I've been waiting since 2015 for another crack at ice fishing Grand Traverse Bay. There's no telling when it will freeze again so we put some plans together and headed north for Trouts and Pouts weekend 2019!
The pouts is short for eelpout which is another name for a burbot (not a dogfish). We were going to primarily target lakers and burbot but wouldn't turn down whitefish or cisco if we stumbled upon them. Burbot are most active in the evening/night so we would be targeting them at those times and trout during the day. We were staying on Old Mission Peninsula (thanks Brent, Melissa, and Brad) and were planning on fishing East Bay. We had a decision to make Friday night, cross the bay or trailer to the east side of it. There was no reason to believe the ice wouldn't be safe but it is a little intimidating driving a couple miles over hundreds of feet of water...especially when we were the first crew to do it.
Luckily the ride over there was awesome and it was very cool crossing the bay with no other tracks out there. We picked up a burbot fairly quickly but our graphs were empty for the most part. We had the right crew for finding fish though. Machines, augers, electronics, and a whole lot of motivation. I asked Brent what to look for and took a quick look at my Humminbird Helix with the Lakemaster chip. There was a really obvious spot close by so I headed over and popped a hole. I hit the bottom and got about 5 jigs in and it was fish on! I watched 4 or 5 swim off the bottom while fighting this one so I knew we had found something good. The big problem was I didn't have the big auger, I was drilling test holes with my 6 inch auger and I had a huge burbot on the line. After what seemed like an eternity I finally got his head through the bottom of the hole and trouts and pouts 2019 was on.
I dropped down again and 2 jigs later I had burbot number 2 on. I put another one on the ice within 10 minutes later and then I said something stupid. "I'm content if I don't catch another fish the rest of the night", well guess what I didn't. I had a couple more opportunities and we marked a ton of fish. For some reason they were uncooperative which was frustrating for everyone. However everyone got in on some burbot action and it was a super fun night. The ride in was a cold one, an almost single digits cold one. Thermal Clam Outdoors shanties were extremely important that night as was my Rise float suit for a little peace of mind on the trip across. It was a challenge cleaning those frozen burbs and it made for a late night. But it was back at it for trout in the morning, we were losing one crew member and gaining another as Cameron was driving all the way from LSSU to fish on Saturday.
I had never done the trout thing up there before but it only took a few stops before Brent put us on them. One thing I quickly learned about the trout is that if you don't see one on the electronics in a minute or 2 you better be on the move. Quads/sleds and multiple augers were so important for finding the trout, being successful on a huge body of water is not a lazy man’s game. However once we dialed in an area it was game on, well for everyone but the dragon. Finally he got in on the action while he was cooking brats (which were much appreciated), after that he had it figured out (and landed the biggest trout of the trip). We landed 40 trout on the day and lost many more. We didn't catch any real monsters which was a bit disappointing but the numbers definitely exceeded expectations. P-Line Laser minnows, Jonah Jigs, and moonshine jigs were the most productive baits. Once we dialed in that area we caught them in a bunch of different depths with the most productive being 130 to 175. I did catch a couple trout of 231 feet of water; it takes a long time for a one ounce spoon to get down there. One disadvantage was we were fishing on a steep break, so there was a dead zone on the sonar. These trout were heavily feeding on gobies and were definitely staying tight to the bottom at times. So you couldn't always see them on the electronics. But I did notice if things slacked off with the suspended fish you could often coax a bite by fishing near the bottom and out of the sonar zone. I think some of the fish on the bottom were actively hunting gobies and couldn’t resist a spoon or moonshine jig that was kicking a little sand.
We had a lull in trout action so we packed up and made a 5 mile trip to where we had burbot fished the night before. I hopped off the quad and immediately the Humminbird Helix 7 was showing fish. They were a little high off the bottom though and I was suspecting trout. I couple minutes of jigging and I had one headed toward the surface and it definitely felt more like a burbot. Much to everyone’s surprise a nice whitefish popped out of the hole. That was a nice unexpected bonus but it was slow going for the burbot. I caught a couple nice lakers in the area and then went into search mode but found nothing. As it was getting darker we finally popped a burbot and because of the increasing wind and deteriorating weather we set up the ice shacks. I settled into the shack and tried to turn the heater on but marked a fish at the same time. Who cares about heat when there a fish down there? A couple seconds later and I had my first burbot of the night on. It wasn’t long after landing that one and I was hooked up again (apparently flurries of burbot bites are my thing). I was certainly glad I had a 10 inch hole this time because it ended up being the biggest burbot of the trip. I wish I had put a scale on it but everyone agreed it was definitely over 10lbs. Then things cooled off for me while everyone else caught a few fish. The conditions kept getting worse so we called it an early night but not without one last surprise. I unexpectedly caught my biggest lake trout of the trip; the trout don’t typically bite at night out there so it was a bit unique.
We were going to get out one more time Sunday morning. Muskegon like winds greeted us but the temperature had warmed up. Some slushy spots were forming around the pressure cracks so travel was a bit more difficult on my quad. After checking a couple spots with nothing to show for it we made it back to the juice. The trout were still there but they were bigger. Dragon caught a monster to cap off our trip and it was time to head home. This was one of those trips where the fishing absolutely exceeded expectations. Brent put us on them and it was up to us to get the bites. Unfortunately we didn’t do the greatest job at capitalizing on that and it still bothers me those burbot were just so negative. I can’t stop thinking of ways I could have gotten more bites throughout the weekend, I have a whole lot of tricks to learn when it comes to fishing up there. We ended the trip with 17 burbot, 50 plus lake trout, and 1 whitefish landed. Not to mention the whole trip in itself was just a ton of fun. Thanks again Brent, Melissa, and Brad for the food, a place to stay, and putting up with us all weekend. The use of the body shop as a fish cleaning station was also much appreciated, sorry about the stink! However if you are even in an accident in Traverse City, Craig’s Body Shop is the place to go!
I get a lot of questions about eating those weird looking burbot. Well, we absolutely eat them. They are in my opinion the best tasting freshwater fish. However you have to eat them fresh as they don’t freeze well. One of the unique things you can do with them because of their texture/flavor is make “poor mans lobster”. Simply boil in water (I also added ¼ cup salt and ¼ cup sugar) and dip in butter, it truly does have a lobster like smell and taste. I use the backstraps for that and fry the tail sections. It made for an awesome meal which I hope we don’t have to wait too long to try again.
Enough about ice fishing though, I’m sure most of you are sick of that. I’m ready to move onto spring now too. One sign that spring is near are the upcoming fishing shows. I’ll be at the Grand Rapids Ultimate Sport Show this weekend in the Johnson Outdoors booth. Come check out all the new products and we will be happy to answer all of your questions. I’m sure there are quite a few guys wondering about Helix G3, Solix G2, and the new MEGA+ which provides 20% more detail than the original MEGA. ClearH2O Tackle also has an upcoming show on March 22-24 and I hope to be down there for a day as well. Big thanks to them for getting some last minute trout gear shipped up to Traverse City last weekend.
I’d encourage you to check out some of the latest FishSens blogs. The last couple articles have some helpful hints for finding and catching fish at ice out. Hopefully I will see a few of you at these upcoming events and hopefully we have open water before the next blog!