The Ladies Page

Country Echoes

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.’

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