Net Fish and Chill


Many of my friends who live south of the latitude of what Alice Cooper referred to as “the Good Land” have asked me what got into my slushee-addled brain that convinced me to go ice fishing. Since I prefer warm weather to cold, and activity to sitting around, I can’t say I blame them.

As someone who long defined himself as a bass tournament fisherman first and foremost, the idea that I’d someday bundle up to wait on a trout would’ve seemed preposterous. Oddly enough, it’s those blinders that’ve inspired my recent multispecies run. By focusing so heavily on little green fish for so long, I missed out on opportunities to do other things. I don’t fault anyone who is laser-focused on largeheads, but at this point in my life – well past the halfway mark of my life expectancy – I want to make sure that I don’t miss out on everything the water has to offer.

Accordingly, I’m making a substantial effort to try other species, other techniques, and of course cheese curds. When someone who doesn’t fish finds out that I’m obsessed with the sport, they often have questions: “What’s the biggest fish you’ve ever caught?” or “You mean with a fly rod?” or “What’s the most exotic place you’ve ever fished?” For too long, I dismissed their inquiries, but now I want to be able to speak about them with some meaningful level of knowledge. Therefore, since ceasing tournament competition a few years back, I’ve gone after peacock bass, redfish, monster blue catfish, tigerfish, muskies, cutthroat and rainbow trout (with a fly rod) and brown trout (through the ice).

While bass will always be my first love, and I don’t think that ice fishing will ever occupy more than a minute sliver of my time, I enjoyed the hell out of it. First of all, you don’t have to worry about your guide’s lower unit going bad, or spending too much on gas, and – as even the haters will admit – you can drink beer while you do it.

The one piece of advice I can give to anyone embarking on a multispecies exploratory tour is that you should put yourself in the best position to succeed. You may not be able to justify the cost of going to Africa for tigerfish or the South Pacific for Giant Trevally, but make every effort to go to a world-class fishery where you’re going to get bit. Plenty of them exist in easily accessible places, like Milwaukee for brown trout, or my home waters of the Potomac River for giant blue cats. If you’re only going to do it once, you want to go for it in the best place possible, and in an ideal situation you might just find a new obsession.