by Mark Walters
Mississippi River Gator Hunt
Here is the scoop. Last September I am hunting ducks on the Mississippi River near Ferryville with my 13-year-old daughter, Selina and 21 and 23-year-old stepsons, Joey and Travis Dushek. We find an area that I am sure would be a good spot to ice fish, the only problem is that it is 3-miles by whatever means of travel you choose to reach it.
This past week the four of us, Fire, our very pregnant golden retriever (due on the 11th) go on one heck of an adventure on the Mississippi River.
My 9-foot enclosed trailer is loaded with my Polaris, 4-wheeler and a lot of gear. The bed of my truck is so full of gear we can hardly close the end gate.
On top of my topper are 4-Otter Sleds.
Friday, January 2nd
High 36, low 29
Once again this week there is way more story then I have space to write it. First, our gang stops at Ace Hardware in La Crosse where we purchase $60.00 worth of shiners (this is a gator hunt).
Second, we head south on Highway 35 and a dark cloud hits us like a wet blanket. Much of the river and backwaters is open. It is 2:00 p.m. and we do not have the daylight hours, to lose many daylight hours. We make it to Ferryville and there is open water at the landing. Without hesitation, we head north and the boys are bummed, there is no doubt I have to pull a rabbit out of the hat to save this adventure.
I have a brainstorm; I spoke with two fishermen in Ace Hardware who told me that they had done very well fishing and catching 27-35 inch northern pike on a backwater of the Mississippi right in La Crosse. Joey looks on my receipt and there is the magic number, I call Ace, get directions and an excellent report.
Third, here is where things got a little crazy; our plan is to sleep in my Eskimo “Fat Shack” and my trailer. No one on the ice is on a 4-wheeler and there is a question as to whether or not we can legally run a 4-wheeler to our new honey hole and the other question is, what is the quality of the ice? Trav goes on a quick recon mission, the rest of us unload 7 tons of gear.
Trav comes back with good news and I take the first load out via 4 wheeler and Otter sled. Lots of “what the heck” looks. Next we hook up the trailer and really get some looks but we have an hour of daylight and we are on the ice.
No fish today, fine home cooked meal of spaghetti and as always lots of laughter.
Saturday, January 3rd
High 37, low 28
A truly incredible day would best describe today. Early in the morning my buddy Gary Howe, out of Prairie du Chien, joins us for the day and all told we have 15 tip ups out on top of 20 to 30 feet of water with the shiners 6 feet below the ice. The flags are flying and lots of gators are hitting the ice by our gang and many other people. Almost all of our fish are between 27-35 inches.
There is just enough snow on the ice that it is as slippery as it could possible be. Gary Howe is going for a gaff cuz Joey is fighting a big fish. Gary’s feet go out from underneath him and he takes quite possibly the worst fall I have ever seen on the ice and lands on the back of his head. At first, my buddy isn’t moving or talking. Then he quivers and tells me “it’s bad”. Long story short, 20 minutes later he ices a 34-inch gator and by the end of the day we have kept 12 gators that averaged 31-inches.
Selina cooked scrambled eggs with ham. Travis cooked brats. Joey cooked venison. When the boys were growing up they quickly learned that they needed to help with the chores and they always have. At 10:30 that night, Selina and I each had a flag and put two more in the livewell.
Later in the evening the cold spell that gripped the northern hemisphere hit our camp and it was nasty with a capital N. Though the fish were still hungry the next morning it was a lesson in pure focus just to break camp, get everything off the ice and pack the truck and trailer.
This trip was another lesson of why doing stuff with your kids in the outdoors keeps your kids hanging out with you long after they graduate from high school.
In closing, local information, the ears to listen and the ability to not create lock jaw in whom you are trying to get that info from saved this trip.
We had a blast! Sunset