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Ice Fishing Vacation/School is slated for January 9-12
By Mark Martin 

Compared with most of Michigan and the rest of the Midwest, ice comes early to the Upper Peninsula. That's why, for an annual ice-fishing school held by my fellow pro walleye anglers and me, we're headed to Houghton, Michigan, and the Keweenaw Waterway in January. That's where and when you can fish, learn a lot about on-ice locations and technique, and find out how to use the latest and greatest in gear and electronics.

 The Ice Fishing Vacation/School is slated for January 9-12, when walleye are just the tip of the, um, iceberg. Beyond walleye, plenty of perch, big northern pike, even the occasional sturgeon are both a possibility and reality on Portage and Torch lakes, connecting waters to Lake Superior. Bring an ice tent, auger, fishing tackle, clothing and an ATV, and you're in business. You'll get a hotel with double occupancy; breakfasts, sack lunches, dinners; tackle and live bait as part of the package. To add a high level of instruction, there's a limit of 50 applicants, which will make for a ratio of four anglers per pro. Ross Grothe, the 2003 In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail Western Division Angler of the Year, 2001 PWT Champion Mike Gofron, 1995 PWT Champion Mark Brumbaugh and yours truly, the original PWT champion, will be your on-ice instructors to spend time with you on the hard water and plan the day's strategies at breakfast, then review the day's events at dinner.

We'll also give you an in-depth look at our favorite gear for making ice fishing a more fun, more productive sport. For sure, an efficient means to drill holes is with our StrikeMaster Lazer 224 gas augers, four-blade models composed of two larger blades, two smaller blades and a center Power Point to help cut ice in a flash. The Lazers come in eight and 10inch models. Another neat offering from StrikeMaster is the 1200DP, an electric auger that runs on a rechargeable gelcell battery.

For electronics, we'll be using the Lowrance Ice Machines, portable units with liquid-crystal screens that can be adjusted to flasher mode, which is helpful to see not only fish but also your lure in order to raise and lower it to their level. Another set of electronics that's part of our repertoire is Aqua-Vu underwater cameras. One of the greatest advances in cameras is the Aqua-Vu mopod, a camera with remote control the size of a key fob that allows the lens to rotate 360 degrees for a look in every direction to see what's moving through.  Meanwhile, the Quad 360 has a seveninch screen that can be split four ways for a display similar to a home security system's monitor.  While you need to bring your own shelter or to rent a two-man heated ice house for $50 a day, we'll be demonstrating the portable shelters by Clam Corp.

They come in various sizes, including the two-man Fish Trap Guide, which weighs in at 76 pounds for easy portability and is roomy with dimensions of81 inches by 60 inches, with a height of 60 inches when set up. A more sizable model is the Fish Trap voyager, a portable palace to easily house two or three anglers.

For tackle, we'll be using Berkley Ice Rods. Berkley's lineup of affordable ice rods blend form and function for the ultimate in sensitivity and durability in the face of brittle cold and the norms of storage and transport. In essence, the company's ice rods of less than three feet, with most of them under 30 inches, are engineered in the manner of open-water rods, with a premium put on lightweight, sensitivity and longevity in different models to match the target species or technique.

For performance fused with durability and lightweight is the Lightning Rod Professional Ice Rods series by Dave Genz, a collection of rods from 24 to 36 inches in actions from light to medium heavy. The rods are made with solid, not hollow, graphite to withstand punishing conditions. At the same time, the rods are made of higher modulus, stiffer graphite than most ice rods. The reason is that less graphite is needed in the rod-hence it's lighter in weight and more sensitive.

Also yielding a feathery touch are five (instead of three) chrome-plated guides with stainless,steel inserts, another way to reduce weight and improve sensitivity and strength. Price: $34.95-$39.95. They match great with an Abu Garcia spinning reel spooled with Trilene monofilament.

For lures, we have two favorites:  Northland's Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon and the Jigging Rapala. The spoons come in an array of great holographic colors, and the venerable Jigging Rap is now being offered with a new shad body, something bigger and bulkier to attract the walleye's attention.

To store everything, I like the varied offering by PIano-most notably, the tackle boxes that fit in the pocket of a parka. A couple of examples are the Plano 1713, at 5-1/2 inches long, and the 1070, coming in at 4-3/4 inches long by 41/4 inches wide with a height of 1-1/2 inches.  And while sunglasses are crucial for open-water angling, they are of no less utility when ice fishing. The Ecolar series by Solar Bat, in particular, has the insulation of eyepieces that keep out wind and snow while also protecting the eyes from bright glare off ice and snow.

Even if we are talking ice fishing, open water is just months away, when you'll be needing the power of quality batteries to run trolling motors and electronics. A brand-new choice by is the 31 AGM, a maintenance-free battery that can be turned on its side. Therefore, it's not a problem if the battery tips in strong waves or if you somehow knock it over.Merry Christmas or Happy New Year to me-why not?

For more information on the ice school, contact Gary Lubinski or Brian Waters at the Franklin Square Inn of Houghton.  The cost is $525 per person, including the aforementioned lodging, meals, tackle and bait. Call 906-487-1700. Hope to see you there..