Pulling into the “Y Store”, just off of highway 169 near Tower, I was anxious for the day to get underway. It would be spent with Lake Vermilion area fishing guide, Cliff Wagenbach.
Cliff and I had exchanged e-mails and correspondence for years but never had the opportunity to fish with one another. Today it was finally going to happen.
I liked the way things were playing out. The weather was warm, for late-December, and the one-hour drive was made on dry highways. Also a big factor was our meeting time, 9 am. I wondered, at first, if he was just being nice and letting me sleep in a bit. That thought was answered as soon as he drilled the first hole, when heavily stained flowage water made it’s way to the surface. Normally, fishing water like this has them biting throughout the day and there’s no need to be there at first light.
A rare day off for Wagenbach, he was as excited as I was. This would be his first panfishing expedition of the year, as all previous outings dealt with Lake Vermilion walleyes, where he has rental shelters situated in prime walleye locale.
A fulltime guide, Wagenbach logs approximately 120 guide trips during the open-water season. During the winter months, he maintains three rental wheel-houses and makes occasional personalized trips to various parts of the Lake Vermilion area. Fish species varies from walleye, jumbo perch, northern pike, and lake trout. These outings require the clients to have their own snowmobiles or atvs.
The first fish caught on the morning was mine, a nice bluegill, which inhaled my “Hexi Fly”. Walking back to my shelter, to retrieve the forceps, I noticed his dog, Whitney, trotting across the lake with a fish, mine. I wasn’t worried about the fish but didn’t want her to get in trouble with that tiny fishhook I was using.
Cliff hollered to Whitney, a beautiful chocolate lab, and she dropped the fish. He went on to say “I forgot to tell you, she loves to eat fish.” Evidently, Cliff didn’t miss too many fish because every time I started to reel in, even if only to check my bait, Whitney was there waiting to see what I had caught. I quickly learned to reel in, with my arms fully extended, so she didn’t hear the sleeves rubbing against my jacket.
A fish here and a fish there, we plucked away and had great conversation. When asked about any celebrities that he has fished with, Wagenbach stated the Kent Hrbek was one of his favorites. His biggest walleye? That was a pig, just shy of 30”, tipping the scale at over 12 pounds. It was released. Cliff started guiding part-time, over 20 years ago, when he worked at LTV Steel, where he retired after 30 years of service. Since then, it has been a fulltime job and that’s going on 10 years now. Anyone that has that many seasons of guiding under his belt, has plenty of stories to go along with it. Believe me, I know.
It took a couple of moves but we eventually found the honey-hole and did quite well on the bluegills, with a few shy crappies mixed in. Cliff’s best bait was a “Gill Getter” tipped with a waxworm and mine was a “Hexi Fly” sweetened with the same.
For more information on fishing the Lake Vermilion area or a fishing trip with Cliff Wagenbach, go to his web site at www.cliffsguideservice-lakevermilion.com or phone him at (218) 753-2005.