Winter is ice fishing season in northern Minnesota. Area lakes have sprouted small villages populated by anglers who drop lines or spear through the ice to catch walleyes, perch, or northern pike.
Matt Breuer is owner of North Country Guide Service. This time of year he rents fish houses to customers who stay in them for the opportunity to fish on frozen Lake Bemidji. Next Monday from 5:30-7:30 p.m. he is the final speaker for the We are Water MN series at Headwaters Science Center.
Matt’s topic is “Fishing Green.” He said he got interested over the years as the topic has arisen in both the hunting and fishing industries—and he is involved in both. “It was lead poisoning within animals and then lead jigs and lead weights in our waters causing some issues. You know, birds will eat fish and they could potentially get lead poisoning. Everything in nature kind of cycles. So, using deer as an example, you shoot a deer with a lead bullet and then birds of prey—vultures, things like that, hawks, coyotes, everything—will feed on a carcass and it just goes around and around; the lead just keeps going around. It’s the same thing with fish.
“Loons typically are susceptible to ‘shiny penny syndrome.’ If they see a shiny lead weight on the bottom or something there’s a possibility that they may pick it up, and there have been many loons that we’ve lost due to lead poisoning. So we’re trying to move to more eco-friendly types of jigs. Zinc alloy or tungsten—things like that—are definitely going to help keep our waters clean.”
“Lead was the most commonly used thing in tackle manufacturing, especially in the old days. I mean, that was what everybody used. A lot of people made their own jigs and they poured lead; and not very good lead. Something like wheel weights that are full of grease and oil. A lot of that gets burned off when you’re melting the lead but you’re still getting a lot of junk and debris. And then you melt that down, make your jigs, that’s what a lot of people used to do.
“But now lead has become so much cheaper than the alternatives, like zinc alloy and especially tungsten. Tungsten is very, very expensive. Manufacturers are trying to do their very best to keep prices down by outsourcing. Nobody loves outsourcing, but I think we all love the environment more than we love locally made product. So spending that extra dollar on tungsten can really go a long way and will be worth it in the long run.”
Matt says other things to think about in green fishing include simple things like stowing trash so it doesn’t fly out of a boat and picking up trash when ice fishing. “It’s just being conscious of things like that. I don’t care if people smoke—smoker, non-smoker—but cigarette butts in the lake are not good for the environment; not good for the lake. And then making sure you have fresh line on your rods and reels every year so that you’re not susceptible to breaking off on even a smaller fish. If you are using lead there are ways to make sure that you’re not losing stuff as quickly.”
Matt Breuer likes to catch eelpout (or burbot), a species that is not generally considered much of a game fish. “I’ve always had an affinity for things that are different or weird, like in deer hunting I’d rather shoot a buck that has a really ‘funky’ rack versus this big symmetrical buck that scores really high…I want something goofy. Or in bear hunting, I want something with weird colors as opposed to a really big bear. In fishing, walleyes all kind of look the same, and they all kind of fight the same. Eelpout were something I found that fought really well. They give you a better tussle than any walleye. On Lake Bemidji, which is my primary lake, I’d rather catch an 8# eelpout than a 6 or 7# walleye. It’s more fun. They fight better and they’re the only freshwater cod species, so they’re absolutely delicious, something that’s highly overlooked.
“I always joke around that walleyes are the tofu of fish. They taste exactly like people want ‘em to. So when people say ‘fish taste fishy’ that’s kind of the point. But that’s why everybody likes walleye. They don’t taste fishy. They’re rather bland. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like breading and salt, so if that’s what you cook it with and season it with, that’s what it’s going to taste like. So the fight and the uniqueness—no two burbot look the same—they’ve got beautiful patterns, beautiful colorings, and the fight they put up is just incredible.”
To eat them, Matt Breuer says “We actually treat them somewhat like lobster—and they’ve been called poor man’s lobster—but I’d say it’s more like imitation crab. We just boil them and dip them in melted sweet butter, just use toothpicks. They usually don’t make it to the dinner table. My kids are usually on ‘em before they make it that far.”
In the full interview (below) Matt also discusses how much we need to worry about invasive species when fishing in wintertime, how he encourages his guide service customers to use green fishing methods (without “preaching”), and what he plans to cover in his presentation at Headwaters Science Center.
That presentation is from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Monday January 7, 2019. The night will start with a light meal, followed by the presentation and a door prize giveaway. Door prizes include fishing gear, lures, and much more. The event is free to the public. The Headwaters Science Center appreciates RSVPs at 218/444-4472.