After two days of near-perfect late autumn weather with temperatures tickling 50 degrees I’m going to go out on a limb here: We will be ice fishing by Wednesday morning.
Actually, there is a good chance folks will find walkable ice on the ditches at Stoughton, Cherokee Marsh, Whalen’s grade and the “triangle” off of John Nolen Drive by Tuesday morning. This doesn’t mean the hardwater will be two inches of clear stuff considered the minimum for “safe” ice travel on foot. But you can bet intrepid bucketeers will try to light-foot out there.
Back in 1981, I was the first to venture out on the County N ditch. Several fat bluegills were snaked through the ice on a Kelly green Dot ice jig. In those days the Swedish auger was just finding it’s way into Wisconsin. Most bucketeers used a spud or one of those worthless “cup” augers to punch holes and get after the fish.
Old notes from the fishing diary indicate I was also the first one to fall through the ice at the ditches that year. The fat bluegills and two cheap jigging sticks in a six-gallon bucket were penance paid to the frigid water for serving as a trailblazer.
Enhanced details of this adventure are open to interpretation. When you fall through the ice, all senses are focused on survival. There may have been a spectral vision on the shoreline of angels laughing, pointing and slapping each other on the back while an unseen heavenly choir offered its rendition of the 1940 Johnny Mercer classic “Fools Rush In.”
Only the Creator knows what transpired in the spiritual dimension while the fat man floundered and dropped his bucket.
Any angler rushing out on the ice next week without cleats is in for the big whoop-de-doo if not an unscheduled baptism. You won’t see this old River Rat out there before this column appears in The Gazette next week. Even then, as just another gaiter-covered face in the crowd.
The prediction of ice fishing by next week is based in part on data gleaned from a shiny object on the website www.wunderground.com. The morning routine is coffee while running a cyber trapline of a half-dozen sites before shutting the thing off and heading out into the real world of the outdoors.
Al Gore hadn’t even invented the internet back in 1981. Sneaking out on first ice was based on personal experience then, either out there grinding holes or watching from a safe distance with a Madison fish locator (commonly known as binoculars).
The concept of keeping a personal fishing diary actually began a couple years prior to that. In retrospect, the journal has proven to be one of the most valuable tools in the outdoor arsenal.
Information noted therein carries greater weight than the prediction of meaty urologists on www.wunderground.com.
With less than one dozen exceptions, Lake Mendota generates fishable ice sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Notes from old north country deer camp days indicate first ice by Thanksgiving in the midst of the nine-day traditional gun season more often than not. One caveat to this statistic is even if there was fishable ice, boards don’t get set until tags get filled.
Ice fishing has truly evolved into angling’s fourth season since the dawn of this century. Cordless drills with augers attached have replaced spuds as a popular way to tap fishin’ holes in the hardwater.
But a spud still has purpose. A Madison fish locator is a great way to observe a modern day Moses probing with his staff as he eases out to the Promised Land from your comfortable seat in a pickup truck.
Rubber-necking with binocs while standing on the shoreline is a little too obvious. You might catch a chill from the December breeze. Should this happen you might ponder: Is that wind or a fearful angel speeding to safety?