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A Quest For A Beast Finally Seen Through

By Austin Stankowski - February 23, 2018
For months I had been on a quest to catch a trophy brown trout ice fishing. It was something that soon consumed me. I began to learn the ins and outs of it and realized it was not as easy as I first thought.

I figured my dad and I could go down to Milwaukee where many of the big brown trout lurk in the winter, set up and catch fish. That was far from the truth. Although I had good confidence that I could do this on my own and even constructed some specialized rod set ups for the adventure I decided to contact some experts.

The truth be told about these fish is that they are hard to come by, are finicky and require a lot of attention to detail to put fish on the ice. I had learned all I could from the internet but wanted to go the extra mile so I tried making some contacts.

I met Captain Jason Woda of Reel Sensation Charters in December and he said that we would be able to catch a big Brown Trout no problem. I began my quest by talking to Captain Jason on the phone many times, he always made sure everything was clear on what I would need to bring, (more or less just myself and my ice fishing clothes). With my Dad, my Brother, and my friend Cole in tow, I lead them to meet Captain Jason.

We planned a mid-January trip prime time for a harbor fishing adventure.

When we awoke early in the morning to meet Captain Jason in the harbor, you could feel in the air that it could be the perfect day for fishing. The weather was at about 40 degrees and a storm was in the forecast for that afternoon in to the night. The barometer was holding high and steady and I knew we were in for a drop. That always puts the fish on the feed and often times the hard to catch beasts. When we arrived at the marina Captain Jason was already there waiting for us. He explained that he had hooked us up to one of his closest buddies who were excellent Brown Trout guides. These guys ran a operation called Best Bite Guide Service, and there name definitely lives up to how they fish. Upon arriving on the ice we were introduced to the three guides of Best Bite; Nathan Kaminski, Andrew Logan, and Collin Venn. Immediately I recognized them from the internet and I was also impressed with their personal politeness.

In the crowded area of Milwaukee harbor, these guys had managed to get here early enough in the fog to set up a 100 yard perimeter of automatic fisherman. These devices would hook into the finicky trout that normally just hit and drop the bait.

An autofisherman is a type of set-up that is fairly new on the ice fishing scene. The design is a longer rod and open faced reel in a specialized rod holder. The bait is the same but you set the tip of the pole in a piece of wire so that the rod is bent down to the hole. When the fish strikes, the rod tip goes up and sets the hook. The drag is set light enough that if the fish needs to run it will but there is still tension. This is a crucial set-up for trout as they have a tendency to drop the bait as soon as they feel any tension. With this they are already hooked.

After introductions, Nathan immediately set me, Cole, and Cade up with a jigging rod and a vexilar. Andrew and Collin continued to set up the Automatic fisherman while Nathan showed us the jigging technique. It did not take long in the first light. I was jigging away with a white tube jig set up tipped with a wax worm and I felt a hit on my jig. I set the hook hard and had hooked into my first brown trout. Nathan rushed over and began to coach me through it. Before we knew it the trout was at the hole and Nathan snatched it out of the water in the blink of an eye. The fish was a nice silver brown about 20 inches long, the best kind to eat, and we were going to take it home and cook it up for our television show Growin' Up WIld.

The fishing seemed to slow down after that and no one was getting bites. Just when we were starting to not pay attention, Andrew yelled "fish on!" and we raced to the automatic fisherman that was bobbing up and down. We all raced to the rod and I grabbed it, Andrew was right behind me and could tell by the way the pole was bent and the drag that was screaming that it was a good fish.

After about a five minute fight we got our first look at the fish through the crystal blue water. The guys all said in disbelief "It's a huge Coho!" The fish would take a few screaming runs away from the hole and I slowly gained line on the fish. The ice was about 14" thick and you could easily down the 10" holes. After a few more strong runs and gaining line on the fish it began to get closer. My nerves were on high patrol and I could see the fish beneath us through the clear ice. The fish came to the hole head firs and Nathan pulled it out of the hole and I was in disbelief.

It was a 31 inch Coho in the middle of January! It was a female full of eggs and full of breeding color. She was dark black and had red purple marking on her. They said that for some reason these fish haven't spawned out yet this year so they are still alive and around. We got a few pictures and sent it back down the hole so it could spawn out and maybe get caught again.

I helped rerig the rod set up and placed a shiner minnow on the single hook. It was about ten minutes when another automatic fisherman went off and we were off to the races. I got there first and picked up the rod. I immediately knew it was a good fish and began the long run of tiring the fish out. Many people may try to horse these fish up, but we were using 8 pound braid with a 6 pound mono leader trying to catch a 10 pound plus fish. So horsing it up was not an option, you had to play the fish and it was awesome feeling the head shakes and the long runs. Finally after another epic battle the fish was ready to come up and it looked like a good brown. Nathan head grabbed it out of the hole and it was a really good brown. It ended up being a 26 inch brown trout that had some vibrant color to it and we sent it back down the hole to grow up and be caught again in the future after a quick couple of pictures.

I was really impressed with Nathan and the gang with the way they handled the fish. They treated it like it was a little baby making sure to keep the head and gills wet and always having a firm grip by the tail. They cradled the head so it would not hit the ice. As they released the fish they always thanked it and congratulated me on how I handled the fight.

The morning was just getting started and as we watched a rare Snowy Owl fly overhead I had a feeling it was only going to get better.

After only a few moments another auto went off and we were off to the races. Cole, one of my best friends got there first and he finally got to fight his first fish of the day. After a short fight, a beautiful 25 inch brown came topside with a quick tail grab. The colors on this fish were incredible, as it contained nearly the full rainbow. Nathan, Andrew and Collin told us that there are no two brown trout that are the same out here. They truly are trophies in their own right. After a few quick pictures with the Milwaukee skyline in the background we sent the fish down the hole.

No sooner had the fish disappeared back to the harbor, another auto-fisherman went off.

This set-up was the furthest one, and after a long run, we found out that it was a swing and a miss. Nathan and Andrew let me reset the rig, and we hoped the fish would come back to bite again. We reached the shack and our neighboring fishermen were calling us, the same auto had went off again! I was the first person to the pole. Immediately you could tell this fish was different, as I picked up the pole, there was no give in this fish, it was as though I had hit a snag, although this "snag" was taking out line on me fast. Finally it gave a little and I began slowly bring it in.

When I had gotten it to around 10 feet from the hole it took off again. It slowed down enough for me to bring it in, but the fish was not giving much as the drag was constantly going off. Nathan, coached me through it like a pro. He said to raise the pole up, drop it down, and make sure the line doesn't catch the edge of the hole. He was a calming voice in my otherwise frantic mind. Nathan also said that this fish was going to probably put up a long fight, so be ready. A long fight it was, after 15 minutes we finally got our first look at the fish, and it was a tank. Fisherman from all around started to come in to witness a monster being caught.

After another ten minute fight the fish finally seemed ready to make an appearance to the open world, as it sat beneath the hole just long enough for Collin to snatch its tail and bring it up. As the fish appeared from the depths, it was met with cheers and many whoops! It was huge! Nathan said that this was a fish of a lifetime, and I had been lucky enough to catch it!!! There is no way I would have landed this fish without these guys, and I have to give huge props to Collin who was crazy fast about capitalizing on an opportunity that this fish gave him to be able to reach down the hole and tail grab it as it swam past. After many pictures and a measurement, we carefully let the giant go. We estimated that this fish probably weighed around 25 pounds. With a quick little tail flip as if he was saying goodbye, the fish was gone down the hole to be caught again.

We went back to the shack feeling totally victorious, and the big fish were just starting. Suddenly that same auto from the last monster went off again, but as we got there we figured out that it had missed. Collin began resetting the hole when wham! There was a fish on! Collin handed the pole to Cade and he and Nathan coached him through it. I cannot say enough how good these guys were at making sure you stayed calm and collected as you fought these huge fish. Cade fought this fish for 20 minutes before once again, quick as lighting Collin grabbed the fish. It was another huge brown, this time just a little smaller than the last one! We estimated this one was around 20 pounds.

As we were taking pictures, yet another auto went off. The race was on and the ice was slick. Cole got to the rod first this time and began to fight it. This fish was about the same size as the first few fish, and after a decent 5 minute fight, the fish began to swim by. Somehow, Collin managed to grab the tail of the fish as it was flying past, and he pulled it up. After some more amazing pictures with the city skyline shrouded in fog in the background were taken, we let this fish go.

Nearly as soon as we let the fish go, it started to rain. We decided we would call it a day, as it had been a ton of fun, not to mention highly successful. There were tons of people out in the harbor all day, and we seemed to be the only people that managed to catch fish. This shows just how great these guys are at finding the fish, even when they seem to not be biting. They paid attention to the details of light line and leaders that were perfect.

I simply cannot say how great that these guys were to hang out with, not to mention they got us on some huge fish. If you would like to contact Captain Woda, look up Reel Sensation Charters on Facebook or google. And if you would like to contact Nathan with Best Bite Guide Service and hook into a fish of a lifetime, look them up on Facebook or go their website at to schedule a fishing trip you won't forget.

Austin Stankowski
Austin Stankowski is a junior at Stevens Point Area Senior High. He is a three time state team ice fishing champion and was awarded the title of Master Angler for the 2017-18 season by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Fishing Association. This title is awarded to the single fisherman who catches the greatest variety of quality species in a year. Austin caught 18. He is a contributing writer for and is the star of the Natioanally televisied show 'Growin' Up Wild' which stars him and his brother. The show encourages others to get out in the outdoors and harvest game and prepare it for the table. Austin is an accomplished chef and his recipes can be found on the webpage Growin' Up Wild.
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