Living on the edge!

From about 1997 to about 2014 I would make an annual trip to Trempealeau, which is on the Mississippi River about 20 miles north of La Crosse, for a go-for-it ice fishing, winter camping and sometimes coyote hunting adventure.

The first few years both of my golden retrievers and myself would pull Otter Sleds loaded with gear for about three miles to a honey hole that I discovered back in ‘97. Eventually I started using my snowmobile and sometimes my ATV.

Over the years I have camped at this spot with at least 15 friends and family members and we have had some incredible northern pike fishing with tip-ups.

I have been planning a return trip and that plan took a hard hit with 60-degree temperatures that made ice become water. About 10 years ago I paddled my canoe from the lock and dam at Trempealeau due to warm conditions.

This is about a seven-mile journey but that year I had my best fishing ever at this spot and so today I made return by canoe on what would be a crazy, dangerous, stupid kind of trip.

Tuesday, Feb. 21

High 66, Low 40

There were dozens of boats on the water and the fishermen were catching small sauger.

My golden retriever pup, Ruby, would be my companion on this adventure. My canoe was loaded as full as possible and I did not have a map or any idea if there would be ice at “Gator Bay.”

I literally paddled three miles in the main channel along this maze of backwater islands, streams and marshes before I saw any ice. After about five miles I saw a cut that looked like it might be the right way to Gator Bay.

I came to ice that was weak and through much difficulty I got my rig to shore and then hauled as much gear on my back in search of paradise.

It did not take long to realize I was in the wrong area and thus I retreated to my canoe and back to the main channel.

Two miles later I found what I was looking for and I had company in the form of thousands of canvasback, ringbills and mallards. There was ice but the two- acre bay was maybe 50 percent covered and while I was putting out two tip-ups and a tip down, Ruby fell through twice.

I wore a vest and carried spikes. The weather was incredibly unnatural. I got comfortable in my lawn chair, enjoyed a can of beer and literally watched the current and sun make ice vanish.

I made an executive decision to sleep on shore without a tent and by dark the tip up had gone down and I caught a small northern pike. I had no cares. I tried, I made it here and everything else was a bonus.

Wednesday, Feb. 22

I could write an entire book about this place. In the summer (my least favorite season) I daydream about this spot. Last night, Ruby had to sleep with her face on top of mine.

Ruby just started shedding and my mouth had a lot of hair in it until I had her move. I saw three falling stars, never got the least bit cold and was ready for my 40-inch gator.

Where I had my tip-ups yesterday there was not ice anymore but the river is going up big-time, so I had deep enough water close to camp to fish (at this point I only had an area of “safe” ice about the size of a house).

I had originally planned on staying two nights but flooding and zero ice, washed/melted that plan away.

After putting out my tip-ups I cooked coffee in the grounds and did a whole bunch of nothing. I had several thoughts about how I was going to paddle my canoe up seven miles of flooded river. All in all I loved my day.

When I pulled my tip-ups it was on the worst ice that I have ever walked on. I paddled all the way to Trempealeau without a shirt on and it was really cool to see that my body could handle the very physical trip upriver.

Whether it is man-made or natural, I do not like global warming!


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