An Outdoorsman’s Journal
By: Mark Walters
Gators on the Mississippi
Hello friends: I have always enjoyed trying to catch large northern pike both through the ice and in open water. This past week I headed to Lake Onalaska, which borders northern La Crosse, is a part of the Mississippi River, and is a very good place to fish gators.
Saturday, Feb. 15 High 33, low 20 I had my Chevy pickup about as loaded as it could be for this adventure, which would cover two nights of sleeping on the ice. Michelle Chiaro is originally from Little Rock, Ark., and has found that she really enjoys winter camping and ice fishing. My golden retrievers Fire and Ruby would take the back seat of the truck and the bed was as loaded with gear as I could get it.
First challenge: Lake Onalaska has not had good ice this winter and because of that some trucks have gone through the ice. Yesterday’s low was -22, and my intelligence people told me that they thought I could drive onto the ice with my truck and with the windows open, so that is what I did.
The ice was doing some major cracking and Michelle was petrified. I zoned her out for the drive, and we made it to where this gang has caught big gators in the past. I started drilling holes with my Jiffy “Pro 4” and was relieved to see that there was 12 to 16 inches of frozen water below me.
Michelle and I put out six tip-ups and began the rather large task of building camp. I did notice and would the entire trip that very few people were driving trucks on the ice and I was certain that it was just a matter of time and one of us was going to be doing hand-to-line combat with a gator big enough to bite a person’s hand off if it was given the opportunity.
We spent the day visiting with all of our neighbors on the ice and had us a first-rate social experience.
To put it bluntly, today was a non-bite on Lake Onalaska.
Sunday, Feb. 16 High 28, low 14 It was cold enough that the ice below was growing so the entire night the ice was booming and banging like a thunderstorm. That was music to my ears, but not so much for a woman that grew up in the south.
Amazingly today was another non-bite. About mid-morning with Michelle’s help we spread all our tips-ups out over about three acres with the hope of finding perhaps one hungry gator.
In mid-afternoon we saw a guy walking toward our camp and it was my good buddy Mike Brown, who is the president of the Coulee Chapter of Kids And Mentors Outdoors. Mike would not drive on the ice but made the one mile walk to visit with us and we had a great time.
Good luck came our way when just before dark Michelle had a flag and caught about a 25-inch northern pike. While she was fighting that fish she had another flag and this fish was a true hog. The fight lasted a good 10 minutes and was a sight to behold as it seemed like her trophy got away several times.
A part of fighting a big fish on a tip-up is that sometimes the fish swims toward the person who is trying to catch it. That happened three times and so it was a rather intense experience. In the end Michelle iced what was probably a 12-pound gator and was she ever happy. Mr. Brown headed off the ice at about dark and we listened to music in the shack and ate very good food until well after midnight.
The following morning, we broke camp and fished until noon and once again it was a non-bite, but we did not care. All goals had been met and thankfully the Chevy stayed on top of the ice, and the next snowstorm did not start until an hour after I put the truck in the shed.
I have five more ice fishing trips on the horizon and as I have always said, winterismyfavoriteseason. Sunset
It takes a lot of gear to go winter camping and ice fishing.
Unsafe ice conditions have been a problem for ice fishermen this winter.
Michelle Chiaro was all smiles after catching this northern pike on Lake Onalaska.