Every summer, I make ambitious vacation plans. And every summer, life (and sometimes just my own laziness) gets in my way. I never ended up making the 12-hour round-trip trek to the Apostle Islands last year, for example, even though I kept telling friends that I planned to spend a long weekend paddling a seafaring kayak through the turbulent waves of Lake Superior, soaking up the unspoiled beauty of the remote islands.
This year, I’m trying something different. Instead of putting all of my vacation eggs into one basket, so to speak, I’m planning lots of short trips around the state. An afternoon spent wandering through the labyrinthine rooms of the House on the Rock in Spring Green. An evening spent camping under the stars in Door County. And, earlier this month, a trip to Fond du Lac, to check out one of the town’s largest annual festivals, Walleye Weekend, and drop a fishing line into Lake Winnebago.
I’ve got to admit, I’d never been to Fond du Lac before and hadn’t thought of it as much of a day-trip destination. But when Chevrolet reached out to MilMag to let us know that National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame angler Joe Bucher would be in the area, offering up complimentary fishing lessons, I figured that was reason enough to go.
On the morning of the trip I somewhat nervously climbed into the cabin of the 2018 Silverado that Chevy had loaned me for the drive up (it looked as if my tiny Fiat might actually fit inside the cabin of the big black truck) and set off.
Fortunately, the truck was easy to drive, and I made it up to Fond du Lac in about an hour. There was a huge crowd gathered around Lake Winnebago when I arrived – I found out later that about 70,000 people attend Walleye Weekend each year – and a gentle summer breeze carried the sounds and smells (kettle corn, cotton candy, crispy walleye fillets) of the festival across the glassy blue-green water.
After parking – I’d never driven a car that had a backup camera before, and I loved it! – I wove around runners lining up for a race, musicians warming up for their sets, festival-goers queuing up for fish sandwiches, and eventually made my way to the Chevrolet tent, where Joe was waxing philosophical on the finer points of fishing lures in front of a small crowd.
After a round of introductions, he led us to a small jetty jutting into Lake Winnebago and pulled out a fishing pole, showing us how he flicked his wrist when casting, how he slowly reeled his line back in. It was helpful to see a master angler in action and even more helpful to hear him describe what he was doing.
“To catch fish consistently you need three things,” he told us. “First, knowledge: knowledge of the water, knowledge of the technique. Second, skill. And third, effort.”
Believe it or not, this was news to me (a decidedly amateur fisher). I was under the impression that you caught fish if you were lucky, and you didn’t if you weren’t. Joe set me straight.
“As an angler, you’ve go to make trolling passes, or castings, at different angles, to figure out where the fish have gone,” he said, pointing to a nearby boat trolling for walleye near the center of the lake. “There are two ways to catch a fish. The first is called finesse fishing and involves using morsels of food the lure the fish to your line. The second way is to trigger a fish to strike, to trigger its predatory instincts with something that looks like a smaller fish. Think of it like a cat. If you put food in front of a cat, it may start nibbling the food. Or if you roll a ball in front of the cat, it may pounce.”
“Every body of water is unique,” he added. “Look for features. If you’ve got a featureless shoreline, and then you see a bit of land jutting out into the water, with some rocks surrounding it, there’s a high probability that some fish are hanging around out there.”
Feeling significantly more confident in my fishing abilities than I had before the lesson, I set off to try my luck. I didn’t end up catching anything, to be honest, but I loved the rhythm of casting my line into the water and slowly reeling it back in – the sun warming my shoulders, a cool breeze coming off the lake – and I could easily see myself returning to Fond du Lac again this summer, for another fishing trip.
Maybe next time I’ll actually catch something.