Open that Door!

By Ted Peck - February 1, 2010
Door County, Wisconsin has been one of my favorite fishing destinations for over 30 years. This is a place where you want to bring all the gear-from downrigger rods to perch jerkin' tackle-because the bite will always be good but finding the best action is a study in versatility.

Packing for a roadie to Wisconsin's thumb is a little easier this time of year. All you need is the ice fishing stuff: tip-ups for pike and brown trout, jigging sticks for walleyes and whitefish.

A GPS and compass are must have items. You'll want to bring a portable shanty, Vexilar and power drill. Driving on the Door County ice isn't a real good idea this winter. But it's a long, long way out to most of the fish, so you'll want to bring the snowmobile or ATV.

If you've never fished the Door on hardwater, hire a guide. Bret Alexander is the best. Alexander rents shacks and will haul you out to the fish with your own gear for a reasonable price, but there is more to catching fish than simply being over top of them. Simply put: the difference between catching lots of fish and maybe just a few is a study in tips and tricks.

Even though the Door Peninsula has more shoreline on an acre by acre basis than any other county in the state, with a more diverse fishery than perhaps any other venue sportfishing-and sport anglers-are not held in high regard.

The Chamber of Commerce will gladly tell you where to go "leaf looking" in the fall or offer chic boutiques if you need to replace an ascot or a merlot-stained Cardin shirt. But if you smell more like minnows than old money and your vehicle is a rusty GMC with a busted taillight instead of an Escalade with an "I heart trouting" bumper sticker you may want to limit touring to points from Sturgeon Bay southward.

You can find some tremendous brown trout action in Egg Harbor with minnow-baited tip-downs and automatic tip-ups while pumping a spoon or jigging Rap. Be advised, you'll need to be self-sufficient. There are no bait shops or tackle stores north of Sturgeon Bay.

A couple of years ago my buddy Kyle Allen and I were in the northern Door chasing smallmouth when he ran out of chew. It was 20 miles to the nearest can of Copenhagen.

Later we stopped at a steakhouse. The waiter said "My name is Dylan. I will be your server. Tonite's special is ahi-that's tuna. Do you like sushi?" We caught a pile of nice smallies on that trip. On the way home we both bought sets of Billy Bob teeth so we could smile at folks in BMW's and Audis.

There are a couple of motels in the northern Door which offer marginal accommodations for fishermen. Even these are spendy, with a plastic card instead of a metal key required to open the door.

Sturgeon Bay has several lodging options where fishermen are at least tolerated. But there is only one motel in the entire county where they are welcomed with open arms: Beach Harbor Resort. Captain Jon Hanson runs the place.

There are several reasons why Beach Harbor is my base camp when fishing this part of the state. Why does it earn Capn Ted's five star rating?

  • outdoor plug-ins for boats
  • boat ramp and good fishing on site
  • comfortable bed
  • exhilarating hot shower
  • great food just a short stumble away
Hanson's chili is almost as good as mine. This fact is not lost on local folks who really fish. When I checked in after a day on the ice recently and kicked off my boots The Weather Channel was on the TV. This alone speaks volumes about the clientele.

Those local folks who really fish have been venturing out to the eastern edge of Larson's reef early and late in the day for walleyes. Bret Alexander prefers a quarter ounce Oddball jig tipped with a pin minnow. I've always been partial to a #5 chrome/blue or firetiger jigging Rap.

There never really has been a night bite for walleyes off of the southern Door. But you want to get there at dark-thirty in the morning to poke holes to keep from spooking the fish.

Ditto when chasing whitefish in deeper water out from Sand Bay during mid-day.

The most productive rig is a gold Swedish Pimple tipped with two waxies with a little teaser two feet up the line which is one of Alexander's trade secrets.

Whitefish are eating gobies and small invertebrates which are relating to zebra mussels, with most action within a foot of the bottom. Zebra mussels clean the water column. We were sight fishing in over 50 feet of water! Amazing!

Timing is a big part of any successful fishing trip. The second half of February is the time to hit Door County ice. Come back mid-April for walleyes at night, fishing from shore within sniffing distance of grilling brats at Beach Harbor resort.

Late July is a good time to slip on the Billy Bob teeth and troll reefs off of Ephraim for giant walleyes. In late September the night bite for 'eyes in the Sturgeon Bay ship canal is phenomenal, with daylight hours spent pitching tubes and senkos for smallies. But that's another story.

Author Ted Peck
Ted Peck
Cap'n Ted Peck has over 30 yrs. guiding experience, specializing in multi-species fishing on Pool 9-10 of the Mississippi from Genoa, Wi. to Prairie du Chien. Cap'n Ted is a pro staffer for Lund, Northland Tackle, MinnKota, Bill Lewis Lures, Evinrude, Uncle Josh, HT Enterprises and Custom Jigs & Spins. When not guiding Cap'n Ted communicates the outdoors experience via newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and through seminars. This work has taken him all over the midwest, Canada and beyond... but he always returns to the upper Mississippi which he considers the most diverse fishery in North America. Click here for more info on Ted's guide service. Cap'n Ted's new book Mississippi Musings with the Old Guide is a personal account of his long career as a professional fishing guide on Old Man River.