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Early Ice Fishing on Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota

Mille Lacs Lake Walleye and Northern Pike-Ice Fishing

By Rick Paquin
January 5, 2000

Ice fishing fever had me. The Fishing Minnesota trip was planned for the weekend of December 17th on the famed walleye factory, Mille Lacs Lake. In this part of the country, you can usually plan on an early Thanksgiving ice fishing trip. This was not one of those years.

Warm temperatures had us worried about getting an early freezing bay by December 17th. If we were to get out on time, it would definitely be early ice. As for me, I was going to get an extra day in before the gathering.

I arrived shortly after 6:30 Friday morning and stopped in to visit my friend, Bill Lundeen, at Lundeen's Tackle Castle. He told me they were getting some perch and pike out of Cove Bay. We then drifted into a conversation about technology and fishing. Bill told me a story about Joe Fellegy, a famed Mille Lacs Lake Charter operator and outdoor writer.

When depth finders were first introduced, "Joe was totally opposed to them, he claimed it would create a bunch of 'Push Button' anglers," Bill said. A similar story was told about GPS units. Now we have underwater cameras. Bill smiled and said "Joe is actually all for these units, they are a great educational tool". I thought to myself, I can hardly wait to see how they work. Bill was so convinced that he bought some to rent to anglers coming up to Mille Lacs.

He reasoned anglers could view the type of bottom they were setting up on. He knew the clarity in the water was from 7 to 9 feet. He also knew many of the anglers would love to watch the fish and the effect the action of their lures had on them. Unfortunately for me, our conversation was cut short when two customers walked in. I told Bill "Goodbye" and headed for McQuoid's Inn. I was to meet those two anglers later.

Besides being our meeting spot, McQuoid's Inn is also home to Terry McQuoid's professional fishing guide service. I was excited to have the opportunity to get out fishing with these guys. After all, their recent first-place tourney finish and participation in PWT tourneys, is a nice resume for any guide service. Terry and Aaron McQuoid came in with their snowmobiles loaded and portable fishhouses ready. They were both enthusiastic and energetic, especially for that early in the morning. We were off to catch some fish.

We arrived at Cove Bay and within ten minutes had the fishhouses down and attached to the snowmobiles. We scooted out on a solid six inches of ice. We were expecting a couple of guys from Illinois who had made a 533 mile journey for the event. While Terry and Aaron scouted, punched holes in the ice, and set up the deluxe portables, I checked with the anglers out already.

The early birds were catching a few perch and I headed over to the last two anglers on the ice with no portable - open air fishermen. These couldn't be the warm-weather guys from Illinois. It was here I first met Tom and Phil from Illinois. After talking with them a bit and watching them with their high-vis yellow line, I thought they were in trouble. They proved us all wrong. These guys were a couple of down to earth, fishing maniacs. I did mention they should at least put a different type of line on for a leader.

I received a gift from these two. It's what separates the 'Dead Sea' gang from the anglers who consistently catch fish. It was all attitude. They fished out in the open, taking the wind and cool temps in stride. Their holes were skimming over and they kept at it. They did this 'All Day long'. Did they catch fish? You bet they did. That first day it was perch and pike. Later, they showed us hardy Minnesotans a few things about sticking with it.

Rick with Northern PikeI made it back to the portable feeling a bit guilty that I had done nothing to help set-up. Terry was all smiles and ready. He had the vista-view camera down and the perch were all over. We caught perch and plenty of them. Suddenly the perch scattered and a small pike nosed up to my jigging spoon. I held it very still for a couple of seconds. He didn't seem interested so I started quivering it. He slammed it. I was so busy watching, Terry had to yell at me, "Rick, he took it". I didn't even feel the strike.
That Northern Pike had taken the spoon, tipped with a minnow, straight up. I set the hook and the battle was on. My first pike through the ice this season.

Brent Colten with WalleyeA few minutes later, Brent Colten was hefting a nice six-pound walleye through the ice. They are like footballs in that lake. Now it was time to get back and start after my own. A bit later, we saw walleyes cruising through, but they were not interested in anything we had to offer. The sun was up and they had plenty of forage in that bay. There are tons of 2- to 3-inch perch cruising right under the ice.

The perch started back in and Terry was to the point where he was pulling the spoon away from the smaller perch. He was using the Vista-View to only catch keeper perch for our fish fry that evening. The perch scattered again. I was using my brand new Nils Master jigging shad with a whole minnow hanging off the tail. This Northern was different. He circled in and out of view. Finally he barreled into it and took my offering.

I brought her up to the hole, reached down to grab her and she shook her head. I had her and she had me. The front hook of that Nils Master went clean through me, between my thumb and forefinger. Terry held the head of the pike firmly while he cut the line. I was still attached and that pike wasn't going anywhere. Terry removed the Northern from me, but no pics this time. She was 'Huge' too, I wouldn't tell a fish story would I? We looked around and I had neglected to bring my side cutter. So Terry and I headed to our new found Illinois friends looking for relief.

I had a dilemma. The Nils Master was my new hot lure. The only way to remove it was to a) rip it out of my hand or b) cut the tip of the hook off below the barb and ruin my lure. Okay, so it wasn't a dilemma. Give me the cutter and let me get this god-forsaken lure out of my hand the easy way. Problem solved. No pain and I was back at it.

From this point on, I'm not sure if Terry and I fished or just talked about all things fishy. Regardless, between the Vista-View and Terry, the day was great. I kept wondering if I had caught so many fish that I actually found another persons company more entertaining. Nahhh, had to be something else.

A commotion outside shook me back to reality. I poked my head out of the fish house. Standing with a nice pike in his hand was Aaron McQuoid standing next to Tom. Phil was taking a picture. We rushed out to get photos and the inside scoop. We find out that Tom has also taken two nice pike as well. They were a bit too quiet over there. Must be an Illinois thing. Right?Aaron McQuoid with a nice Northern Pike.

Day One on the ice was coming to a close. Caught and released were some nice walleye and pike. The best part was our Fishing Minnesota gathering had not even started yet. We had two more days to go. I'll tell you right now, I learned a ton from Aaron and Terry McQuoid. The Vista-View also taught me a bit about jigging tactics. The equipment used was state of the art. The tactics were deadly. This, the people, and the fishing, will be the subject of our next story.

If you get a chance, you really have to try one of these get togethers. It's much more than just fishing. I'll admit, I was nervous about it at first. After meeting all the participants, I can hardly wait for the next one at Winnibigoshish, January 14th and 15th. I've made some great new friends and we have a special bond that fishing together for the first time creates. You'll have to try it to understand it. Pure enjoyment is as close as I can come to a description. You have the opportunity to discover for yourself the excitement and learning that takes place.

If you would like to attend the Winnie gathering and want more information click here. You have until January 12, 2000 to reserve your spot.

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