The recent return to winter weather came just in time for two diverse activities that I helped with this past weekend in Wisconsin. The unusual and warmer weather that we’ve had since November has had residents split between those wanting “normal” winter weather to arrive and those who like the above normal temperatures and lack of snow and don’t miss the snow and cold of a typical Wisconsin winter. I admit that as I grow older, the harshness of winter is something that I don’t look forward to as I did when I was younger. But, a little snow to cover the ground and cold enough weather to allow those who like to ski, snowmobile, and ice fish the weather that they need to enjoy their sports.
Many of our state residents look forward to ice fishing, some even more than open water fishing, and until recently there has been little ice that was safe enough to fish without going to the northern half of the state. Last winter Lake Mendota, the largest lake in the Madison Chain, froze over December 19th and this year who knows when this lake will completely freeze over. There is still open water on Lake Mendota and ice fishing has been limited to fishing Lake Mendota’s bays and lagoons. The other lakes in the Madison Chain are being fished, but anglers have to be extremely careful where they travel. Diehard ice anglers have had to fish many of the smaller lakes, ponds, backwaters, and sloughs off the Wisconsin River if they want to fish. Even now, the third week of January, ice is still “iffy” in many locations and most travel has been limited to ATV’s, snowmobiles, and walking for lake access.
This past Saturday, the Yahara Fishing Club held its annual “Kid’s Ice Fishing Day” on Monona Bay near Brittingham Park in Madison. The Yahara Fishing Club has been around since 1946 and is a great group of diverse individuals who love the sport of fishing. The Yahara Fishing Club does numerous events for children with an event in the winter ice fishing and a summer outing at Warner Park where hundreds of youngsters fish the ponds and lagoons. The club and major sponsors, like Wal-Mart, buy hundreds of rods and reels to give to novice anglers under 12 years old at both of the events. This is a great way that the club introduces our children to fishing and hopefully many of them will be “hooked on fishing” for life! With the aging of “baby-boomer”, many sports and leisure activities are losing numbers and this is one way to combat the losses of my generation. Check out their website at www.yaharafishingclub.org and think about joining this club. Meetings are held the second Tuesday of the month at the VFW Club on Lakeside Street in Madison and everyone is welcome.
The colder weather made enough safe ice for the kid’s event and club members, Jiffy pro, Duffy Kopf, and Jim Kloth, were on the ice before first light drilling holes for the “Kid’s Ice Fishing Day” which started at 9:00 am. I arrived around 8:30 am and there was dozens of children already fishing and catching small, but hungry bluegills. The best thing about fishing Monona Bay and the “Triangle” area is that there are lots of hungry bluegills and most children will catch fish and to many it will be their first fish ever caught! There were many club members on hand to help the many, novice anglers in tying knots, fishing techniques, baiting hooks, handling fish, and about anything a beginning ice angler needs to know. Soon, the young anglers were “pros” and doing most of their fishing on their own!
Besides giving the kids rod/reel combos and free bait, there was hot dogs and hot chocolate for all the chilly fishers. It was also a chance for children to get outside and enjoy a winter activity in the outdoors. This was the first time many of the children ice fished and also the first time that many kids caught a fish. I always enjoy seeing a child catch their first fish and their smile is something that is a joy to see.
From Monona Bay, I had to return to the Sauk Prairie area for the 25th Bald Eagle Watching Days. Being a member of the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council, I’ve been helping with the eagle count that is done every other Sunday at roosting locations around the Sauk Prairie area and Lower Wisconsin River hills and valleys. The Ferry Bluff Eagle Council is another great organization which does nothing but good things for wildlife and the environment. This has been an average or above year for counting eagles, but they were spread out over a wider area before the snow and cold arrived and very difficult to count. But just in the nick of time, the snow and cold came and concentrated the eagles close to the Wisconsin River in locations where people could see and enjoy them.
The Bald Eagle Watching Days has been an annual and popular event for going on three decades. People come from all over Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa to see these magnificent birds and take part in the many activities centered on the eagle and its comeback from near extinction in the 1960’s and 1970’s. There was something at Eagle Days for the whole family to enjoy including; children’s activities, a Raptor Show with live hawks, owls, and falcons for all to see up close, bus tours to popular eagle viewing locations, a talk on outdoor photography, eagle and raptor displays, and club members on the bus tours and at the Overlook to answer questions about eagles and help people view the birds with quality optics. Many visitors had never seen an eagle up close and their joy and excitement made standing in winter’s cold well worth while and quite enjoyable.
The best thing was that people were able to see, view, and take pictures of these birds. If the weather hadn’t gotten colder and snowier, the eagles would have been spread out over a larger area and much harder to see. But, the weather and eagles cooperated giving people the opportunity to see America’s symbol flying and roosting up and down the Wisconsin River. Marge Gibson of the Raptor Education Group (www.raptoreducationgroup.org) of Antigo, Wisconsin was back to release 5 eagles that she had rehabilitated back into the outdoors from various injuries, many inflicted by man. The eagles were released from a platform at the VFW Park and the large crowd was awed by Gibson, who walked around the release area cradling an eagle which was ready to be released while talking to people as they took photos and asked questions. Most people had never seen a live eagle so close to them in their lives and relished this unique opportunity. Some had seen eagles with their optics or had seen them in videos, but never just a few feet away! The first eagle that had been lead poisoned soared when released and even met another eagle as it crossed the Wisconsin River. This scene brought a tear to my and many others eye knowing that this eagle was free again and able to fly.
It was a busy, but very enjoyable weekend helping people do diverse things in the outdoors. The eagles will be in the area till March, so check the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council’s website at www.ferrybluffeaglecouncil.org or www.saukprairie.com for more information and take the drive to the Sauk Prairie area to view these magnificent birds. Ice fishing should continue to improve as we get more ice and locations to fish. Ice fishing gets you outside and a good chance of catching a tasty meal of panfish. Enjoy winter!