Woods and Water TV shoot- Lake Michigan's Sturgeon Bay
Anne and I woke early today. Our plan was to be on the road by 8:00 am for our 6 hour drive from Bloomington, IL to Sturgeon Bay, WI. We picked up our good friend Barb who is about the only person who is crazy enough to go on fishing trips with us! Although the trip is only supposed to take 6 hours, we knew it would take my group at least 10 hours…lots of antique shops along the way!
Sunday traffic was light, so we made good time. We arrived at Sand Bay Beach Resort and were greeted by Karen Stroschein, one of the owners of the resort. We got checked in and was pleasantly surprised as we settled into our two bedroom suite. First class accommodations to say the least!
Karen informed us that there would be dinner followed by an informational meeting where we would go over the agenda for the next few days along with some helpful fishing techniques. Our fellow fishermen totaled about 24 from around the Midwest, plus two from Reno, Nevada! Everyone was so friendly and we were really excited to be a part of this adventure!
Dale Stroschein, legendary fisherman and our guide, explained the fishing techniques for catching good size whitefish. We would be using 6 pound braided line with a fluorocarbon leader. The lure of choice was a small 1 ½ inch jigging rapala in various colors. For the walleye fishing we would be using a 3/8 inch odd ball jig tipped with a minnow.
For those of you who have never fished for whitefish, it can be frustrating until you master the slow, methodical jigging motion that it takes to entice these fish. We fished in 60 feet of water which adds to the frustration. You must keep your lure moving at all times…plus you need to be just a few inches off the bottom. Attention to detail is critical! I had fished for whitefish before and knew the drill, but I was surprised how fast Anne and Barb mastered the technique!
Fishing for walleye was pretty much the standard jigging method we all use up north. Jig and pause, jig and pause, again trying to stay no more than a foot off of the bottom. Pretty easy fishing with a heavy jig.
Dale told us that John Gillespie and the camera crew would be arriving at 10:00 am the next morning and we needed to meet in front of the resort shortly after his arrival to start our day. I was hoping to be on the ice at daylight, but it is what it is.
After the meeting Anne, Barb and I had a couple of beers and hit the hay.
Day 2: Monday, January 19, 2015
We got to the lobby at 9:45 am and the group was ready to hit the ice. We are all bundled up in our winter garb gathered outside. The guides have all of the Polaris ATVs loaded with gear and ready to go; they’re as anxious as we are! The only thing missing is the star of the show! 10:00 am and no John Gilllespie. Hmm…maybe we aren’t filming today! The group had a lot to talk about, especially about the Packers and the Colts! Finally at 10:20 am John arrived to a round of applause. His truck was pulling the coolest set of snow machines I had ever seen! Both were on tracks and just bad ass…some guys just have it made!
We finally jump into the ATVs and head out onto the ice. Our fishing spot was four miles out on the bay and it took us about 10 minutes to get there. Travel on the icy jagged snow covered lake is slow and bumpy, but beautiful!
As we approached our fishing spot I saw several nice heated ice shacks awaiting our arrival. They varied in size from 4 men to 10 men capacity. The first order of business upon arrival was to film the opening of the show. All 24 of us gathered in a group as John and Dale film the opening. It consisted of John riding up on his snow machine and then hopping off. As he approached our group, he and Dale discussed what we would see on “this week’s show”. He then asked the group if we were ready to fish. We all yelled enthusiastically just like we were coached to do.
After about 10 minutes to hand out gear and get settled in our shacks, we were finally ready to get down to business. We were told to yell when we got a fish, and the crew would run to the shack to film the action. I had my line in for only a couple of minutes when the first fish of the day decided to smack my lure. I yelled “Fish on!” and the crew was there in a few seconds to film the catch. After I got the fish out of the hole, I was asked to go outside to show my catch and talk to John about technique and what great fun they are to catch. The camera man said the lighting in the houses were not conducive to filming and therefore, if you wanted to be on camera, you needed to be filmed outside. What this meant is that you would have to take your fish outside, re-hook it, put it down in the hole and stage the event again. I understood why they had to do this, but needless to say, I chose not to be filmed again. It would just take too much time away from fishing, which was why I was there. I don’t know if I will be in the final edited version of the show, but since I caught the first fish of the show, it may make the cut. It really doesn’t matter to me either way.
We continued to do very well catching fish…just as the other groups were too. The fish seemed to run bigger than years past, and the action continued until 1:00 pm when we reluctantly broke for lunch. It was an awesome lunch though! Johnsonville Brats is a major sponsor of the show, and I must say, they were delicious!! We all gathered around in a tight group as John filmed the “commercial” for Johnsonville. One member of the group volunteered to bite into the brat and he voice his enthusiastic enjoyment! Anne, Barb and I hurriedly downed ours and headed back to the shack. We had 2 or 3 more fish caught before anyone else was back to their shacks! We kept 20 fish in our limited time that day. We figured we only had lines in the water for a couple of hours before we had to pack it up. We headed back around 2:30 pm, which gave everyone a chance to regroup before heading to our evening walleye spot at 3:30 pm.
By the time we met back again, the guides had the ATVs loaded with 25 Frabill one man portable flip over fish huts. Every person had a hut, but some chose to fish outside. The walleye area was only a couple of miles out. Coincidently, it was close to a spot I had marked on my GPS that I had fished a few years ago with another outfitter! We were fishing in 30 feet of water, although I would have preferred to be much shallower myself considering the time of day. It was around 4:15pm by the time all the holes were drilled and we were settled into our fishing spots. The anglers were spaced sporadically over a 2 to 3 acre area. I chose to find a spot on the inside edge as far away from the main cluster of huts. Fishing walleye is very touch and go in this area at this time of year. You generally don’t get numbers, but you always have a chance at catching a monster!
That evening proved unsuccessful for the entire group. I don’t believe anyone even had a bite! We were told to pack it up around 5:30 pm, as we were all to meet at the Sunset Grill for an evening of food
and fun! The food was great, the beer was cold, and I finished the night with a big glass of water and three Advil!!
Day 3: Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Today we got an early start, as we met at 5:30 am to get on the ice. The morning did produce a couple of walleye for the group but nothing too big. One of the boys from Indiana pulled in a 4 pounder and our host, Dale, caught one about the same size. We decided to head in around 8:30 am to get ready for some more whitefish action.
We gathered outside at 9:30 am and were on our way to the whitefish hole by 9:45 am. My group decided to take the same hut that had been so good to us yesterday. Anne was the first to drop her line in and instantly hooked into a nice 23” whitefish. Before she got her fish to the top of the hole, I set the hook on a nice one. Wow!! Two fish in less than a minute! This was going to be a great day!
Soon after, Barb had a 25” whitefish to throw into the bag. I was really happy that the girls were able to master the jigging technique! It’s not hard, but you either get it or you don’t.
The rest of the morning went very well for us. We could hear John getting his TV persona on, and knew that others were outside being filmed. We didn’t leave our shack, and even had Barb bring us brats to eat in the hut! After lunch, the fishing slowed a bit and we only managed to catch about 6 fish the last hour. Not bad, but certainly not what we were used to. We decided to keep only 15 fish, as we thought we had plenty, and believe it or not Anne and I aren’t big fish eaters!
The guides came around at 2:30 pm and told us to pack it up; we were heading back to the resort to re-group before heading out to the walleye spot again.
For those of you who have seen John’s show “Water and Woods”, you know that they have the group do a crazy dance to end the show. Not everyone participated, including us. We chose to fish for another 10 minutes or so. After all, that’s the real reason we came anyway!
We got back to the resort and Dale informed us we would be leaving in ½ hour for walleye fishing. Anne and Barb decided to stay at the resort that evening. The warm fire in the lodge was just too enticing! The rest of us arrived at the walleye spot and were fishing by 4:15 pm. I chose a chartreuse odd ball jig as my weapon. The first hour produced no fish but that’s not unusual for this time of year. Just before dark I heard some activity about 100 yards from my hut. Two of the guides ran toward a fisherman who had hooked a nice fish. John and the camera man were not far behind. The battle seemed to go on for quite a while and I heard John’s excitement from my distant location. At that time, I couldn’t tell who had hooked the fish or how big it was. As it was lifted out of the hole, I heard some real excitement from others closest to the fisherman. It turned out that it was a walleye that was estimated to be over 31 inches and around 12 pounds. It was caught by Dale, our host! I’m sure Dale wished it was one of his guests that had caught the massive fish, but nevertheless, he had to have been thrilled to land a fish of a lifetime! I know he’s caught several of these throughout his career, but the thrill can’t be beat! He was using a jigging rapala when the fish hit. It turned out this was the only fish caught that evening. I didn’t have a bite, not did anyone I talked to. The temperature was rapidly dropping as we gathered our gear to head in for the night.
I must say I was very impressed with Sand Bay Beach Resort and Dale’s knowledge of the fishery. For anyone who wants a quality Lake Michigan fishing experience, I would highly recommend you give Dale a try.
I would not do the film show again, however. The TV schedule just takes too much time away from fishing. I want to be on the ice from sun up to sundown and this is not possible during the John Gillespie outing. John was great to talk to and is truly passionate about the outdoors. I enjoy his show and everything he does to promote fishing and the outdoors!