Friday, October 3, 2008

Ice Fishing at Houghton Lake

Last winter, a group of friends and I decided to take a fishing trip up to Houghton Lake, Michigan's largest inland lake covering 22,000 acres. But this wasn't going to be a run of the mill ice fishing trip. We were going to ice fish for 3 days and camp out on the ice. And that we did!
We rented a "sleeper shanty" from one of the local bait shops, Lyman's on the Lake. Now, when I say shanty, that's exactly what it was. No frills. It was an approximately 6' by 14' box with a wooden bunk bed, a few Plexiglas windows, a door and six holes cut in the floor. But that was all we needed. At only $75 per night (7a.m. to 7a.m.), it was more than worth it since we could fish all night if we wanted to. Now, I will say this; it's not for everyone. We started out with 5 guys the morning we arrived. By noon the next day, it was down to myself and my friend Jeremy. The other three opted to rent a cabin.

The shanty came with a 20lb tank of propane and a heater per night, and that thing kicked out some heat. I, being on the top bunk (where all the heat rose to), was as toasty as could be all night. Those that slept on the bottom bunk and the air mattress were fine right in the middle of the heat. My brother in law, Vince, was not so lucky. He drew the short straw and had to sleep on the opposite side of the shanty as the rest of us and got to sleep on the floor with only a blanket. Now, remember that the temperature at night was getting down to about 5 degrees Fahrenheit and we were sleeping above the ice. When he woke up in the morning, he was frozen...literally. The only thing we could figure was that there had been condensation from the heat towards the ceiling and ran down the wall and onto him. Over the course of the night, as the temperature dropped, his clothes and blanket froze to the floor! Needless to say, he was one of the one's to check out the next morning. It was a fun filled weekend, for sure! But, now, onto the fishing!

The fist morning we were there mainly involved us setting up, and the rest of the day was pretty slow going. We were mainly jigging for walleye, with a few tip-ups set around the shanty for any wandering northern pike that might have happened by. It wasn't until later that weekend that we found out we were in a location on the lake that the locals called "pike alley". That's a key tip; always ask the locals, because they usually know the terrain pretty well. And did they ever! When night started to creep up, the flags started popin'! We caught five or six northerns on the tip-ups right before dark, but they were all short by an inch or so. So, after a hearty dinner on the ice, we all moved in to the shanty to unwind and jig for walleye some more. After a few hours of not even a nibble, everyone else had pulled their lines, aside from me. I figured that if I was awake, I was going to be fishing! Around 11p.m., and after a few jokes about my determination to keep fishing, the end of my light action rod started to dip. I waited for a second to see if whatever had found my minnow tipped teardrop jig was going to take it and I felt another tug. I set the hook, then my rod bent to about 80 degrees and the fight was on! Finally! I was gonna bring up a walleye! And this was a good one. After five minutes or so of fighting I saw a shimmer in the water. That's when I noticed the head. This wasn't a walleye, but a giant northern pike! As I brought him up towards the hole, I heard my brother in law shout "Oh my God! I can see the tail!" as he pointed to the hole two holes down from mine! By this time, I was in disbelief. There was no way I was going to get this thing up. I was using a regular light action rod with 6lb test line and no leader. But, I tried still, and every time I attempted to bring him up, he opened his jaws and wouldn't you know, it was bigger than the 12 inch hole we had drilled! Finally, I pulled up at just the right time and slipped his opening jaws past the edge of the ice and Jeremy reached down and started to pull him out. By this time, there was no room left for blood in my veins. It was pure adrenaline coursing through me. And as he kept pulling that fish out of the hole, it just got better. It seemed like the fish never stopped. This was a trophy. As we exited the shanty with my prize, I picked him up and and just let loose. I probably sounded like a kid at Christmas the way I was yelling. Not only for the fish I had just caught, but for the fact of how I caught him. We took our pictures and said "that was awesome!!" over and over and admired the catch. We laid him next to the shanty and waited until morning to take him up to the bait shop and get the official measurement and weight to be entered in the weekly contest (I came in second, but that was fine with me!). The final tale of the tape was 37.5 inches and 11lbs 15oz.

The next morning (after we found Vince frozen to the floor) we set out our tip-ups and went at it again. The next two days were a blur of flags going up and rods bending. We caught somewhere around 45 northern pike, and only one was over the legal limit! But it was fun all the same. We had a couple of nice chats with one of the local Conservation Officers about the lake, the fishing, and a few tales he had for us. Top it off with a little horse play on the four wheelers in a foot of snow, and it made for a weekend I will never forget. I am already planning for our next trip up this year, and I think it will be even better. If you are ever in the Houghton Lake area and get a chance to do some ice fishing, take it. And if you want to try something a little different, try camping out! I guarantee you'll have a blast!

My father in law with one of the many caught inside the shanty on regular ice fishing rods. Behind him, you can see the bunks we had to sleep on.

Jeremy "admiring" his catch .

If you are interested in finding out more about fishing Houghton lake or about renting a shanty, contact Lyman's on the Lake. Tell them that Chuck from the Up North Journal sent ya!

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