190324_PECK

The first sign of spring—robins—gather around a feeder this week.

A cacophony of bird music heralded the arrival of spring last Wednesday, with a host of robins colluding around the bird bath, three female wood ducks and their colorful wingmen vying for the wood duck house in Jim Watson’s back yard, sandhill cranes hiding high in the sky somewhere behind the noisy Canada geese and waterfowl of all persuasions milling and dabbling in front of my lakefront property.

For much of the year, my lake is a cornfield. But rapid snow melt just over a week ago sent ice jams against the bridge downstream from the small stream in front of the family compound, flooding several hundred acres creating what waterfowl must think is a “field day.”

Ice fishing went from slow to dicey on many popular venues overnight, forcing me to hang up the short rods for the season after a trip when an eight-foot plank was adequate to access the ice but too short to return to shore several hours later with dry feet—or even a dry belt.

Open-water fishing was delightfully productive for just a few days before the sudden arrival of the big flush. Walleyes are still trying to find suitable habitat. They should be on a real chew—maybe even anxious to get on with spawning by next weekend.

Talk among the old timers at the coffee shop is sprinkled with numerous outdoor observations and remembrances, most notably the Great Flood of ’65.

I didn’t want to show my age with a tale of filling sandbags for 36 hours at a drainage ditch pump station protecting thousands of acres of farm land—including our place—inland from Pool 13 on the Mississippi.

A highlight of that adventure was slipping the station manager’s size-13 waders over size-9 feet and grabbing a pitchfork to spear carp during a short break. The battleship Yamato of carp soon cruised by, right at my feet. I speared with every ounce of teenage might, stabbing the toe of the borrowed waders and pitching headlong into the cold and muddy water.

Most old guys have stories far more colorful than that—most of which lately have the common thread of the Great Flood of ’65. The general consensus is this: The severity of our pending doom will be driven by how cold temperatures get at night and the amount of rain statewide over the next couple of weeks.

Our hometown river has mostly local drainage, with little impact from snow melt a couple climatic zones north.

The Wisconsin, and even more so the Mississippi, rivers will see considerably more impact from runoff, the effects of which may influence fishing well into the summer. Andy Polumbinsky called to say the boat ramp at River’s Edge Resort at the Dells opened up early last week.

Snow-melt runoff from the headwaters of the Wisconsin up around Lake Namekagon, a boundary water we share with Michigan, probably won’t flush through southern Wisconsin for at least another month.

My young-old buddy, Jesse Simpkins, called a few days ago to chat. He was just returning home to Park Falls from a business trip from a tropical locale, field testing the latest St. Croix rods on the company dime.

His job has many enviable perks. The downside is, Jesse has to pay for his own SPF 50—and he goes through a bunch of it.

Park Falls is a beautiful name for a beautiful town—in July. Right now, Simpkins says, there is still a good 2 feet of snow on the ground there, with a good chance the ground will still be white when he returns from the next business trip at a latitude where folks haven’t heard of Leinenkugel, Korbel or Johnsonville brats.

Meanwhile, here in the City of Parks, it’s time to break out your most precious St. Croix and get the boat wet. The soft parade has begun.

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

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