Thick ice, warm shanty, but fish are few this day


Mar 11, 2001
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Thick ice, warm shanty, but fish are few this day

January 16, 2003


MUNUSCONG BAY -- Chuck Norton pulls his pickup truck onto the ice about halfway down the St. Marys River from Sault Ste. Marie, ready for a day of fishing.

"Things sure have changed over the years," Norton said. "When I was a kid going out with my dad, my hands would freeze all the way down to my butt."

On this cold morning, Norton, 46, and the other 100 or so ice anglers on Munuscong Bay have it a lot better. Shanties, sheds and pop-up tents keep the fishermen out of the wind, and propane heaters warm the enclosures to the point that anglers take off long johns and parkas.

It actually becomes comfortable in the middle of the frozen bay when the outside air is 5 below zero. The wind beats against Norton's Otter II Magnum pop-up, but the tent sweats inside because of the heat generated by Norton's eight-pound propane tank.

"I've got all the comforts of home out here," Norton said. "Heck, I could put a couple of bells on a tip-up and read a book if I wanted to."

Tip-ups allow anglers to fish without holding a rod, but Norton normally doesn't use a tip-up. He prefers jigging.

"Jigging is the way to fish," said Norton, who has won two local ice fishing contests in the last year. "It's the fun way and one of the biggest producers out here."

After parking his truck and driving his snowmobile a couple of miles onto the bay, Norton stopped where he thought a school of walleyes was hanging around, took out his eight-inch auger and drilled a few holes in the ice as the sun started to peek over the bay. He set up his Otter II portable shanty over the holes, lit the heater and started taking off his snowmobile clothes.

"I like this time of morning," he said. "Seems the fish like to bite between 8 and 9, so I like to have a line on the water by 7:45. After that it slows down quite a bit. But out here in the morning it's just me and nature, and it's sure better then sitting around the house doing nothing."

Although the ice in some parts of Michigan still isn't thick enough for fishing, it was eight to nine inches on Munuscong Bay. Norton measured the depth of the water at about four feet.

"The nice thing about fishing the bay is that if you go into the water -- and I've been through the ice a few times -- you only go in about butt deep," he said. "But you gotta be careful out here."

Norton has helped pull many people out of the ice, and he carries ice picks and ropes with him.

"My wife must love me," he said. "She bought them for me."

When the ice doesn't appear strong, Norton will check it with a metal pole to test its thickness.

"When it starts to get rough and the pole goes through, you back off in a hurry," he said.

Norton also has a compass pinned to his jacket and one mounted on the snowmobile.

"I've been out in a couple of snowstorms so wicked you couldn't see anything, and you don't want to head into the channel where the ice hasn't formed yet," he said.

As evidence, Norton pointed to the top of a shed that had broken through the thin ice and sunk to the bottom.

Once Norton settled in the 6-by-6-foot shanty, he hooked a minnow to a line of a homemade pole, two pieces of wood nailed together in an X shape to keep it from being pulled into the water. He then hooked another minnow for his ice fishing rod and started jigging, raising and lowering the baited lure in the hole. Ice fishermen are allowed to run two lines through the ice.

But this windy, sunny morning didn't produce much -- one hammer-handle northern pike he put back in the water.

"Walleyes move so much it's hard to tell where you're going to see 'em," Norton said. "You're only fishing a two-foot part of a five-mile bay. They can be a hard fish to figure out sometimes."

After another hour, Norton headed back toward shore. He would be back on another cold day.

WALLEYE JAMBOREE: The Soo Area Sportsmen's Club will host a Walleye Jamboree on Munuscong Bay on Jan. 24-26. First prize for the biggest walleye is $400. If the winner beats last year's biggest, which weighed 11.14 pounds, the prize increases to $900. There also are divisions for walleye, perch and pike for anglers younger than 15.

Entry forms are available at outdoors shops near Munuscong Bay or by calling 906-647-4002.

"The ice up here is perfect," said Tom Ball, a club board member and owner of Wilderness Treasures, a bait-and-tackle shop in Pickford. "By next weekend we'll have a foot-plus on the bay. But you still have to be careful out there."

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