It is opening weekend! For the past several weeks, we have frequently heard anglers ask, “Will the ice be off the lakes in time for opening weekend?” These thoughts were penned several days ago, thus I am unable to say what the ice conditions are. It is a safe bet to say that the ice is gone on the shallow lakes that have stained water. The sun warms those lakes with stained water, thus the ice on those lakes goes out first. The larger, clear water lakes will stubbornly hold on to the ice longer until it has warmed a bit more.
Over the many years we have lived in Rhinelander, we have celebrated the opening of open water fishing in several ways. During the early years when our son, Craig, was a youngster and my father’s health permitted, we opened the fishing season on Lac Vieux Desert, along with many other anglers. Lac Vieux Desert is a 2,853-acre shallow lake that warms quickly. As a result, the walleyes in the lake spawn soon after the ice goes out.
We would slip the boats off the trailers as it was getting light and head out. Usually, our group would consist of four to six boats each with friends from Rhinelander. My boat usually had my dad, Craig and me. We fished for walleyes. Each of us would use crank baits or a combination of a jig and minnow. We used this fishing pattern during the pre-spearing days and each of us could keep a limit of five walleyes.
Around noon, we would pull our boats up on the sand shore in the national campground. We would fillet enough walleyes for a delicious shore lunch. Along with the walleyes, we would fry potatoes and onions over an open fire accompanied by a good, cold beverage. It seemed that Dad enjoyed the shore lunch as much as he enjoyed the fishing.
As the years passed, Dad decided that the weather was too unpredictable and frequently quite cold. He would wait to join me until later in May, when hopefully it would be more comfortable on the lakes. We moved our opening activity to the cottage of longtime friends in St. Germain.
The pattern changed a bit and we would open the season on several lakes and reassemble at the cottage for what we referred to as a deck lunch with fresh walleyes. After lunch, we would compare notes about the lakes that had been fished and drive to the lakes that had been most productive. We continued fishing from the cottage for many years and enjoyed getting together with our friends and families.
Everything changes as time marches on. The cottage became a year-round home and the walleye limits were cut way back. It seemed that each lake in Oneida and Vilas counties had different regulations for numbers of fish and minimum length. As a result, we decided to change our activities and concentrate on hunting turkeys during opening weekend of fishing.
We gather at the home of our good friends, the Twesmes, who live in Osseo. Osseo is farm country and it seems that there is a healthy population of turkeys, and they are a bit more visible in the farm area than they are in the woods of northern Wisconsin.
The tradition of a shore lunch has continued, only we have substituted brook trout on the grill for walleyes. Now on the Saturday of opening weekend, we have switched from hunting boots to hip boots and try our luck on several of the streams near Osseo.
Usually, the streams are quite clear and we can have a good time with brookies.
The gist of these thoughts is to encourage our readers to establish an outdoor activity tradition with close friends or youngsters or both. We have found that each year, numerous phone calls begin early in April to organize all the plans.
We still spend some time during the month of May fishing for walleyes. When we do get some walleye fishing time, we reflect on the days when we could each keep five walleyes and it makes us sad to realize that the situation has changed so drastically. I guess the solution is to spend more time fishing for bass and northerns.
Above all, try to take the time to introduce a youngster to the sport of fishing. Begin an Outdoor tradition. It may last for many years.
Longtime Northwoods outdoors personality Roger Sabota writes a bi-monthly column for the Star Journal.