I can’t tell you how many times I’m asked, early in the ice fishing season, if the ice is safe to go out on. Ice anglers are always chomping at the bit to get out on the ice and enjoy one of winter’s most popular activities in the Upper Midwest. Besides, first ice is one of the best times to ice fish because the fish are probably in the same location as they were when the water froze over and that most likely is in shallow water less than 8 to 10 feet deep and often even shallower. This is one of the times when fish are active and catching a pail full of bluegills, crappies, and perch is often the norm. I used to get out for a few hours most any days that there is safe ice. To me, safe ice doesn’t exist because there are so many variables that can affect ice even when it is very thick. The wind, water currents, ice quality, pressure cracks, honey-combed ice, warm water discharges, and feeder creeks are just a few of these variables. You must always use caution when going ice fishing because there are too many things that can go wrong.
I know that I’ve told you many times that there is no such thing as safe or perfect ice because no lakes are the same and now with climate change affecting the number of day’s of ice fishing that are diminishing every year. This may be why so many fishers are getting out to ice fish as often as they can and not paying as close attention to their safety . I’ve always liked to have at least 4 inches and hopefully 6 inches of good ice before going fishing. But, there are some “macho” people who have to be the first people on the ice when it is not worth the chance that you’re taking. It’s possible to have 15 inches of ice and still not have perfect ice. The larger the body of water also affects the quality of the ice that you’re planning on fishing. Madison’s largest lake, Lake Mendota, has just barely frozen over last week and even with 6-8 inches of ice, an ATV sunk on Lake Mendota needing 3 tow trucks to pull it out. Every day, you read about trucks and cars going through the ice and many of these are sinking in the immediate area around of Madison.
A little over a week ago, a winter tragedy stuck the guiding and ice fishing community. This isn’t a large number of people, but most know each other and see each other this time of year at the many outdoor shows. Last Saturday morning, I was watching John Gillespie Wood’s and Water television show. John was fishing tip-ups with Charter Captain and Fishing Guide, Jim Hudson, of Bayfield, Wisconsin. The weather was cold, but the group was regularly catching some big salmon and trout. The show was filmed earlier in the week and Jim and John Gillespie and friends were having some great tip-up fishing on Lake Superior for trout and salmon. Then, later that day I got the bad news! Jim Hudson had drowned while checking the ice for fish and travel last Saturday afternoon.
Jim Hudson was a proud member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa serving as a police officer in Bayfield, Wisconsin for 10 years before going out guiding and fishing full-time. As a police officer, Hudson was taking care of the city where he grew up which included his friends, relatives, and neighbors. Hudson retired from the police force in Bayfield in 2011 to pursue his lifetime love of fishing full-time. Jim started his own guide service, Hudson’s on the Spot Guide Service fishing Chequamegon Bay and the Apostle’s Island region of Lake Superior both in the open water season and for ice fishing. He specialized in catching huge lake trout, pig smallmouth, brown trout, and huge walleyes throughout the year. If you met Jim at a sport show giving a seminar or on the ice or water, he always had time to talk fishing and help anyone out. Jim was mentored and inspired by his grandfather, Franklin Basina. Hudson had a love affair with Lake Superior which he deeply cared about and felt a “connection” with to protect and show others its beauty. Hudson’s life was about preserving, protecting, and taking care of Lake Superior and its fishery. Every part of his body and soul were connected to this body of water which may come from his Native American heritage and up-bringing. There is no where else that Jim would rather be than on Lake Superior fishing with clients or friends no matter the weather or temperature. I guess that many of his clients were also his friends after fishing with him for years. Jim will be missed as a fisherman, captain, guide, and advocate of getting young people out fishing in the winter or summer.
Hudson’s snowmobile went done between Long Island and the mainland and I don’t know all the details, except that he had gotten the Nebulus Floatation Device and a flotation suit for this big water. People tried to get him out of the water, but couldn’t and he was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital on Saturday, January 26th. I hope that he was using his safety equipment and not just in a hurry to check fishing locations out. As his wife Hannah said, “He died doing what he loved most.”
There was a jam packed crowd at the Bayfield Pavilion on Sunday for a memorial service and any donations should be sent to the Jim Hudson Memorial Fund at the Bremer Bank in Bayfield, Wisconsin. Jim was only 34 years old and just becoming a star in the fishing and outdoor world. God Bless you Jim and I hope you’re fishing the Big Lake in the Sky!