Languishing. That’s what I was doing. Languishing. That sense that you are just kind of treading water. Not drowning for sure, but not exactly swimming the English Channel either. Getting through each day, accomplishing the necessary tasks, but waiting for something else. For what? Often you are not sure, but there must be something more, something you really want to do. For me, of course, it’s fishing.  I want to be fishing. I was not.  It happens every year that I can recall. That period between the last open water fishing and first ice. Ice safe enough for fishing. I go into a funk, always have. The void can last weeks, in some years over a month. During this time, I stare at my boat in the garage wondering if I could take it out one more time.  I wander around a lot. I drive over the ‘Roo or to the bayside to looking for fishable ice. One year Ed and I decided to drive north until we found fishable ice. We end up in Escanaba. It’s sad, but now that I have a term for my condition, I somehow feel better. I was languishing.

I was recently reintroduced to the concept of languishing through a New York Times article discussing the spectrum of emotions people are experiencing during the current pandemic. Ok, now I am not suggesting that we compare my annual fishing doldrums with the ordeal of the CoVid-19 pandemic, but at least there is a vaccine for the virus. I am doomed to that limbo of early winter temperatures too cold and too warm. I could use a booster. The holiday season festivities help, but really all I can do is kill time until winter finally decides to show up. Languishing.

Our open water season ended with a whimper. It was a season with several highlights including boating the largest fish of my life. (See the last Harbor Angler Report for December 5th). However, after that epic encounter, my opportunities for open water fishing evaporated. I kept hope alive by refusing to winterize my boat, leaving it poised in the garage waiting for a window of opportunity. Winds, ice, and life conspired to keep me off the water. Then in desperation, Paul and I decided to take a chance on the big lake on a mid-December day. The Baileys Harbor marina was relatively ice free, the winds had abated, leaving only what seemed like mild residual swells, and the temperatures had at least moderated sufficiently so that the ice would not build up on the rods. A perfect day for desperate anglers.

I began to have misgivings about the wisdom of our venture when my truck started to slide down the snow covered launch ramp as I slowly eased the boat trailer into the ice-dotted marina. My tires thankfully took hold just before the vehicle ended up in the lake and we successfully launched the Maggie Leigh. The town crews had already removed the docks for the season, so Paul and I had to scramble over the seawall and drop into the waiting boat. No easy task for two aging anglers. We motored out of the marina, having to tilt the motor to get over the sand bar that had built up at the entrance. Once out on the lake, we found the swells from the previous week’s storms had not subsided as much as we hoped. Some were three or four feet. In addition, the waves had stirred up considerable sediment. The water looking like chocolate milk. With water this murky, we would have to bounce a lure off a fish’s head to get its attention.  Undaunted, we proceeded to set out rods and planer boards. We were targeting the pre-spawn brown trout, but the northern pike should still be active. Other possible quarries could include steelhead, a wayward lake trout or even feeding smallmouth. Paul maneuvered the boat as I was bounced about the deck attempting to deploy the lines. There were no other boats on the lake save for the Hickey’s tending their whitefish nets. At least they were making money. As we started our trolling run, we were hopeful. However, three hours of holding off the cold while staring at the lifeless planer boards drag through the murky waters crushed any naïve notions we may have had of catching fish. As the winter sun faded to the horizon, we returned to the marina defeated, but proud of the effort.

Recovering the boat from the lake provided another set of challenges. After several attempts, we eventually got the boat positioned and secured on the trailer. I slipped the truck into “Drive” and touched the accelerator. The rig moved forward only a foot or two before the tires started to spin on the icy ramp. Shifting to “4WD”, I made another attempt to recover the boat. The result was four spinning tires instead of two. Several stabs at backing up and moving forward proved unsuccessful. I am sure that our pitiful efforts provided considerable entertainment for the denizens of the Cornerstone Pub across the street. I felt a fleeting bit of guilt for having laughed at so many other boaters’ pathetic efforts on the boat launch. I must be kinder in the future.

I needed help. We attached a tow line to the front of my truck and with Paul’s pickup providing the needed extra power and traction we finally got the boat trailer up the ramp. This must have been quite a site viewed from the windows of the Cornerstone. In my mind I could hear a roar of congratulatory cheers emanating from the local watering hole but, it was more likely a stream of smart-ass jokes and derisive commentary.

So that was it. The last outing of the open water season. I toyed with the idea of taking another road trip to DePere for walleyes or maybe finding an open marina on the bayside for browns, but a rush of cold air and snow put an end to those plans. I eventually had to admit it was over. I drained the lower unit and began putting the summer tackle away. So, the languishing began.

I had reason to be enthusiastic about the ice fishing season. The whitefish and perch action was excellent last winter and the prospects looked at least as good this year. I had just gotten a new K-Drill to replace my old auger. The K-Drill is one of the new generation of lightweight ice augers that are powered by an electric drill. The drill needs to be a heavy duty “hammer-drill” type, but with a fully charged battery you can drill several dozens of holes quickly.  I was looking forward to not having to lug around that heavy gas-powered beast.

As of this writing, the fishing opportunities are increasing. The ice on the north end of Kangaroo was 6-7” and I observed a few groups of anglers setting tip-ups for pike. On my first ice outing on the ‘Roo, I caught the usual tiny perch, but I also saw several northerns cruising just below my boots. I had two pike on, one jigging and one on a tip-up, but did not get either on the ice. The K-Drill worked great, by the way! I’ll be back.

The prospects for fishing the bayside for whitefish any time soon are not good. With the warm water temperatures, waves were still lapping right up to the shoreline around Egg Harbor and Juddville. Ice was forming in some of the back bays further south.  The typical early ice locations like Little Sturgeon Bay, Sawyer Harbor and Bayshore County Park are beginning to be dotted with ice shacks. These anglers should be able to find some early perch action. With the recent blast of colder weather, the ice should improve, and anglers will be able to target whities in the shallower water. It may not be until late January or early February before the ice fishing guides will be pushing shacks out into the deeper waters of the bay. Then the whitefish season will start in earnest. Get out there when you can. It may be a short season.

So, I’m fishing again. No more languishing. The Maggie Leigh will have to wait patiently for a few months, replaced by my Eskimo ice shack for the winter. I am often asked by “non-fishing” types, “Why do you like ice fishing?”.  “It seems pretty stupid!”, they sometimes rudely add. Now, I must admit ice fishing is a lot of work. Manually hauling all your tackle out on a sheet of ice can be physically exhausting. Dealing with sub-zero wind chills and uncertain ice conditions can be daunting. Good equipment and experience help, but it is still tough, particularly when the fish don’t cooperate. Well then, why do I like ice fishing? Well, it’s not so much that I really “like” ice fishing, it’s just the only kind of fishing you can do in the winter in Wisconsin. Of course, not fishing is not an option.

Stay safe and sane.

 So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, Bruce

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