Winter in Wisconsin doesn't mean the end of the line for anglers.
Randy Wieland isn’t like you and me. Instead of cringing at the words “polar vortex” and adding another blanket to the bed when the forecast calls for single-digit temperatures, he’s packing up his tackle box and clearing his calendar to venture into the great outdoors. When asked about last year’s record-setting cold temperatures, the lead guide for Wieland Outdoors says, “I absolutely loved that cold streak. The bite was outstanding.”
If you haven’t guessed, Wieland is a consummate ice angler. Although he’s based out of Watertown, his pursuit of panfish (the most popular catch in Wisconsin, usually bluegill, yellow perch and crappies) have taken him to the Winnebago system, Lake Mendota, Lake Geneva, Fox Lake and most points in between. He caught the bug as a little boy when a family friend led him to Little Bear Lake, where the fish were biting for the newbie, and it hasn’t let go.
Matt Coffaro, a DNR urban fish biologist, has been working for decades to ensure that bug bites others throughout the state. Lately, Coffaro has been toiling behind the scenes to ensure the 24th installment of the Kids’ Ice Fishing Clinics goes off without a hitch. Scheduled to run 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on Feb. 14, the volunteer-driven effort takes place at seven parks in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties. And although the posters announce this is designed for kids 15 and under, older ice-fishing neophytes will still gain a little insight.
“This is geared toward kids, but it’s not just kids,” Coffaro says. “It’s a family event. The whole idea is to pass the tradition of fishing on.”
It’s an excellent chance to learn the ropes from the pros, an idea Wieland and other anglers stress to ensure safety on the ice, since nobody wants to be caught swimming with the fishes. At every one of the parks for the event, a local representative from the Wisconsin Council of Sport Fishing Organizations (WCSFO) will be on hand to go over the finer points of ice safety (including drilling holes in the ice), knot tying, baiting a hook and other casting techniques.
Should your little fisher be lucky enough to get a bite on the line, many of the parks will also offer lessons on cleaning and cooking your catch of the day. “A lot of times, the parents will say, ‘Once we do catch a fish, we don’t know what to do with it,’” Coffaro says. “It’s exciting to see a kid take his first bite of bluegill or perch and say, ‘I never knew fish could be that good.’”
Additionally, all of the equipment you’d need is provided free of charge. Just like any sport, enthusiasts can get caught up and spend a small mint on augers, rods, tracking devices and shanties, but to begin, all you need are an auger, a lot of layers and gloves, and a smaller rod than you’d use in open waters (about 2 or 3 feet long).
For volunteers like John Durben, president of the WCSFO, donating his time is a no-brainer.
“For some that attend these clinics, it’s the first time they’ve ever gone fishing or caught a fish,” Durben says. “In some cases, it appears as though the volunteers are enjoying the day more than the kids because they’re able to share something that’s been handed down to them over the years.”
Out in the Cold
SNOW AND GO ➞ The stellar programming at the Urban Ecology Center extends into the winter with this group of snow enthusiasts who plan to get out and enjoy the white stuff (when it falls) with activities like sledding, snowshoeing and more. Sign up for alerts at urbanecologycenter.org.
BE MINE 5K ➞ Whether the Valentine’s Day holiday finds you attached, single or just looking to mingle, this 5K run/walk will leave your heart all atwitter. The postrace revelry includes a drink at the Chancery. Feb. 14, 10 a.m. 207 Gas Light Cir., Racine, bemine5k.com.
BENEATH THE SNOW SNOWSHOE/HIKE ➞ If you brave the elements for this hike, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking windswept views of the Horicon Marsh that rival anything you’d find in the warmer months. Best of all, the event is free. Feb. 28, 10 a.m. N7725 Hwy. 28, Horicon. horiconmarsh.org.