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Where lake trout lurk

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I happened by chance to be out fishing with Jim the same day as Chris was out gathering info for this story. I guess we picked the wrong day huh Jim? grin

Where lake trout lurk

As we fish Lake Superior we seek biters, not sniffers, and we try all sorts of tactics. Sometimes the trout win. Then again, it would be fun to land a whopper.

By Chris Niskanen

cniskanen@pioneerpress.com

Posted: 02/08/2009 12:01:00 AM CST

BAYFIELD, Wis. — Bobbing for trout isn't what you think it is.

Jim Hudson and I are 10 miles out on frozen Lake Superior, sitting in the midst of the Apostle Islands. Snow squalls, punctuated by bright bits of sunshine, have added to the dramatic icescape on this morning.

We're sitting in an ice shelter on 14 inches of ice. Beyond the islands there is open water and a vast watery expanse that is considered the world's greatest freshwater lake.

Below us, in 170 feet of water, lake trout are cruising for food. Some are quite large — 30 pounds or more. Hudson, a native of Bayfield, knows they are down there and he has many theories about these fish.

One is that they travel on currents, sniffing the water constantly for their next meal.

We are fishing in one of those currents and our heavy jigs are tipped with big chunks of cut herring.

"Some days you might only get one bite out here," Hudson, 30, says. "But that one bite can be a 20-pound fish."

Hudson uses his rod to jig his bait up and down off the lake bottom — this is what is called "bobbing" for trout. No fishing bobbers are used. Other anglers might call it jigging, but locals around here call it bobbing because that's what is always has been called.

Hudson explains:

"When my grandfather fished out here, you had two wooden spools you put together and filled with cotton twine that was coated in tar. The tar provided the weight. My grandfather would come out here with dog

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sled teams or they would just walk from shore.

"Later, they would use spools of thin wire," Hudson continues. "The wire was easier because it lasted longer than the cotton twine, but they still moved their jigs up and down in a bobbing action. That's why we call it bobbing for trout."

Hudson's grandfather, Franklin Basinay, is gone now, but he was one of those Lake Superior characters of French-Canadian heritage who worked as a commercial fisherman, fishing guide and "jack-of-all-trades," Hudson says.

Hudson carries on that tradition.

He works the night shift as a Bayfield police officer and spends his spare time guiding anglers on Lake Superior and Chequamegon Bay. He loves the lifestyle. The night before we met, he patrolled the Bayfield streets until 2 a.m., then slept for a few hours.

At 7 a.m., he met me and friend and several other anglers near the ice road that goes to nearby Madeline Island.

We parked our vehicles on the ice and then drove snowmobiles out among the islands, where the lake trout lurk.

Unlike his grandfather, Hudson, who owns On the Spot Guide Service, has the benefit of modern technology. He uses GPS to find his best fishing spots and fish locators to look for fish in extreme depths

— up to 250 to 300 feet. He also uses portable ice shacks and power augers — which means he can drill lots of holes and move often in a single day.

"I want to find biters, not sniffers," he says of the sometimes-finicky trout.

We start by fishing in 160 feet of water in a moderate current — we can see it pull our lines at an angle to the hole — then we move to 230 feet of water. We find only sniffers there, too. So we move into 250 feet where Hudson's friend, Craig Putchat, who owns a local bait store, had caught some trout recently.

Even though there is more than 10 inches of ice on the lake, Hudson doesn't take chances. He uses satellite images to check the ice pack daily and he never travels alone on the lake. His has respect for the lake, which he can see from his bedroom window.

"The lake has a peaceful and tranquil affect on me," he says while we bob.

"When I was a kid, all I wanted to do is move away. Now I wake up every morning looking forward to the lake. It has a calming effect."

Later in the afternoon, we move back toward the islands and fish again in 160 feet of water. Hudson can see from his fish locator that we're still having visits from the sniffers, not the biters. Also, clouds of baitfish — either herring of whitefish — appear on the screen.

"You know," Hudson says wistfully, "people love to eat whitefish, but I can't stand it. When I was growing up, we ate boiled whitefish, fried whitefish, broiled whitefish and whitefish livers. It was more than a delicacy in my house; it was a staple.

"My grandfather is probably rolling in his grave listening to me say that."

Hudson eventually nails a 3-pound lake trout, "a fish I'll eat any day," but that is the only fish we catch during the day.

"And the trout win again," he groans as we pack up to go home.

But two days later, Hudson sends me pictures of smiling clients that fished with him the day after I left. They're holding huge lake trout, and Hudson is gripping a whooper.

"Tuesday we had 11 fish, Wednesday we had 16 and today we had 26," he wrote. "Too bad you had to leave."

The sniffers had turned into biters, but I wasn't there to see it.

Outdoors editor Chris Niskanen can be reached at cniskanen@ pioneerpress.com.

FISHING LAKE SUPERIOR AROUND THE APOSTLE ISLANDS

Jim Hudson owns On the Spot Guide Service in Bayfield, Wis. He guides anglers on Chequamegon Bay and the Apostle Islands region of Lake Superior. He guides for lake trout, smallmouth bass, brown trout and salmon.

Web: www.fishchequamegonbay.com.

Phone: 715-779-5833

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Yes, Darren it was a fun but tough day for Lakers. First time I ever fished close to 300ft deep.

Thanks Jim for a great day on the lake.

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Ya you can have a 10 fish day or lay the old goose egg out there. Its a blast hooking a 10# Laker in 150 plus feet of wtaer and have it peel line off. Its even more fun setting the hook into one you dont think you will ever move off the bottom.

Isnt it crazy using 3 and 4 oz beetles and not being able to see them on the graph?

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It was different fishing blind. With thosde depths one cannot see a thing near the bottom.

I would agree that a 10-15# laker at 200ft would be a riot.

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More fun to have that fish rip wire through your fingers. The rod takes so much sport out of it...

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crazy With a rod, you can at least play a fish well... Let em burp air and then release em in better shape too...

But, I once fought fish on wire.. I matured and evolved into the 21st century.. smile

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Wire is for the old farts who are lost in the past. wink Its much more fun fighting a fish on a good rod than hand over hand. One more reason I seldom use tip ups anymore.

Plus I hate my pretty little hands getting all cut up. Even with gloves on I have gotten some nasty scrapes and burns doing that loop stuff. OUCH.

To each his own though.

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