Every time I head into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula I feel like I’m taking a step back in time — and it’s a good feeling. The scenery’s more rustic, the rocks more ancient, the buildings more historic and the fish seem bigger and fight harder. Lake Gogebic was our target. A huge lake almost 20 miles long and nearly 2 miles wide. Known for giant perch bigger than the jumbo perch we brag about in Wisconsin and Minnesota, or so I had seen in all the photos online and You Tube videos.
We hired a guide, the best on Gogebic, Jon Sibley, who’s been seen on several TV shows including Jason Mitchell Outdoors. My wife Nancee’ and I got together with Sibley in Bergland and headed out on Gogebic around 8 a.m. We rode out about 8 miles on an Arctic Cat snowmobile that I drove with Nancee’ riding shotgun pulling a large portable Ice shack. Leading the way was Sibley and his partner followed by two father and son teams from Canada. Sibley said they get 300 inches of snow so cars and trucks don’t venture out on lakes for obvious reasons. That’s 25 feet of snow annually so ice is never solid. At 8 miles we rendezvoused with Mikey, a young man who was Sibley’s advanced scout, and set up on the flats in 25 feet of water.
In minutes shacks were up and holes quickly cut, three per shack, one rod and reel with spring bobbers for each of us, with a flasher fish finder in the middle hole so we could watch what was going on down below. We used live wigglers for bait--may fly larvae about an inch long, a little thinner than an egg noodle and about as slimy and wiggly. Michigan allows three lines per person so Sibley set up 4 rod and reel combos outside the shack on rod holders. These rigs, called “dead sticks” because they just sit there unattended, are typically the best way to catch giants this time of year. The wigglers just hang there enticing the giants to bite.
Nancee got the first bite when she was taking off her gloves that weren’t needed in the heated shack. Caught off guard she felt the fish but missed it. Giants hit so light, often not even moving the spring bobbers on the ends of the rods. There are so many may fly larva hatching that the smorgasbord table is full so these giant perch can be selective.
Then one of the boys caught a couple nice fish, jumbos, not giants, but our excitement dwindled as the wind picked up until we were hit with 40 mph gusts. These high winds made the dead sticks with spring bobbers almost useless. You simply couldn’t spot a bite in the high winds. I missed a fish on one dead stick and then Jon noticed a slight bite and beat me to the dead stick and set the hook. Fish on! He handed me the rod and I immediately felt weight. After a good fight I worked the perch to the hole and was truly amazed when we slid the giant out of the water.
“That’s a 2 pound giant! That’s what we’re here for. It’s kind of like fishing for musky. You know they are there but catching them today is just hard even when I know we’re on the spot,” explained Selby. “We normally catch a half dozen of the giant 2 pound perch and a couple dozen jumbos, but today the conditions just beat us.”
I believe him. I saw it on the videos and held the fish.
Jim Bennett is an outdoorsman who lives and worked in the St. Croix River Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org