Delavan Wisconsin Ice Fishing
Removing Y-Bones from Northern Pike
Recipe for Pan-Fried Fish
years ago it became increasingly obvious that the traffic heading north
out of Eau Claire was far too great to be handled by a two-lane highway;
a four-lane version had to be built. And as is the case in many
similar situations, small towns along "old" US 53 - soon almost
forgotten - were by-passed by the new and wider US 53. As a kid,
I remember how painful it was to get "stuck" behind someone
towing a boat to his favorite fishing hole along the winding and hilly
road that was - or at least seemed to me to be - one long no-passing
zone through the entire state of Wisconsin. (Little did I know
that one day I would be one of those folks towing my own boat north...)
Oddly enough, I remember many of those little towns along Route 53.
One of my favorites was Rice
I am not sure what it was about
Rice Lake that could have been interesting to a 6 or 8-year-old kid.
Perhaps it was the ice cream place in town (Dairy Queen or Dairy Joy?
- I don't remember the name) at which we always used to stop for a cool
treat on a hot summer day. There was no air conditioning in dad's
car back then ("If you're hot, open the window..."); it was
a place to stop and un-stick the heat soaked wet shirts from our backs
and stretch our legs as well. Perhaps it was just the fact that
Rice Lake had its own lake right in town where one could both swim and
fish - two of my favorite activities. Perhaps it was the restaurant
at which we once stopped for dinner with my grandparents who came along
on a trip (that place was renovated into apartments at some point, but
the building is still there).
the reason, I have always liked Rice Lake. For the past twenty
years or so, I have spent the night in Rice Lake before driving the
rest of the way to Minnesota for an annual fishing trip. It does
seem a bit strange to me that I just drive
town but never stay to try the fishing. I have been posting fishing
reports for the area's lakes for the past year or so; they have finally
piqued my interest. Not caring what time of year it was - it seemed
to me to a great excuse to try some more ice fishing - I made several
phone calls, booked two nights at the
Best Western Inn and Heidi and I planned a weekend getaway.
Although Rice Lake seemed farther away than a normal excursion would
take us, I didn't mind. If Mother Nature didn't throw a major
snow storm our way, we were ready for some quality time away.
Not to worry, the temperatures had been quite warm and there was absolutely
no danger of snowfall - in any amount - for this journey.
for the trip was Ron Wilder - a transplant from Indiana who fell in
love with Rice Lake and moved there - an easy going guy whose kind smile
and friendly demeanor made him immediately likeable. Ron has a
house right on the lake and has been doing guiding in the area for about
twelve years. I was a bit concerned about ice conditions, especially
after a 340-mile drive during which I saw not a flake of snow or ice
anywhere, but Ron assured me that there was a good 7-8 inches of ice
on the lake and not to worry. Although I had seen areas of open
water, the spot where Ron had his shack was replete with the aforementioned
8 inches of ice; Heidi and I both breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Although there were
lakes in the area with ice, we had decided that we wanted to fish Rice
Lake and were going to target pan fish - bluegills in specific - although
any fish would be welcome in our bucket. Ron's shack was only
about fifty yards out from shore, sitting over about 10 feet of water.
Inside it was warm as toast from Ron's own propane heater invention
that also supplied heat to a pot of steaming water for hot chocolate
and another pot of hot coffee. Looking around I spotted a popcorn
popper, a large tub of in-the-shell peanuts, and various other amenities.
Adorning the walls were towels and hemostats (for hook removal) and
a variety of fishing equipment: reels, poles, tip-ups, ice skimmers,
etc. There was even a barometer clearly visible. Inserted
into six holes in the perimeter of the floor were plastic 5-gallon buckets
through which to fish.
soon as Ron began to set things up for the day, it was easy to see that
not only did he like to fish, he was amply outfitted with all the paraphernalia
necessary for a successful day on the ice. Not one but two Vexilar
flasher units - an FL 18 and an FL 20 - and an underwater camera were
available to help locate the fish and even watch them as they inspected
our offering. I have always thought that use of an underwater
camera was cheating. But on this trip I changed my mind.
A camera will show you fish and even help you to follow movement and
behavior... but it will certainly not make them bite, even if
you hit them in the head with the bait! It also shows that fish
are constantly moving from one area to the next. I'm glad it was
available; Heidi used it most of the time and she had a ball watching
as bluegills, perch, an occasional crappie and northern pike swam past
- alternately ignoring and inspecting the bait. Once Ron had gotten
us started inside, he went outside to auger a few more holes for tip-ups
and check with other fishermen around us as to how the bite was going
on this particular day, periodically checking back to see how we were
doing. amazingly, Ron could drop his bait into any hole and quickly
produce a fish, even when we had not had a bite in quite awhile.
His major advantage seemed to lie in the fact that he could read the
flasher like a book and coax a "hidden" fish up to his bait
I mentioned in an earlier piece on ice fishing, there are a lot of "toys"
that one can acquire - at great expense - in order to be the consummate
ice angler. In a sense, ice fishing is a lot like any sport in
which one gets fully involved, no matter which one. Sooner or
later, a great deal of money can be spent if one gets to the point where
a good deal of time is going to be spent doing that sport. But
it doesn't necessarily have to be that way. Check out this great
article by the Wisconsin DNR regarding ice fishing. There
is even a video showing that even the basics can make the event a fun
time! Or, use the advice from my previous article: "Find
a place that is not too far from your home that will supply you with
a heated shanty, equipment and bait, and give it a try."
I have talked with many folks - avid fisherman included - who have never
been ice fishing. But I have to tell you that it is easy to become
smitten; I am ready to begin investing in some basic equipment.
Even a small portable tent that can be loaded, along with your other
equipment, into a sled and hand-towed by you onto the ice to make for
a great outing. Just make sure to prepare properly for the day:
dress warmly, have the right equipment and either know the ice well
or hire a guide. Falling through the ice is something that has
no pleasant results whatsoever! We ended our day with a bucket
full of bluegills, perch and crappies and had a ball catching them;
Ron was even kind enough to offer to clean them for me! We headed
back to the motel and relaxed in the spa prior to showering and heading
out to dinner at one of my favorite places: Hansen's Hideaway, about
10 miles north of Rice Lake in Haugen for a tremendous Bluegill dinner.
and I also spent some time the next day checking out the area around
Rice Lake. Just to the north and east is Red Cedar Lake, where
we found a great lodge with some incredible history. Stout's Island
Lodge there has piqued our interest for a future excursion.
And there's another interesting place for dinner that we'll try on our
next trip (Robert Earls). And to the north in Haugen is Bear Lake which,
according to Ron, has some great fishing too. I will definitely
put that one in my list for next time. This trip also allowed
for much time in Rice Lake. We discovered a great little butcher
shop, a cheese store and numerous dining venues. It is easy to
see why Ron Wilder has chosen Rice Lake as his home and why I have always
liked it too: it is just comfortable and easy to be there.
Rice Lake is closer than
I thought - especially when I was not hauling my boat. Give Ron
a call and have him set you up. I know that you will not be disappointed!