Fox Lake In Summer

Sunday afternoon, we hooked up the boat, dumped our gear into the truck, and headed on over to Fox Lake to do some fishing.

Orange cataran was cooking along.

Orange catamaran was cooking along.

The yellow house that marks the spot

The yellow house that marks the spot

At least we weren't skunked.

At least we weren’t skunked.

I’ll cut to the chase- it sucked. Last time at Fox Lake we were under basically opposite conditions. It was windy this day as a front rolled in, making us drift even with both anchors down. We forgot that this lake seems to have an early bite. People leaving as we put in had fish, and last time we caught them around 3:30 or 4pm. On the way down, our front trolling motor just…fell off.  And by the end we were both pretty chilly- in August. Naturally, as I write this, it’s almost 90F. Some nibbles, and possibly some pike or walleyes that got off the hook, but only the one bluegill at about 8 inches. I’m guessing there will be a bit of a fishing lull until the water cools off prior to turn over.

 

 

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Weeknight Solo Fishing

It turns out a good way to get stared at is to drag your kayak briefly through part of a park before launching it into a lake, and then be a girl fishing by yourself. Wednesday I was called off at work. The day started cool and cloudy, and eventually a small thunderstorm cell ripped through part of town, dropping hail. After the thunderstorm passed, I packed up the kayak and my gear, and headed to Lake Wingra for some panfish.

Looking north toward my launch point from across the lake

Looking north toward my launch point from across the lake

Looking west toward part of the UW Arboretum

Looking west toward part of the UW Arboretum

Getting there from my side of town is always fun, with the oddball streets and 5-way + intersections on the isthmus, but we’d fished here before with good results. On top of that, this lake is also bordered by Madison’s small zoo. From my fishing spots, I could hear a rooster crowing and the lions roaring. I wasn’t necessarily looking for lunkers- I just wanted to catch something. And did I ever accomplish that.

My first bass, a 12.5 incher, within 5 minutes of my first anchoring.

My first bass, a 12.5 incher, within 5 minutes of my first anchoring.

A nice 6 inch bluegill

A nice 6 inch bluegill

And another

And another

And another

And another

My second bass

My second bass

My thumb all chewed up

My thumb all chewed up

 

All in all, I would catch 15 bluegill and lose easily another ten, which would have made for a day limit for one person. I caught a third bass, but didn’t get a picture. None of the bass were big enough to keep. I could have held on to some of the bluegills, but I didn’t want to fillet little 6 inch fish, and literally all of the ones I got in the kayak were 6 inches. I also forgot a stringer or basket for them.

Even starting my fishing trip well before dusk, the fish where biting extremely well. I made it around the lake in about three and a half hours, and then got everything back in the car and headed home.

 

Wild Food: Italian Panfish Chowder.

Monday night I had some thawed panfish on my hands, and few ideas. I wanted chowder again but not cream based. I found this recipe and tweaked it a bit. Mostly, less fish and I used concentrated turkey stock I made a while back and added some clam juice.

GE

Pile o' fish skins.

Pile o’ fish skins.

GE GE GE

It came out spicier than I intended, mostly because I added way too much red pepper. However, a piece of bread or some avocado cooled it down pretty nicely. I would definitely love a chance to make this with some cod or halibut I caught myself. A girl can dream. Maybe I can catch a burbot (lawyer fish or eelpout) someday.

You Had Me At Beer Batter.

Dinner last night was a pretty simple affair. I filleted the bluegill and perch from Sunday’s ice fishing adventure, and had a home fish fry.

Catch of the day

Catch of the day

A few stabbings occurred. None of them with my knife, but bluegill spines can easily get you even after they’re dead. The lone little perch you see up there was a fluke- she swallowed the hook on my tip up, so we kept her. She also turned out to be a very pregnant she. This is totally the wrong time of year for perch to have eggs- they spawn in Spring when the water warms back up.

Contemplating the world's smallest batch of tobiko.

Contemplating the world’s smallest batch of tobiko.

Anyhow, I  got the fish cleaned, then I mixed up some beer batter and heated the oil. While that heated, I sliced up some potatoes to make into home fries.

GE

 

Then I did the thing. I dropped them into boiling oil. The fish fry at 375, the potatoes at whatever temperature is at the very top of my frying/candy thermometer. I whipped up a little tartar sauce, and dinner was served.

I battered the potatoes, too.

I battered the potatoes, too.

My Second Impression of Ice Fishing was Far Better Than My First.

Well, I have to say this feels oddly full-circle.  Sunday afternoon and evening were spent doing the activity I started this blog on back in January. We got out on the ice for the first time since early March.

Originally, we had planned on hunting Sunday evening, since the CWD antlerless hunt is going on right now. But between really wishing for a buck, and some more extreme cold weather, we decided at the last minute to head out ice fishing with our friend, M. We packed everything into his truck, and headed up to a spot he knew near Portage, Wisconsin. It was a sunny day, if cold. The high for the afternoon was about 10F, and we reached it at noon. We arrived at the frozen-over launch around 2:30, dragged our sleds out onto the snowy lake, and got to drilling some holes.

Matt cleaning out an ice hole

Matt cleaning out an ice hole

M boring a tip-up hole.

M boring a tip-up hole.

Shanty and our stuff scattered all over the ice.

Shanty and our stuff scattered all over the ice.

I finally drilled my first complete hole through the 4 inch thick ice.

I finally drilled my first complete hole through the 4 inch thick ice.

In single digits, water freezes quickly.

In single digits, water freezes quickly.

We were in fairly shallow water, 6-10 feet or so. And the ice was rather thin, about 4 inches. Safe enough to walk around on, but definitely not the 18 inches we were drilling through last February. The rules about number of lines still holds, so we usually do two tip-ups per person, plus one line inside the shanty, jigging.Our tip ups had minnows on them, and we were using jig heads tipped with wax worms inside.

The action started inside the shanty. Matt was on some bluegills, and had the first three fish of the day, which all went back in the water.

GE GE

GE

But soon after, we had two flags on our tip ups. We rushed out to get those in, and it was more bluegills.

GEWe headed back after all that to get warm by the Mr. Heater and to continue jigging- the fish were biting! And then I finally got my first fish through the ice. Last year was a rough season, and in the first 45 minutes we’d tied, and then exceeded last season’s catch.

GEMatt would pull out a couple more fish, as would M and myself. Only 7 or so were keepers of the bunch, and but for a couple perch, they were all bluegills. The bite slacked off along with the daylight, so we called it around 5:30, and packed in our gear in the cold. It was a clear day, though, and we’ve got fish to fillet, some of them nice and big.

GE

My biggest 'gill of the day.

My biggest ‘gill of the day.

When it's this cold, the world is your ice box. Our catch, on ice just outside the shanty door.

When it’s this cold, the world is your ice box. Our catch, on ice just outside the shanty door.

We’ve already marked two fish derbies on our calendars, too. One on January 18th on Lawrence Lake, and then the one on Lake Waubesa in late February or early March. Hopefully, we can start pulling out some pike and bass in addition to the panfish.

 

 

Wild Food: Fish Chowder.

Another late October day, another day called off work. After some internal debate between staying home and accomplishing things, or going hunting, staying home won out. I was going to cook dinner, but I was also indecisive about what to set out. Last night was chicken, and I didn’t have enough time for a venison roast to thaw. Fish it was.

GE

I was originally going to just scale the little guys and bake them whole, but Matt dislikes most bone-in meat. There isn’t much to them, so, chowder it was. I found this recipe for fish chowder after a bit of searching. Of course, I ended up modifying it. I used Yukon gold potatoes from my garden, I added sweet corn, I used a little bit of chicken base instead of clam juice, and obviously, I used bluegill/pumpkinseed in lieu of cod. I was also minus the cream called for in the recipe, so I whisked a few spoonfuls of sour cream into the lactose-free 2% milk I did have. Filleting the fish proved challenging, given how small they were.

Tiny bluegill fillets

Tiny bluegill fillets

Cooking the potatoes after making roux, while Matt and I filleted fish.

Cooking the potatoes after making roux, while Matt and I filleted fish.

 

Fish skins.

Fish skins.

It came out really, really well. Not too thick, either. There wasn’t much fish in it, given how small the fillets were. But the sour cream and sweet corn really rounded things out.

I also made biscuits from scratch.

I also made biscuits from scratch.

Fish, potatoes, and corn.

Fish, potatoes, and corn.

I also made some apple crisp bars with a dash of bourbon in the filling. They also came out well.

GE

And we still have lots of bluegills and pumpkinseeds left from that big trip up north in August.

 

One Last Summer Fling Before Fall and Life Catch Us Up.

Normally, my new posts go out on Mondays. But we got back from this vacation on a Thursday. I’m also working all through the weekend- closing the dining room tonight, and closing the bar on Saturday and Sunday. Those two days I also arrive at work by 11 am. They’ll both be long days. I’m not too sure how much I’ll have to write about come Monday, but I had an idea. You see a lot of how-to for packing for camping. I took some pictures of my get home, get unpacked process.

Anyhow. Last Monday I wrote about the salmon fishing we did last week Saturday. We stayed that night in the Appleton area with Matt’s brother and his wife. Sunday morning we hooked the camper back up, packed up the pups, and headed further north. We stopped at a little grocery store in a town along the way to stock up on food. It was a very pleasant ride all along country roads on a sunny day.  Farmers were haying, and that far north, we were seeing the outermost leaves on the ash and maple trees beginning to change color- in spite of temps in the 80s and up.

For the most part, we spent the week fishing. This was another National Forest campground- Richardson Lake. We camped here once last year in June, before I ever started this blog thing up. It was rainy and chilly the entire time, and we were stuck in a tent. At the time, the jon boat had only one trolling motor on a too-small battery, and the old Merc didn’t work. We also didn’t catch any fish.  Not so this time. We had the camper and the canoe. It was nice and warm most of the week. And were the fish ever biting. I didn’t get as many pictures as I would have liked, as my phone and only camera blew through its battery fairly quickly. I need to remember to turn off mobile data that far in the stix so it isn’t constantly searching for a signal.

We fished mostly there on Richardson, but one day we did go to a different lake, where Matt’s grandparents live. That’s where we caught the big pumpkinseed and the big bass. When we weren’t fishing, we were visiting Matt’s family and tooling around the area.

An Adventure in Wet Pants and Smashed Toes…

One thing I wish I’d gotten pictures of, but wisely did not take my phone/camera for was a trout fishing attempt. The Oconto river near Matt’s hometown is cold and rocky. It holds brook and brown trout. One of his old high school buddies took us down there for trout. It was rugged and beautiful. When we picked his buddy up, we should have known we were in for trouble. On the phone, he specifically requested Mike’s Hard Black Raspberry Lemonade and jalapeno beef sticks. He said without those, there would be no trout. He was waiting in his driveway in a pair of chest waders. Matt and I were in shorts and sandals. We went offroad in the Durango for a couple miles, and then bushwhacked our way down to the water. When I said rocky, I meant bouldery. And loggy. When logging was still a big thing in northern Wisconsin, they’d floated logs down the river, and you can still see some of the bigger ones. The rest are all deadfalls. We spent two or three hours scrambling over rocks, under trees, and through icy water. Matt dunked himself repeatedly. I didn’t go in over my knees until the last minute, soaking my right side. No trout, only chubs and smashed, tender feet.

Besides Fishing…

Other than fishing, we did some shooting. I got in some practice with my bow and got it sighted in. We also did some trap shooting, and I got more practice with my shotgun. Based on my practice, the ducks and geese have quite the upper hand this year.

We also went coyote hunting on his grandfather’s farm. The first morning we didn’t see anything. But we went our last night there (Wednesday). It turned into a bit of scouting. We saw at least 5 deer. We also saw a flock of turkeys. Three toms, three jakes. We didn’t see any coyotes, but they did answer our calls in the distance.

Blurry turkey blobs. I need a new camera.

Blurry turkey blobs. I need a new camera.

However, we started to hear thunder rumbling. On the way over, we’d caught some weather advisories out of Marquette, Michigan and Marinette. We hoped it would pass north of us, but then the thunder got louder and this happened.

Not good.

Not good.

It poured. We got soaked. The deer got soaked. The turkeys got soaked. We were mighty grateful for the camper when we got back to the site. Our firepit was full of water, and there were a couple inches of water standing on the ground over most of the site. If we’d had a tent, we’d have been screwed. We changed into dry clothes, and waited it out.

It stopped raining, and Matt decided to throw a line in the lake. Earlier in the trip the dogs had knocked my sandals into the fire, leaving me with only my hunting boots or my leather boots. I opted not to go. After about 20 minutes, Matt shut off the generator on me and said “I’m vetoing you. Come down here”. He’d had a pretty decent bite. We pushed the canoe out for some post-storm fishing. I caught a tiny blue gill, which we used for bait. And Matt finally caught a pike. But the best thing was the light at sunset.

Thursday morning, we headed out one more time to fish. In the pictures above, we kept 32 of the fish we caught. We tossed at least that many back, and used some of the really small ‘gills for bait (only in the lakes we caught them in). Once the morning bite stopped around 8:30, we packed everything in, and headed back home.

A Return to Normal.

Three hours later, we re entered civilization and our normal lives. I work all weekend. Matt works all of today (Friday). Next month he takes over the Madison recruiting office (for the next couple years), and I have the rest of the season to finish out at the golf course (who knows how long the weather will hold). By January, I hope to be back in college classes so I can maybe get this godforsaken degree of mine an inch closer to done.

This vacation was, I think, just a pause or a breath before we both enter a bit of a new chapter. Dealing with recruiting duty with Matt just a canvassing recruiter for the last three years was incredibly hard. The first several months of him running the office will be tough as well, particularly since he’s starting right when school does. It will be a different kind of hard. I’ll be paying down the last of what I owe UW-Madison from two years ago (yuck, I know), and saving up to pay for next spring. Our one touchstone through all of this mess will be our outdoors hobbies. Hunting, fishing, all of it. It keeps us grounded, and it keeps us together.