On Feb. 6, Spartan Angling ventured to Lake Winnibigoshish partnered with High Banks Resort, hosted by Rick and Kim Leonhardt. Spartan Angling is an elective class at Nashwauk High School, open to grades 9-12. The class teaches the art and science of Minnesota angling to students and was initially funded by a DNR grant to increase angler participation in Minnesota. The Spartan Angling experience investigates a variety of topics such as: fish species, angling tactics, reading contour maps, slot limits, lake over-harvest, shoreline management, invasive species and catch-and-release tactics. The class also provides student access to a fishing library that houses rods, reels, tackle, life jackets, fish houses, locators, flashers and other angler necessities.

Rumors of jumbo perch were buzzing through the class the week of the trip. Prior to the trip, we discussed Winnibigoshish as a lake: the species present, the invasive challenges it is facing, inlets, outlets, water clarity, slot sizes and various resorts on the lake. Students were eager to try their luck on this major waterway and target the famous jumbo perch present in its waters.

As I picked up the school suburban, the eager anglers were already waiting for me. One enthusiastic angler told me he hardly slept, due to the excitement of the trip. He’s been bitten by the fish bug that will haunt him his whole life the night before a fishing trip. Kids boarded the suburbans as we headed west towards Deer River, then north to the resort. The hoarfrost in the trees made for a scenic ride as many trees were coated in white and bridge decks a little slick.

As we pulled up to the resort, students busted open the van as if it was a fire drill. We went inside to High Banks Resort and were greeted by Kim, one of the owners. We felt immediately welcomed at the resort and we ran through logistics of the trip for the day. Students ventured around the resort and were astounded at the picture of the state record muskie that was landed on Winni in 1957. The excitement was peaking after seeing the potential of what can be caught on Big Winni.

As we got a ride out to the fish houses, one of the employees gave Spartan Angling students a lesson in ice road building. I thought ice road building was a simple thing of just plowing, but it turns out it is much, much more than that! It is a huge undertaking for any resort to create and maintain a road on ice. This year has been more difficult than most, as many hours are spent daily on road maintenance. Bottom line: When a resort charges you for a road access fee, gladly pay it, as they have hundreds of hours trying to keep it nice for you!

Once we got to the houses, the kids were eager to get their baits down. The students were astounded at the clarity of the water and could see the bottom down 20 feet. Some students were lying down on the insulated floor to watch “perch TV”. You could see the schools of perch coming in and approaching peoples baits. Fun comments were made: “There’s one going for your lure right now!” or “OMG, look at that huge perch down there, I hope it bites!”

Students starting pulling perch and the 5 gallon pails began to lose their bottom to fish slime.

It was fun as the angling teacher to listen to the house dynamics. When we first started fishing, the students were talking a little bit, as they are new to the class and unfamiliar with one another. As the day continued, friendships were forming as kids were noticing each other’s lines and fish, due to the incredible water clarity. Snacks were being shared and another angling class was bonding once again. It’s rewarding to me when kids catch fish and make friends at the same time. Fishing is an activity that draws people together and the greatest pastime on earth.

As the afternoon wore on, some of the excitement died down. The morning schools of perch were gorged from their breakfast and kids were entering the tired part of the day.

However, in the early afternoon, suddenly a student yelled about some giant fish below the ice. As kids jumped out of bunks and students put heads in the holes, they caught sight of a giant muskie lurking on the bottom. This lethargic beast taunted the adolescent anglers for many minutes and refused to sample the puny perch jig and minnow. Despite minutes of jigging and begging, the pot-bellied machine didn’t want any more food for the day. He must have eaten several perch and was just curious. I enjoyed watching the amusement of this fish with the kids and eventually the fish went to another area.

The fisherman also talked a lot about eelpout … the latest craze in ice fishing. Some kids had caught this fish and others have heard tales about it coiling up your arm and sliming you to pieces. During another lull in the action an albino eelpout, or at least it appeared to be, scavenged through the holes, causing a huge ruckuss. The tentacles were sensing food, but its erratic swimming pattern didn't cross paths with anyone’s bait. After a short stint on Winni TV, the sought-after slimeball monster was gone, teasing and taunting the kids as it slithered away glued to the bottom.

The day ended with a decent catch of perch, perfect to give all the anglers a little taste the following Friday. The anglers were wondering when the next trip would be, as they were ready for the next one. It was a great day for the anglers, High Banks Resort, and myself as the teacher. Thanks again to High Banks for hosting our crew and we look forward to a long lasting partnership for years to come.

Spartan Angling is always in need for financial contributions from area businesses or individuals who would like to make these trips possible. Please see our website, www.spartanangling.com to see what we are all about. We make slimy memories for kids!

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