Swans say ‘Safe Ice’

Swans say ‘Safe Ice’

Migration of the last tundra swans on Friday signals the arrival of ‘safe’ ice after more than a month of purgatory on Pool 9. Seems a fitting conclusion to the dog turd split of a fishing season Ma Nature served up in 2018. The whipped cream was a River on the cusp between open water and ice with neither safe nor productive access either way. Seven swans were swimming on one of my favorite early ice perch spots on Pearl Harbor Day.  They left a cherry on the ice when migrating east over the weekend. It is now Tuesday morning. Time to grind a hole past that cherry and pop a fish or two.

I’ve been keeping a fishing diary for nearly 40 years, noting significant events in the natural world to better predict future patterns. About 20 years ago I noted that the tundra swans had suddenly departed. Two days later I noted we finally had safe ice. When this sequence repeated the next year it was worth a closer look. I shared this pattern with the world when my first book Mississippi Musings with the Old Guide was published back in 2010. Here we are 8 years later. The big birds bug out. Two days later we have ‘safe’ ice on the usual spots on both sides of the River.  Now THAT, my friends, is a PATTERN.

Five years ago my ol’ pal Tom Gruenwald showed up to do a couple of ice fishing segments on Sportsman Channel for his show Tom Gruenwald Outdoors. The ambient temp was -15, with wind chill, -50…and we were BUCKET FISHING. When the shows aired the following year it changed my life. The decision was made right then to spend the coldest part of winter in the Sunshine State. The Admiral and me found a little place in Mexico Beach on the Fla. panhandle and have been going back every winter since. You can still see these episodes by going to the HT Enterprises website, clicking on the TV show, then clicking on Season 3. But the show no longer airs on Sportsman Channel in 2018…and after Hurricane Michael hit the panhandle back in October Mexico Beach ain’t there either!

So for the first time in five years I’ve grown some facial fur, with a plan of sticking around Dodge this winter. The swans are gone.  Time to hit the ice. Back when I first started going to Florida the decision was made to no longer guide ice fishing. That decision still stands. Too many folks think just because you’re a guide you can make the fish bite. You can’t. Fish metabolism is extremely slow under the ice. They bite when they want to bite. Odds are long–even at ‘prime time’ that they’ll want to eat during the 4 hour window of a trip. Besides, its too damn much work for an old guy who has just been told both his shoulders have ‘severe’ damage. Poking 40 holes through 3 feet of ice certainly won’t make this condition any better. So from now on, hardwater is all about fun fishin’. Maybe you’ll see a pearl or two here. maybe not. Might not blog again until the River opens up enough to fish. Maybe February, certainly by mid-March.

There will be a new policy on guided trips in 2019: leave your demons and shiny objects at the dock. If you feel compelled to bring that electronic teat along, fine. But plan on grief from this old River Rat every time you respond to that Pavlovian tone! Maybe this is why boss Bob Gillespie called me “outrageously outspoken” in the bio beneath my pro staff photo in his 2019 Custom Jigs & Spins/ B-Fish-N tackle catalog. Any trip with me is all about THE RIVER, that immortal, icon genuine force of nature.


Next Saturday, Dec. 15, I’ll be working the aisles at Cabela’s in Prairie du Chien for another great sponsor, Northland tackle company. Northland, Custom Jigs and HT all have some tremendous products which really catch fish.  Please stop by and howdy if you’re in the neighborhood.


It really torques me on how the fishing industry has changed in recent years, putting more emphasis on social media than actual fishing ability and activity out on the water. One long time lure sponsor’s new pro staff manager told me I HAD TO contribute to social media if I wanted to stay on their pro staff.  Fortunately, my boss saw value in actually being out there 200 days a year and ‘grandfathered’ me in. How ironic! They even named a lure after me “Red Head Uncle Ted”.  But this blog isn’t about me. It’s all about the Big River and all things which swim here. Speaking of Big River, there is an article in the current issue about walleye fishing. I also shot the cover photo. But this ain’t about me.  Guess I’m felling bummed about two toasted shoulders right now.


We can talk all things fishin’ next Saturday at Cabela’s in PdC, or February 8-10 at a seminar on walleyes at the Rockford Fishing Show. This seminar is essentially bullet points for the next book Walleye Fishing on the Upper Mississippi River, due on the book shelves when I’m done going Hillary with hammers and bleach bit on every shiny object which comes within arms length. Shiny objects will be what takes down the greatest nation in world history.  Just go for that serotonin buzz by responding to that Pavlovian ring tone out there in the boat next spring and you’ll hear all about it.

Comments are closed.