Ice fishing is an important event for many in Northwestern Wisconsin. For me, it’s a big part of my life as I have enjoyed many friendships and adventures while spending time on the frozen water.
First of all, ice fishing is a great sport. It combines the simplicity of a tip-up or jig-pole with the quiet of nature. There’s also the challenge of both finding and catching fish. Additionally, I can’t think of anything more relaxing than watching the sunset while you spend time with friends and family.
Speaking of friends and family, it’s hard not to go further without acknowledging some of those whom the fish learned to fear over the years. Tom Saffert and his sons Jason, Ryan, and Andy took ice fishing to the next level. Not only were they savvy with their angling tricks like using matchsticks as tip-up markers, but they could cook up a great meal with whatever they stocked into their freezer during hunting season. Tom wasn’t just a good bank president, he was a great ice-angler.
The somewhat passive nature of ice fishing allows its participants to be social as well. My dad, Todd Severud, who taught me to ice fish at a young age, had been the superintendent at Turtleback for about 40 years until stepping down recently. Each winter, he organizes an ice fishing gathering of all the current and former employees of the Turtleback grounds crew. It’s quite a lot of people on the list when you consider all those who have cut grass or laid sod over the years. Ice fishing can be a great way for current or former friends to reconnect.
You also meet a lot of interesting people on the ice. I remember fishing with Jason Saffert on Red Cedar Lake one afternoon when a snow storm blew up. The snow was falling thick when we heard a four-wheeler approaching our spread of tip-ups. The driver almost drove over one of them as he couldn’t see very far in the falling snow. He hopped off and quickly sunk a few of his own tip-ups next to ours. We went to talk to the gentleman and learned it was Floyd Hubbard — the accomplished artist. I went on to learn a lot of things while hanging out with Floyd that afternoon.
Another time some of the guys and I were eager to fish walleyes as soon as the ice got thick enough. Well, the ice wasn’t exactly “thick” as I put my left leg through thin ice while walking onto the lake. Fellow “wise guys” Chris Musil and Jim Pacyga were there to yank me out. “Thanks again” if either of you are reading this. I’ll add that while it probably wasn’t the best idea, we found good ice further down the lake and still managed a couple hours of angling.
One final aspect of ice fishing to share local lakes that are viewed as “dead seas.” These lakes often prove tough to fish during the summer but can be goldmines when frozen over. Winter conditions often consolidate fish to certain areas where forage and oxygen levels are comfortable. Lake Montanis, which can be challenging for summer anglers, was the site of a bankers’ ice-fishing outing about 15 years ago. I watched Ray Vaughn lower the water level with all the fish he caught including one bass over five pounds. All of those fish were hanging out in one specific area that you’d never find them in during the summer.
With plenty of safe ice on most area lakes this winter, I want to encourage many of you to give ice fishing a chance. Outdoor sports are a blessing since social distance is still important. Besides, it’s the one sport you can act divine and walk on water! I know it’s cold outside, but spending time with friends and tricking fish with a jig-pole can make your long winter a bit happier!