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Big Green freeze: Deepest lake holds sizeable trout

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Ted Peck
January 5, 2014

Wisconsin’s deepest inland lake is a solid indicator of winter’s severity.

Big Green Lake is always the last water to lock up in southern Wisconsin. Most years this happens close to the last week in January.

Lake trout season opened on Big Green yesterday, with young guide Justin Kohn traversing ice on his ATV over even the deepest waters without fear of dire consequences.

“I can’t remember Big Green locking up before opening day of trout season before,” the 30-year-old pro said, shaking his head. “I’m looking forward to fishing some of the deeper spots where the big trout hide this week.”

Meteorologists say the coldest weather system we’ve seen in 18 years will arrive in southern Wisconsin over the next couple of days, with projected ambient temperatures more chilling than Billy Hell.

The good news is lake trout won’t be affected by the cold all that much, especially after the severe arctic high pressure starts to moderate. Last week there was already 6 inches of ice at mid-lake on Big Green. There will be twice that much by next weekend.

Anglers will soon be driving trucks out there, traveling in comfort out to heated permanent shanties.

The last time I drove my truck out there, Billy Hell weather was reigning over southern Wisconsin. Buddies Jim Webster and Dave Dvorak tried talking me into probing new ice rather than fishing where we had the previous day.

Fortunately, I didn’t listen to them. About 2 p.m., a game warden stopped by the shanty we had rented from Mike Norton. While checking our licenses, he told us that a vehicle had gone through the ice over about 200 feet of water that morning. Hard-hat divers would have to be called in to recover the vehicle.

Kohn was wearing short pants back then. Electronics were crude, and graphite was undiscovered as desirable rod building material. Kohn has since grown into one of the savviest guides in southern Wisconsin.

Kohn’s weapon of choice is a half-ounce Northland Buckshot Rattle Spoon tipped with a V-shaped cut of cisco, a primary forage base for Big Green’s lake trout.

He uses tiny jigs and waxworms to catch one of these baitfish before getting down to the business of serious trouting. When looking for trout in water less than 100 feet deep, he sometimes uses a Vexilar flasher to locate fish.

But over waters where it takes a couple minutes for a half-ounce spoon to get down where the fish lurk, highly sophisticated sonar units are a major component in his presentation.

The daily bag limit for lake trout on Big Green is two, with a minimum size of 17 inches. A valid inland trout stamp is required. Most of the lake trout that come through the ice here average 20 to 23 inches long—absolutely perfect for grilling.

But there are big green torpedos swimming in Big Green Lake as well. A couple of years ago, Kohn was tussling with a respectable trout when his rod bent in an even steeper arc. All he could do was hang on.

A minute later, the weight on the end of Kohn’s line felt like a typical trout again.

The 20-incher was soon flopping around on the floor of Kohn’s shanty, making quite a mess.

A wedge-shaped piece of flesh was missing from the trout’s flank. It wasn’t the kind of wound that might be inflicted by a pike. This was the work of a cannibal of substantial dimensions.

The winter of 2014 is easing into brutal territory. Most of us will merely endure the next couple of months.

Kohn embraces it, a young Ahab obsessed with conquering a Big Green inland whale.

Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at tedpeck@acegroup.cc.



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