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ATV modification aids in crossing thinning ice

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Ted Peck
March 22, 2014

Tourism folks in Wisconsin's Indianhead Country are anxiously watching the weather this first weekend of spring. Last year they were able to put a positive spin on tip-up fishing at the Governor's Opener held on Lake Namekagon.

If ice fishing in May were a once-in-a-lifetime event the experience would certainly be noteworthy. The winter of 2012-13 was semi-tough. The winter of 2013-14 was brutal and is still hanging on.

Speculation at the Governor's Opener venue on Balsam Lake isn't a question of ice fishing or not. The real question is whether participants will be able to reach water without an extension for their power augers.

Ice will certainly be gone from lakes across southern Wisconsin by the first Saturday in May. But there is a real possibility that ice fishing will be the only way to get after fish on lakes around here well into April.

Mobility is a major key to success in a late-ice scenario. Walking a half-mile to a favorite spot with a sled full of gear in tow stretches the concept of fun. Hovercrafts, Argos and Wilcrafts are beyond the price point of most recreational anglers. Those who own an ATV can be serious late-ice players with an invention called J-wheelz.

J-wheelz are the brainchild of a South Dakota farmer who had trouble getting out to feed his livestock in winter conditions such as the ones we've become all too familiar with.

When I saw how they worked on a recent perch trip, the check book attached to a back pocket with several large fishhooks came out so fast that the pain from writing a $650 check wasn't even noticed.

“What are those things?” has replaced “How are they biting?” as the most asked question at the boat ramp for the past couple weeks. Now that J-wheelz have been given a hard and honest field test, I can offer a heartfelt endorsement.

One of the most ironic aspects of promotion on the J-wheelz webpage is “recognized to meet floatation requirements in Dane County, Wisconsin.” This tells me there is no other jurisdiction between South Dakota and Timbuktu mandating floatation on a machine used to traverse the ice.             Flotation is a good thing to have on an ATV in a winter that refuses to let go. A government mandating flotation is counter to generally accepted common sense which Cheeseheads take quiet pride in.

The manufacturer says this product provides 310 pounds of positive flotation, in addition to profoundly enhanced traction over snow, muck and other stuff that isn't much fun to walk through.

With the front rack of my ATV modified to carry a power auger and the back rack modified to carry a portable shanty and other necessary ice fishing gear, no lake-dwelling Wisconsin panfish can feel safe about not becoming a sandwich between now and ice-out.

The trailer that hauls my winter fishing boat has not been disconnected from the truck for nine days now. It might just have to follow me out to South Dakota for another serious mess of foot-long perch this week.

We're finally—finally!—in the hot bite late-season ice fishing is known for. The Rock, Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers are now pretty much accessible to boat traffic, but it will be at least two weeks before river walleyes start feeding aggressively.

Meanwhile, there are smaller fish to fry.

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



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