By MAE BABER, R.D.2, Brandon, Wisconsin
The summer will likely be well upon us before this column appears. It could be that the idea of fishing through the ice might appeal to you and help cool you off a bit.
Sometimes we are inclined to wonder about these new experiences we let ourselves in for. So often the opportunity for their enjoyment is near at hand and never have we availed ourselves of it.
So, when my husband said, 'You ought to go sturgeon fishing with me for a day', I took him up on it. This exchanging my spacious farm house for a fishing shanty for a day should help me to count my blessings.
A small gas burner is keeping us comfortable here. We have our lunch with us but there is barely light enough to do even this bit of writing. We are gazing, and gazing into a hole six feet long by two and a half feet wide. Down in the hole is a decoy made of an artificial fish and an ear of corn. Just what they are supposed to accomplish I am not sure.
We were told by Ray Ecker, the gentlemen who rents out these Homey Huts on Lake Winnebago, to move our decoy just a bit - very slowly.
Along comes one of our Nomad Neighbors, Whitey Pederson, and advises us, ' I wouldn't move it if I were you. It will only scare them away.' So-now and then we move it and now and then we remain stationery.
Along comes our favorite garage owner, Walter Miller. Mr. Pederson has gone to him with a big, big tale of my husband and I having a knockout, drag-down battle about the big fish that got away, and how he is blaming me for screaming so loud that I frightened the fish away. MY! NOW I BELIEVE THIS STATEMENT, THAT ALL FISHERMEN ARE LIARS. After Mr. Miller became convinced, I hope, that we weren't ready to separate for life, he gave us his pet theories. 'These walls ought to be painted black so no glimmer of light would scare your fish away.' The thought crossed my mind that we had only rented the shack for the day and one seldom paints another person's property.
I feel a bit cruel as I contemplate the four-tined spear which hangs over the hole. These are supposed to hold them securely if once you get the spear embedded properly. I wouldn't have needed to worry.
The sun was shining so nicely when we came at about nine o'clock this morning and now at about one P. M. there are raindrops pattering on our paintless roof. I am beginning to wish I had worn a few more clothes. The cold creeps up from below. The floors aren't as warm as my bright sunny house.
Ah, me! At two o'clock we get a bit of encouragement. Whitey comes back with a shanty villager who has managed to catch one of the elusive fish. Thirty-five pounds of feelered fish! Yes - they have white feelers beneath their bodies, presumably to find the red worms which they suck in with their built-in vacuum cleaners. This is their food, and they suck up the worms and the mud which their bodies somehow separate and they leave the mud for the bottom of the lake and take the worms for food.
Here at Lake Winnebago the average take of these big fellows runs between eight hundred and a thousand fish a year. This year the take was very low, three hundred and forty. There was no covering of snow this year (it was the summer of 61 when this was written from notes, and we had given it all to the easterners that year, do you remember?) Elmer lost this column somehow and I am re-writing it a year after it was written the first time. But getting back to the fish - it is assumed their visibility is much greater when the ice has no covering of snow.
There are some interesting things to learn about sturgeon. They only spawn every five years and are twenty-five years old before they spawn. They have a life span approximately the same as that of a human. They spawn in April.
There a re several lakes here that have them but Winnebago seems to lead in the number of sturgeon caught. The largest we ever know of having been caught here was one hundred and eighty pounds. The story goes that the fisherman was so overwhelmed by his catch that he carried it around so long on the fender of his car that it was spoiled when he got ready to take care of it. Perhaps it is a fish story, but a pretty good one, don't you think?
There are those who have fisherman's luck and get their prize the first day but there are many who do their water gazing for as long as two weeks in a row before they come out victor. This kind of patience I would never have. The slight feeling of insecurity that the shifting and cracking of ice underneath one's feet has on my nervous system causes me to have other interests on terra firma.
What a good feeling it was after bridging two cracks in the ice near shore to feel the ground under our wheels again. These cracks were bridged by planks we drove over.
Two or three days after our venture a strong wind came to call. Most of the 1,917 shanties which had been previously counted by aerial means had been removed by this time. A heavy rain added to the break up which was earlier than usual. Soon there were twenty to thirty foot gaps, and left on the lake were at least seven cars, several shanties, and a number of fishermen, some of whom were removed by boat. Mr. Ecker had to devise a unique means to move out his renters. He sawed a forty foot block ice and moved it into position to form a bridge over which they moved to safety.
So - if you are looking for this kind of sport, come to Winnebago and take your chances on ever getting off again. Don't you wonder what the sturgeon think about in their murky depths? Now the speed boats are racing above them and in the winter time houses are built over their domain. Give me my house any day! I may have an airplane come to roost in my attic but as for me I shall feel better for having it foundationed on the earth.
Yes - the day away from responsibility did help my perspective. It helped me to be thankful for what I take for granted every day and my house and my typewriter looks better to me than before.
Spiritually I can see a little farther into the future when I see the futility of gazing into a dark hole for a whole day. There are many lessons to be learned even from sturgeon fishing. If a sturgeon had come along it would have been one of those added blessings which God has a way of giving us so often.
One of our recent blessings is our second granddaughter who was born on March 4th of '60. As I rewrite this she is taking her first steps. Cindy, who will be three in April is so happy with her little sister. Surely, 'the mercies of God are new every morning, and great is His faithfulness.'