Landing the big fish

A handful of fish houses were spotted on Wood Lake on Friday, including one located just beyond the area deemed unsafe because of the open water caused by an aerator system. Minnesota DNR officials encourage people to participate in winter activities like ice fishing and spearing but that safety needs to be the No. 1 priority.

MARSHALL — Before heading back to college after the holidays, rural Balaton native Kassidy Przymus wanted to go ice fishing with her dad, Bernie Przymus. On Sunday, the avid anglers got that opportunity and the experience ended up being one that neither of them will soon forget as they pulled a 17 pound, 41-inch northern pike out of Lake Shaokotan near Ivanhoe.

“It’s the biggest fish I’ve ever held in my hands,” 21-year-old Przymus said. “By the end, my knees were shaking and my heart was pounding.”

Moments before landing the large northern, Przymus said the small perch had stopped biting — a sign that there was a big fish nearby.

“All of a sudden, the baby perch disappeared, which is an indicator that a northern is probably around,” she said.

Then, something hit Przymus’ line hard and her heart began to race. But then the line broke and disappointment replaced the thrill she felt. Fortunately, the northern was still hungry and quickly zeroed in on the same type of jig at the end of her dad’s line. This time, the big one didn’t get away.

“It was exhilarating,” Przymus said. “Knowing the fish had hit and snapped my line and yet was still on my dad’s line was awesome. Then after it swam across the hole and I saw how huge it was, it gave me such an adrenaline rush. It’s moments like this that make spending time with your mom or dad even more special.”

While he technically caught the big fish — he’s caught muskies and another northern that were larger — Bernie Przymus called it “a dual effort.” The best part was seeing his daughter’s reaction, he said.

“(The northern) hit both of our jigs, which was pretty amazing,” he said. “It was great seeing (Kassidy) shaking after the fish was landed. It was a blast.”

Przymus plans to go out ice fishing again this upcoming Sunday, but this time he’s taking another outdoor enthusiast — his oldest daughter, Megan Stalboerger — along with his grandson, Cole, who turns 4 next month.

Ice fishing and spearing are among the many winter activities people in southwest Minnesota seem to like taking part in. Area businesses report seeing an uptick in sales related to the open season.

“I guess we have been seeing that for several weeks now,” said Jeremy Barck, sporting good manager at Borch’s Sporting Goods. “I’ve heard people have done well at Lake Shetek and at Lac qui Parle. We’re definitely seeing the fishermen who are hard-core about it. (Sales have) been pretty steady. The decent weather has been helpful.”

Luke Byerly, sporting goods sale associate at Runnings in Marshall, noted similar activity as well. “I think the big ones people are fishing are Sarah, Shetek and probably Dead Coon,” he said. “I haven’t heard much. A lot of guys keep that secret because they think I’m going to tell everyone I see.”

Byerly said a handful of brand name items have been especially popular this year.

“I know the Panoptix is a fish finder with new technology,” Byerly said. “That’s been pretty popular. It’s fairly expensive, but uses new technology so you can see more of the bottom of the lake. We sell a lot of ice fishing stuff. The Srabil rod and reels are also pretty popular.”

Byerly said Runnings is also selling more fish spearing equipment.

“I’d say we have more customers asking for spearing equipment, especially decoys and spears, this year,” he said. “There’s either more people than in the past or they’re upgrading their equipment.”

Barck said Borch’s carries the essentials for spearing, like the grappling hooks and spears, but that more people come in and purchase ice fishing items.

“Electric augers have been hot this year,” Barck said. “They’re new things on the block. There’s also a neat fish finder that’s pretty popular. It’s a Helix model from Humminbird. It has new features that people like.”

The new glow stick lures also appear to be highlights.

“When the light goes out, you can just pop another one in,” Barck said. “People can buy extras to snap in.”

Byerly said lures with ultraviolet (UV) paint are still being sold, but that even more customers are trying out the glow stick spoons.

“You can snap that in and it lasts a lot longer,” he said.

Ryan Doorenbos, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources area fisheries supervisor, said ice fishing success has varied a lot this winter.

“It’s hit or miss,” he said. “If we could get into a more steady weather pattern, it will help with ice fishing. When there’s a cold front or an Arctic blast, it slows down the fishing. Then it picks up after there’s a steady weather pattern. It’s not to say you can’t find a bite when it’s really cold, but it can be difficult at times.”

Doorenbos said early ice conditions sparked some decent success, but heavy snowfall then hampered the ice-making process.

“Snow tends to insulate the ice making,” Doorenbos said. “If you have no snow, you can make a lot of ice in a short amount of time. Obviously, we had a stretch there of warmer weather, so it caused some honeycombing. So it’s not necessarily clear, solid ice.”

Including Doorenbos, there are four Windom Area Fisheries employees who cover the 10 counties that make up the south zone.

“We’re out there checking ice conditions and oxygen levels,” he said. “Most of the ice has a thickness in the teens, between 16-17 inches. The DNR will never say ice is 100 percent safe. It oftentimes depends on where you are and how brave you are.

Of the 80 lakes in the south zone, Doorenbos said 53 of them have aerators, which may help increase the dissolved oxygen content of the water and prevent the winterkill of fish.

“There’s some debate about it,” he said. “At times, it may help. And some lakes just don’t need it.”

The open water created by aeration systems can end up being a serious public safety hazard.

“The DNR encourages safety and paying attention to the ice conditions as well as other people out ice fishing, but go out and give (ice fishing) a try,” Doorenbos said.

Area Conservation Officer Matt Loftness also stressed safety for anyone out on the ice.

“The concern right now is the fluctuating temperatures going up and down,” Loftness said. “We’re spending quite a bit of time talking to ice fishermen about ice safety, regulations on fish houses and things like that. If you get a high wind and warm temperatures, it can cause snow to melt or ice to deteriorate. Sometimes fish houses will fall through or get froze in when we do get colder weather.”

Loftness said the DNR and the Sheriff’s Office continue to remind people that ice is never entirely safe.

“Don’t assume it’s fine just because your buddy says it is,” he said. “It can change, so we remind people to pre-drill holes with augers before you set out. You could have open water and then 15 inches of ice on the same lake.”

For the most part, Loftness said he’s seeing fish houses getting pulled off the lake during the work week because of the up and down weather patterns.

“The people working Monday through Friday seem to be pulling them off the ice this year because they don’t want to take the chance of it thawing,” he said. “Because it’s more iffy, we’re not seeing as many houses out there this year.”

Loftness said he also reminds anglers not to litter and that each person is only allowed two lines during the winter season. Doorenbos cautions people to obey all of the regulations, including a fairly new one for northerns.

“There’s a 24-inch regulation for northern pike before they can keep it now,” Doorenbos said. “And they can only keep two. That regulation went into effect on May 12, 2018. People can always consult the regulation book if they have questions about anything.”

Several ice fishing tournaments are slated for the next month and a half. Del Clark Lake is the place to be for anyone interested in Canby Fire/Sportsman’s first-ever Ice Fishing Contest, a 24-hour tournament that begins at 4 p.m. on Jan. 25. The 5th annual Lake Benton Sportsmen’s Club Ice Fishing Tournament will take place on Jan. 26, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The 40th annual Lake Hendricks Fishing Derby is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Feb. 2. The first-ever Mustang Ice Classic is scheduled to take place on Lake Sarah from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Feb. 16.