I’ve lived in Wisconsin for almost four decades since originally coming to Wisconsin to attend the University of Wisconsin in Madison. I grew up in the suburbs north of Chicago from an athletic family on my father’s side and my grandfather on my mother’s side was a fisherman, hunter, and a person who had a great love of the outdoors. Grandpa John, was an immigrant from Sweden whose father was a commercial fisherman. Grandpa, Grandma, and my mother came to America some 80 years ago and settled in Chicago. Gramps was a carpenter by trade and in the 1930’s many Swedes settled in the Chicago area after landing in New York.
The one thing that my grandparents missed was the outdoors, the fishing, and the hunting. Back in the 1940’s and 1950’s, my family (before I was born) traveled to Lake Kaptogama in northern Minnesota. This was a long trek that the family made a couple of times a year when the roads and cars were much different and traveling to northern Minnesota was at least a day and a half trip. There was no interstate highway, cars were much different and not as fast and northern Minnesota was a “different” world from the streets of urban Chicago. Minnesota consisted of vast wilderness areas, pine trees, and countless lakes and rivers that reminded my grandfather of Sweden whose roots he tried to maintain his entire life. These fishing trips included the entire family (I wasn’t born yet) and then it took a couple of days of driving just to get northern Minnesota.
Everyone in our family fished and the opening of the inland season and the trip to Lake Kaptogama was one of the year’s highlights. I remember my grandfather telling me of these early fishing trips to Minnesota when I was very young. Grandpa John was familiar with our fish species because northern pike, walleye (cousin of Europe’s zander), and perch were common in Sweden’s lakes and rivers. I’ve seen old photos that show the family fishing with nice stringers of walleyes and northern pike. These were the days before catch and release and all fish caught were eaten or packed in ice for the trip back to Illinois. The opening day of the fishing season was a family ritual and when I was born it was an event that a child of my age thought was the greatest week of the year.
My grandfather and our family began coming to Wisconsin and the Boulder Junction area of Vilas County sometime in the early 1960’s. The family stayed at Armour Lake Resort just outside of Winegar which is now called Presque Isle. I think we started coming to Wisconsin because it was closer and the landscape was much like that of Sweden too with an abundance of pine forests, lakes, animals, and of course good fishing. My cousin, Peter, and I would wait all year long while looking forward to going to Wisconsin for the opening of the fishing season with Grandpa and the family. We were young children then, but my Grandfather always took the boys fishing and passed on his knowledge and tips to Peter and me.
We continued going to Vilas County through my high school years and little did I know that I would end up going to the University and settling later in the 1970’s on a farm in southern Dane County which I farmed while teaching school in Mt. Horeb. I was still an avid angler, but much of my fishing took place on the trout streams of Iowa and Dane Counties. I also fished the Madison Chain, Lake Yellowstone, Stewart Lake, Black Hawk Lake, and Cox Hollow Lake with friends on a regular basis. But, the year’s highlight was always going to northern Wisconsin for the inland lake opener. The trip to Vilas County was a “given” which was looked forward to all winter. I had a small boat with a 15 horsepower Johnson motor that I was so proud of and about all that one would need for the smaller lakes in the north. My boat was a rebuilt guide boat that I bought from Boulder Junction’s famous guide, Porter Dean, who I became good friends with in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Porter schooled me in walleye fishing and I owe much of the fishing I love so to Dean.
I moved to the Wisconsin River area near Sauk City and have been living on the Wisconsin River ever since. So, for the last 25 years I’ve stayed at home fishing the Wisconsin River, Lake Wisconsin, and the Madison Lakes on fishing’s opening weekend. The wonderful days of going to northern Wisconsin for the opener are in the past because I have such great fishing close to my home. I miss those days of my youth and the wonderful times spent with my grandfather and family fishing that first Saturday in May.
Opening weekend of fishing will always bring back great memories of my early fishing adventures. I hope that many of you look forward to the opening of the fishing season as I have and have friends and family to share this weekend with. This year, it’s doubtful whether all the lakes will be free of ice for this Saturday opening. Larger lakes, like Trout Lake, will still have ice and so will many of the larger lakes. I remember many years when I was worried whether or not the northern Wisconsin lakes would be ice free for the opener, but most years the lakes would open just in time to fish. I hope many of you have some great memories of fishing’s opening weekend and have some fond thoughts of fishing with your friends. I wish all of you a great opening weekend. They are special times, so try to take your children, relatives, and friends fishing if possible. No matter how the fishing is, these are special times and the memories last a lifetime!