The Winter Whitefish Economy

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The Winter Whitefish Economy

Postby MoonEyes » Tue Dec 13, 2016 12:01 pm

Another good one from the Door County Pulse.

The Winter Whitefish Economy
By Jim Lundstrom, Door County Living – November 17th, 2016

Freshly caught whitefish are about to be cleaned for customers of Trophy Ice Fishing. Photo by Len Villano

The University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute has some great information on whitefish on its webpage, but it comes to an abrupt and ultimately unsatisfying end with this sole “Fun Fact:” “There is a popular ice sport fishery for lake whitefish in Green Bay.”

Hmmm. No links to anything to prove such a sweeping statement. And is Green Bay the only place to fish for whitefish on ice?

It seems so.

“Now we’ve got this big recreational fishery that is unprecedented and unmatched anywhere else on Lake Michigan. We’re talking about the whitefish ice fishing. The guided trip fishery has become a major entity,” said Scott Hansen, a Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist.

Fishing guide Lonney Goman puts it another way.

“It’s kind of a modern gold rush,” he said. “In terms of whitefish, we have a world-class fishery.”

Goman was one of the first guides to take advantage of the winter whitefish boom on the Bay of Green Bay.

“I was working construction about 11 years ago. I would get laid off in the winter and started doing some guiding for walleye and perch,” Goman said. “I didn’t know about the whitefish too much. We started catching them accidentally, and customers were saying, ‘We don’t mind catching them. They’re good to eat.’”

Gulls gather in anticipation as Trophy Ice Fishing employee Eli Hanks prepares to dump a bucket of fish guts on the ice. Photo by Len Villano.

That’s all he needed to hear.

“Nine years ago I built a couple ice houses to rent out. I was one of the first guys to build ice houses and rent them out,” Goman said. “They took off like wildfire. A few years later, everyone was doing it.”

Goman and his wife, Barbara, operate Green Bay Trophy Fishing until the bay freezes and they become Trophy Ice Fishing.

“The old myth of sitting on a bucket in minus 30, that’s old news,” Goman said. “We meet at a bar and grill. You’ve got a bathroom, you can grab breakfast. We give you a ride out. You have a gorgeous heated house, bathrooms on the ice, electronics, up-to-date gear, rods. It makes ice fishing totally different from years ago. It actually makes it enjoyable.”

On February 18, 2016 — a cold and very windy day — Jim Mecklenburg and Alan Graves were proving Goman’s point, comfortably ensconced in one of Goman’s shanties — or ice houses, as he calls them. A small village of shanties was erected almost three miles out on Sturgeon Bay, including one used exclusively by Goman’s staff, who efficiently cleaned all the whitefish being caught and, on top of that bloody task, cooked up a delicious fresh shore lunch of deep-fried whitefish for the customers.

“It’s great,” said Mecklenburg of Cudahy, Wisconsin. “I have my own equipment and ice fish as much as possible, but being able to do this with a professional guide is just such a great experience.”

“This is our second year in a row,” said Graves, of Greenfield, Wisconsin.

“The other reason I go for a guide is safety reasons,” Mecklenburg said. “I don’t know the lake. I have my own ATV and go to Milwaukee area lakes, Winnebago, but coming out here, no way.”

“Jim found Lonney online. The rest is history,” Graves said.

“Lonney and his guys do a good job. Really pleased,” Mecklenburg said. “I’d never done a guide experience until last year. Well worth it. I wanted to fish whitefish. If I came up with my own gear, I would have failed miserably.”

He mentions that his wife is an avid angler.

“I wish she would do this,” he said, “but she cannot get on the ice.”

Whitefish feed on the bottom, so the anglers were jigging 94 feet of line to the bottom. When you consider that they were fishing in water that deep, with only 14 inches or so of ice separating them from that cold water, who could blame her?

But once you’re out there, it’s easy to forget you’re on a massive sheet of ice, especially when you are concentrating on getting your 10-whitefish limit.

“If ice can be safe, this looks like really safe ice,” Mecklenburg said.

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