Fishing With Santa Claus
By Mike Heine
July 24th edition
It was hot.
Temperatures pushed 90 degrees and there was hardly a cloud in the sky that early July day.
The humidity made you sweat just from standing outside.
Seems like an odd time to go fishing with a man whose alter ego is Father Christmas. But I was.
For me, it was Christmas in July when I had the opportunity to go northern pike fishing with a man who goes by the name Santa Claus almost as much as he does his real name.
Professional fishing guide and professional Santa Claus impersonator Chuck Schalz and I headed out on Geneva Lake the afternoon of July 8 from Williams Bay.
After a quick, dry ride on his 20-foot Yar-Craft, we were in the first of four spots we’d try that afternoon and early evening.
We started on the northern shore near the village of Fontana, working the deep weed lines in about 34 feet with live suckers.
Chuck handed me his rod on our first of about six pike hookups. It wasn’t a monster at about 26 inches, but fun to get one in the boat.
Chuck tabbed the next fish and reeled up another mid-sized pike.
Fishing in that area slowed so we headed to an underwater bar on Fontana’s southern shore after making a few casts toward the village’s boat launch channel, where I landed a slab bluegill on a leech.
The 8-inch suckers were still slow to produce bites, but I was able to pick up two nice pike in the 32-inch range with a jumbo leech on a red hook below a split shot. Again, the water was in the 30- to 40-foot range with a sharp rise to the shallow hump.
Chuck too picked up a couple more nice pike before we packed it in and headed back to the bay. We casted a couple of docks for largemouth bass but were without success.
The naturally bearded Santa impersonator attributed our limited success to two things; one, the wrong bait and, two, the thermocline not being set up.
“Chubs would have made all the difference,” Chuck said of another popular “gator” bait. “I think they’re more natural to this lake. That seems just the opposite on Delavan Lake. It seems suckers work better over there.”
Chuck reported a few days after our trip the he and another party had “incredible” success on the pike, with several fish topping 32 inches. Chubs were the magic bait, he said. Local bait shops didn’t have any in stock the day we ventured out.
Also, when we went, “the thermocline wasn’t totally set up,” Chuck said. “The water temperatures and oxygen levels were all pretty even. Pike were in shallow and deep. Once that thermocline develops...then they go down deep to that water temperature.”
The thermocline, which is a thin layer of water sandwiched between warm surface water and cold depths, is a summer hotspot in Geneva Lake for most species of fish.
“It’s like you and I being outside on a hot day and then going into the air conditioning. Where would you rather be?” Chuck said of a fish’s general preference to swim the cool thermocline waters rather than at the warm surface. “It’s just less stress on them. They just sit down there and eat.”
Oxygen and baitfish are both plentiful along the thermocline areas, making it an attractive summer haunt for all game fish.
Targeting pike on steep breaks, where the thermocline meets the bottom, is key in Geneva, Chuck said. The thermocline on Geneva usually starts setting up around 30 feet in early July, but will sink lower as the surface water warms throughout the summer.
Geneva’s clarity and extreme depth—it’s the second deepest inland lake in Wisconsin—makes fishing deeper water a must for warm-weather trophy catches, Chuck said.
In spring, before a thermocline develops, target shallow spawning areas, such as sandy bottoms and fish cribs at the ends of large docks, Chuck recommends.
The lake’s clear water also makes live bait a more popular choice among anglers, Chuck said.
“Live bait works so well here in comparison to artificials,” Chuck said. “The lake is so clear. The zebra mussels cleaned it up tremendously.
“It’s not that artificials don’t work. Bass will hit jigs and plastics when they’re in shallow. But when you deepen up, live bait is more of a favorite. We catch more.”
Chuck and I were backtrolling suckers below a 1/2 oz. Lindy sinker on heavy-action baitcasters. Use a split shot or barrel swivel about 18-24 inches up from the hook to keep the bait off the bottom. Heavy line and leaders are helpful to prevent bite-offs.
The productive leeches I used were rigged on a red octopus hook and split shot tied to medium-action spinning gear. Working the bait slowly along the bottom produced the best results.
Story and Photo courtesy of Mike Heine