Anderson: Early-season ice fishing for northern in Chisago City

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 14, 2013 - 11:03 PM

Armed with the right knowledge and technique, some early-winter anglers had a particular fish in mind.

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Frank Weeda, left, of Shoreview and Dick “Griz’’ Grzywinski of St. Paul re-rigged a tip-up on a Chisago Lakes area lake Friday morning. Winter anglers are allowed two lines.

Photo: Photos by DENNIS ANDERSON • danderson@startribune.com,

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When the screenplay is finally written that lays bare this country’s foibles and fortunes, the movie’s set will remain unchanged, scene to scene: that of a bait shop — a place of fatheads and suckers, also dreamers, high achievers and not a few liars.

I was thinking about this Friday morning when I pulled up to Frankie’s Live Bait in Chisago City, where Ol’ Brad Dusenka is usually behind the counter dispensing minnows and waxies, leeches and night crawlers. Also, without provocation he might toss in a little advice, which can be a good thing, depending.

But Friday morning, Brad was gone and Dick Wermersen was filling in. The place wasn’t yet hopping, as it will be when the area’s lake ice further thickens. Still, one moment, Dick’s fingers were wrapped around a minnow scoop handle, and the next, they punched cash register keys. In this country, trading this for that can turn a lot of wheels. And Dick was turning wheels.

Griz — Dick Grzywinski — was waiting when I arrived. If the subject is fishing, he’s early. And for him, the subject is always fishing. He already had the bait, too, a 5-gallon bucket filled with suckers, on top of which whined a battery-operated aerator, bubbling oxygen into the container’s water and keeping the oversized baitfish alive.

“The ice is thick enough to drive our trucks along the edge of the lake,’’ Griz said. “Then we’ll park, and walk from there.’’

Griz and I would have fished together earlier this winter, starting with panfish. But it’s been too cold to be comfortable on the ice without a shelter. And Griz won’t use a shelter. He won’t wear a hat, either. Ever. Summer or winter.

But mostly we haven’t been fishing yet because bluegills and crappies bite better when ice thickens more slowly.

So, for now, an opportunity lost.

Still, there we were Friday morning, Griz and I and also Frank Weeda of Shoreview, another fishing buddy.

Tip-ups in hand, we’d be looking for northern pike, another good fish to target in early winter and a plentiful one. As a bonus, northerns eat well; in part because their flesh holds together in a frying pan, and in part because their complex flavor triggers multiple taste buds.

“I’ll eat a northern any day over a walleye,’’ Griz said. “It’s just a matter of learning how to take out the Y bones when you clean ’em.’’

•••

The Chisago area is rich with lakes, and most have plenty of northerns. As do many metro lakes and rivers.

So waterway choice in this type of fishing isn’t as important as technique. And technique centers on the tip-up, as well as a basic understanding of the depth and bottom structure of the lake being fished, including the presence of any weed lines.

Griz’s choices Friday made the point:

Knowing fairly well the contour of the lake bottom we fished, he nonetheless double-checked the depth each time we drilled a hole. Not with a electronic flasher — though this would have done the trick as well. Instead, at each hole, he clamped a heavy weight to his line, and dropped it to the bottom, a method that also helped detect weed growth, if any.

Then, with a treble hook, Griz stuck each sucker through its back, nearer to its tail than its dorsal fin, so the baitfish could swim freely when submerged, helped by a sinker.

All of this occurred in about 8 feet of water, with the sucker placed about a foot off the bottom.

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  • Staying organized while fishing is always a challenge. Here the small bobbers, sinkers and line used for tip-up fishing were stored in one compact, sealable plastic box.

  • Left: Grzywinski with a northern pike taken Friday morning. About 15 inches of ice is on parts of lakes in the Twin Cities.

  • Frank Weeda gasped at his bad luck when his tip-up line broke while he was pulling in what felt like a big northern pike.

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