I’ve always considered opening day of the game fishing season a milestone of the year. Before I moved to the Northwoods more than 25 years ago, that was the first vacation weekend of the summer I took. I looked forward to it for weeks and once the time came to pack up the car and go, I was giddy with excitement.
Until my son, Jake, was about four, I always left him with Grandma with the idea that a little time away from each other would be good for both of us. And then one early spring, Jake and I were looking at a map and he pointed to northern Wisconsin and asked, “Is up North heaven?” That’s when I knew the kid needed to see the Northwoods for himself and from then on, he never stayed with Grandma again when I made my way back up here.
Of course, these trips required detailed preparation, and Jake and I would spend hours going through our tackle boxes and rerigging the fishing line on our poles. Once we got North, we would visit a couple of bait shops and I always let the boy pick out a new lure or two, or some other gee-gaw he thought would entice the big ones in.
Part of the excitement of these adventures was staying in quaint little cottages at area resorts. I recall with fondness the fun of pulling into these places where a sparkling lake beckoned and the loons called off in the distance. Jake would get out of the car running, heading straight for the nearest dock, so excited he could hardly contain himself. I knew exactly how he felt and even before we unpacked the car, we would grab our fishing gear and practice a few casts.
Weather was not an issue on these trips. I can remember opening fishing weekends where the sun was warm and inviting; where sitting in a row boat casting for the elusive walleye was about as much fun as a person could achieve; where the hours passed lazily, with giggles and cans of pop and an occasional candy bar. But there were other years when the wind blew fiercely and rain pelted down on us like unrelenting bullets. Then we would pull our hoods over our heads and find a cove where the wind wasn’t as biting. No matter what the conditions, though, we didn’t care. We were fishing and our determination was that of fanatics who come from a land where farm fields and barns are the primary scenery.
If luck was on our side and we actually caught fish, we would clean them up and have a fish fry. Many times, we would eat this delicacy seated next to a campfire, reminiscing about the day and our adventures on the water. And we slept like rocks, with the smell of pines and the lake coming through the windows.
I often think back to those days, when opening fishing weekend approaches. I miss those times when my kid was a small boy and fishing in the Northwoods of Wisconsin was about as much fun as a person could have. I miss that little face grinning with delight when a fish was on, and watching the kid reel with all his might to land a lunker.
Now we both live in this great land and admittedly, opening fishing weekend is not quite the same. That’s the trouble when you become a local; making a living and tending to a home takes away the time you can spend on the water. In fact, I think I fished more when I came up here as a tourist than I do now. But I have determined that this weekend, no matter what the conditions, I’m going to find an open spot of water and cast a line or two. Maybe I’ll even be lucky and catch a fish and if I do, I’m going to fry up some fillets using my favorite recipe which I have included for this week.
It is sad to admit though, that my fishing time on the water has decreased over the years. With Jake all grown up, my favorite partner is now busy with his own life. But one thing I do know for sure: today I would answer the kid’s question the same way I did when we were looking at that map so long ago. There’s no doubt in my mind at all-up North really is heaven.
Opening Day Fish Fry
- 1 cup milk or buttermilk
- Two eggs, beaten
- 2 cups panko bread crumbs
- 3 Tbs. oil (peanut oil is the best.)
Depending on how you like your fish, either fillet them or clean them the old-fashioned way, leaving them scaled but whole. Place fish in a bowl with the milk or buttermilk and cover with plastic wrap. Let them soak at least a couple of hours or even overnight in the refrigerator. When ready to fry, shake off excess milk, dip in egg wash and dredge in Panko crumbs. Heat oil in a skillet (preferably a cast iron frying pan) and fry until crispy.