready to move us to pre-scouted areas on the lake, and the bite was quickly back on.

The use of electronics let us know when we had fish below us, and when it was time to move to a different location

I have ice fished with guides before that set us in a spot, and you did not see them again for a while.  That was not the case with Why Knot Guide Service.  Zach was right beside us the entire time, giving us pointers, improving our odds of getting a limit of fish.

We did not get our limit of perch or whitefish that day.  But, we got plenty to take home for several meals, and had a great time trying.  There is no doubt that we could have got our limits, but we only had a few hours that we could fish before we had to head home.  Christmas was only 2 days away, and 5 hours of fishing was our limit before we had to return to the hustle and bustle of the holiday preparations.

We enjoyed fishing with Zach, and something many Midwest fisherman do not think about is just how close good ice fishing is to them.  Instead of waiting for ice that might not ever happen in your neck of the woods, take advantage of the good ice fishing that is just a few hours away.  Everyone in the Midwest can be on ice in just a few hours. 

Guided ice fishing adventures are not expensive, and everybody who loves to ice fish owes themselves the joy of fishing on a big lake with someone who knows where the fish are, and how to catch them.

Besides fishing for whitefish and perch in the winter, Why Knot Guide Service also offers ice fishing for walleye and pike, as well ice shack rentals for the do it yourselfer.  Trout, salmon, walleye, northern pike and musky fishing trips are also available from spring through fall months on their Baha Cruiser that comfortably holds six people.

For more information contact Zach at 920-559-7473, or email him at  Lodging is available at Lipsky’s On the Bay, 920-866-2277.


Ice Fishing for White Bass

Just because the temperature outside is well below freezing, a foot of snow blankets the ground and eight inches of ice tops the lakes in the area does not mean that there is not fishing to be done.  There is nothing like pulling a mess of panfish through the holes in the ice.  Especially when they average 17-inches long, and fight like a horse.  That is what you can expect when ice fishing for white bass.

The first thing in ice fishing is safety.  Do not venture onto the ice unless it is at least 4 to 6 inches thick.  This is the minimum thickness that will safely support a person and equipment.  Keep in mind that snow weakens the stability of the ice.  Do not test just one area of the ice and assume that it will be the same depth at all areas of the lake, it will not be.

 Ice fishing accidents can quickly become deadly.  Do not ice fish alone.  Always have someone with you, and let people back at the house know where you will be and when you expect to return.  That way, if you do not return on time, they know exactly where to go to look for you.

Also, frostbite and hypothermia are concerns that ice fisherman must be aware of.  You must be alert as to the amount of time you are on the ice and also of the weather conditions while you are fishing.  Do not get overwhelmed with all the excitement and stay out too long.

Consider some sort of ice fishing shack to protect you from the elements if you plan to stay on the ice for a long period of time.  There are plenty of commercially manufactured shelters on the market. Recently, I have been using a shelter manufactured by Clam.  It is easy to erect, and is well insulated. Even a deer/turkey hunting blind is better than nothing.

There is nothing wrong with building a fire on the ice to stay warm.  It will not weaken the ice, or melt through as long as the ice was thick as it should have been when you began.          

Ice fishing is not an expensive sport to get started in, and the gear is simple to use.  An ice fishing rod and small mechanical reel will cost you less than ten-dollars.  I highly recommend ice fishing gear compared to regular fishing tackle, fish bites under the ice can be difficult to feel with normal-sized outfits.  I suggest an ice fishing rig with 4-pound test for white bass

 There are many options available when it comes to what bait to use.  For artificial bait, start with vertical jigging spoons.  Tip these jigs with 3 or 4 spikes, waxworms, or a minnow head.  If the school has moved out, put on an entire minnow to try to grab their attention. 

The first thing to do is lower your bait to the desired depth.  If you are going to catch a big fish out of a hole it will happen rather quickly.  You have to be ready as your bait sinks on the first drop down a new hole. 

 If you do not catch a fish on the downward fall, let the bait sit for a minute, and then lightly jig it in a slow, smooth motion.  Do your best to maintain a rhythm in your jigging.  When you feel a bump, however small it might be, set the hook.  Because you are using light line be very careful not to break it. 

When using live bait, I prefer mealworms and wax worms for bluegill, and minnows when fishing for crappies.  Always use small in-line bobbers and watch for the slightest bite.

 It is very important to have a good fish locator.  This will allow you to see your lure, know where the fish are holding, and know when fish are moving in on it.  But, do not be one of those anglers that anticipates the bite by what the locator is showing, and set the hook before the fish actually has the bait.  Another great thing about a locator is that you will know when the school has moved out.  This is a good time to get a bite to eat, use the restroom, and more. 

When the white bass are biting, the action can be quick.  A few minutes of sown time is sometimes welcomed.  Your locator will show you when the fish move back in, and they will.

White bass lakes are traditionally dark or stained water.  White bass tend to school up on points, shoals, flats and even around brush piles.  Once you find a school, the action can be nonstop.  But, when the school moves you can either drill more holes to try a relocate them, or you can wait them out.

Some of the best advice when searching where to fish on a lake, and what bait to use can be gathered at the local bait shop.  They hear what is happening on the ice, and want you to catch fish.  If you are catching fish, you will be back to buy more bait, coffee and snacks.

Be sure you know the laws.  Some bodies of water regulate the number of holes, number of rods and the number of fish you can keep.

Stay safe and stay legal.



Snappers, Barracudas, A Big Shark and More

Feature  Photo:  Jason Houser

Growing up in the Midwest, my fishing opportunities were often limited to bass, bluegill and catfish.  The biggest body of water we ever got to fish on was a local farm pond, or the small river winding through the countryside, and on special occasions, we would launch a boat on a local lake of a few hundred acres.

When the opportunity to fish with Southern Instinct Charters near Ft. Myers, Florida came along, it was an opportunity that I could not turn down. We would be fishing in the Gulf of Mexico for a variety of fish that we certainly did not have in my home state of Illinois.

I certainly could not go on this trip alone, so my brother-n-law Tom, and a couple other guys were quick to say yes to such an opportunity.  Our wives and even my mother wasn’t going to let us go at this alone, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.  After an 18-hour drive, we reached our destination at the Hilton Garden Inn in Ft. Myers.  This would be our base camp for the trip.

The folks at the Hilton Garden Inn did an outstanding job providing us with everything we needed. Photo: Jason Houser

Our accommodations where amazing.  Great chefs, comfortable rooms, friendly staff that were eager to help, and I can’t forget to mention the fresh cookies that were always available at the front desk.  I highly recommend this hotel when you get the chance to visit Ft. Myers.

Our first day in the area allowed us time to do some sightseeing before it was time to rest up for a day of fishing.  The guys and gals thought the best sightseeing would be at the beach, and I agreed.  After a few hours of enjoying the water, it was time to get some sleep, for we had fish to catch the next day.

We couldn’t think of a better way to relax than at the beach. Photo:Jason Houser

Arriving at the docks at Port Sanibel Marina before first light the following morning, Captain Ryan Kane owner of Southern Instinct Charters had his 36-foot Contender ready to hit the water.  While we were fishing, the ladies would be visiting Sanibel Island, experiencing the shopping, food, beautiful beaches, and of course the great shelling the area is known for.

We were going to begin our trip with a 50-mile ride out to where we hoped to hook up on some Snapper.  But, with several hundred horsepower’s of Yamaha pushing the boat, it would be a quick trip.

Arriving where we hoped to catch some Yellowtail Snapper and Grouper, Capt. Ryan and Capt. Trevor Sushil quickly set anchor and begin chumming.  Of course, this type of fishing was new to all of us, so we had a quick lesson on how to fish, and what to expect.

We were quickly on the snapper, but the problem we were facing were the barracudas in the area.  It was a battle between fisherman and barracuda to see who wanted the hooked snapper the worst.  Of course, we did, but more times than we would like, the barracuda took the opportunity to eat our fish before we could get them to the boat.  That is one thing about fishing in these kinds of waters, there is always another fish ready to eat what you have on your line.

It was a frustration, but at the same time it added an extra element of excitement to the adventure.  We caught a couple of the barracuda throughout the excitement.  I have to say that these fish have some teeth, and an odor I have never known a fish to have.

A couple hours into the trip, Tom hooked a nice snapper, but the barracudas were aggressively trying to strip it off the hook.  Tom was reeling like I have never seen a fisherman reel before.  Unfortunately, the barracuda won, and Tom was able to land just the head of the snapper.

Wanting to have a little fun, Trevor hooked the head of the snapper onto a rod and reel combination that was suitable for catching one of these 4-foot barracudas that swam just feet from the boat.  It did not take long for one of these long fish to take the bait, and the fight was on.

A few minutes into the battle, Capt. Ryan made the comment that the barracuda was gone.  Tom knew he was still fighting a big fish, and had to question the Captain’s comment.  He explained to us that the barracuda just got ate by a shark, a big shark.  Now this was not what we expected, and we certainly were not fishing with a rod and reel combo setup for sharks.  We were not in Illinois anymore.

With just a 30-pound leader, the chances of ever landing the shark seemed impossible.  But, Tom was ready to give it a try.  As seconds turned into minutes, then hours, the shark began to show signs of slowing down.  We began to think that we were at least going to be able to get a glimpse of the big fish.

Tom had his hands full fighting the big shark. Photo: Jason Houser

Finally, we caught a glimpse of silver in the depths of the gulf.  Slowly the silver speck turned into the outline of a fish, a big fish.  Ever so slowly, Tom was able to bring the fish to the surface at the boat’s side, and lay a hand on the leader.  The giant fish turned out to be a Bull Shark with an estimated length of 9-feet.

This Bull Shark was the highlight of our fishing. Photo: Jason Houser

The look of excitement and exhaustion on Tom’s face as the fish of a lifetime swam off said it all.  He had the just experienced the fishing opportunity that many anglers will never feel, and he made the most of it.

Ready to move on, we decided to target some Bonitos, a member of the tuna family.  These fish were everywhere, and it was just a matter of getting a lure into the middle of the large schools of fish working the water’s surface.  With just a couple jerks of the lure, we would be hooked up on a fighter.

It was our intention to catch a few Bonitos to be used as bait for bigger fish, but the action was nonstop and we could not leave.  Cast after cast we were hooking into these fish that were fighters like I have never experienced before.  With line screaming from our reels, it was hard to leave the area to go look for fish elsewhere.  A wise fisherman never leaves fish to go look for fish. It turned out that we ended up filleting the fish that many locals release, and were surprised how good they were when cooked to a medium-rare. 

Fifteen hours into the trip we were able to experience fishing like we have never experienced before.  Throughout the day we were fishing in waters with 6-foot waves, but the boat handled it perfectly and no one got sick.  We landed yellowtail snappers, barracudas, and even a bull shark.  What a trip.  If you are interested in fishing with Captain Ryan give him a call at 239-896-2341, or on the web at

Of course, the Ft. Myers area has a lot more to offer than just fishing.  You can’t come to the area without enjoying fresh seafood.  We ate at several restaurants, but our favorite was Pinchers.  We walked in the doors of Pinchers at The Marina at Edison Ford on empty stomachs, and left with more than satisfied bellies. With fresh seafood caught daily, and several locations to choose from, it is a must to visit one of the restaurants when in the area.

We enjoyed our meal at Pinchers located at The Marina at Edison Ford. Photo: Jason Houser

I reluctantly ordered the soft shell crab dinner.  I was not for sure about eating the whole crab, but once I tried it, it became one of my seafood favorites.  I was able to steal a couple bites of crab cakes off my wife’s plate, and there were no complaints there either.  Without a doubt, the best crab cakes I have ever eaten.

The view overlooking the Caloosahatchee River was beautiful. Photo: Jason Houser

After a lunch overlooking the marina, we made a quick walk to the Edison & Ford Winter Estates. 

With over 20 acres of botanical gardens, the walk through the estates was breathtaking.  The women didn’t want to leave.  It was a great opportunity to step back in time to see how a couple of the greatest inventors and business legends lived.

Taking a peek into the homes, you could only imagine what was discussed around the dinner tables at night.  The first inground pool is even on the estate’s property.  Inground pools sure have changed over time.

The highlight of the tour for me was walking into Thomas Edison’s lab.  It was a thrill to see where so many things we take for granted today, were only a thought in a brilliant man’s mind decades ago.

Looking into Thomas Edison’s lab was amazing. Photo: Jason Houser

We chose to take the guided tour so we could learn as much as we could about the estate, but for those of you that would rather go at it alone, there is that opportunity as well with plenty of literature to keep you informed.

After the tour, we decided to backtrack to the marina, and take a boat tour with Pure Florida.  Our wives had yet to be on the water, and we could not think of a better way to spend the remainder of the day.

Our 1 ½ hour cruise on the Caloosahatchee River allowed us to see Mangrove forests, bird rookeries, dolphins, and the Edison & Ford Winter Estates from the water.

Seeing firsthand what the river had to offer was more than we could have hoped for. Photo: Jason Houser

The Pure Florida crew were very knowledgeable of the area, and made the entire cruise not only educating, but fun too.  They also have sunset tours available as well.

The crew at Pure Florida did an exceptional job. Photo: Jason Houser

We went to the Marina of Edison Ford for lunch, but stayed the day.  There was just that much to do. 

Not only is there great food, wonderful lodging, and historical tours in the Ft. Myers area, but there is so much more as we found out.  The area is great for weddings, honeymoons, and family vacations as we witnessed plenty of all.  If you get the opportunity to visit the Ft. Myers/Beaches of Sanibel area, take it. 



This article started out in my mind to be about our fishing experience, but as I began to write, I could not leave out all the great family opportunities available.  If you would like more information on Pinchers restaurants visit,  For Edison & Ford Winter Estates go to  For a great sightseeing tour of the area, should be your tour of choice.  And of course, for great lodging when you are not seeing the sites or out fishing, rest your head at the Hilton Garden Inn,  To plan your own adventure, contact the folks at the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau on the web at or call 1-800-237-6444.


The views off of Ft. Myers are breathtaking.