How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Feb. 11th Jamboree still on in Pewaukee

DELAFIELD - If you had called Dick Smith’s Live Bait and Tackle for the local fishing report this week, you would have heard a recorded message just slightly dated.
Owner Becky Smith recorded the message Jan. 6.

She hasn’t had a reason to change the message because southeastern Wisconsin’s virtual winter has snapped the line on ice fishing, along with many other outdoor activities.

"If nothing has changed with the weather, I don’t know what to say to update the report," she said.

Smith also hasn’t bothered to calculate January sales revenue for her business at 2420 Milwaukee St., because, she said, "I don’t want to know. I’m not going to ruin my day. I know it’s horrible."

With some nice below-zero temperatures in December, Smith and other Lake Country business people who cater to the ice fishing crowd thought they were headed for a big catch this season in terms of sales volume. Then the jet stream shifted and winter crawled into a cave to hide.

"Christmas sales were great and we were having the time of our life and one day it started thunderstorming and raining," Smith said.

While January’s average low temperature in the Milwaukee area is 13.4 degrees, the average low this month has been a balmy 29.8 degrees, said Peter Speicher, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Also, during the first 18 days of this month, the average overall temperature of 34.2 degrees was exceeded 50 percent of the time, or on nine days, Speicher said.

As if those statistics weren’t flaky enough, snowfall in January has added up to a scant 0.4 of an inch. That contrasts to the average January total of more than a foot of the white stuff - 15.2 inches.

Michael Nelson operates what he describes as "the ultimate ice shanty," or what most people would know as the Channel Inn, 34422 Delafield Road, town of Summit, on Nemahbin Lake.

During a typical January, ice fishermen drill holes and place tip-ups on the frozen lake his bar faces, then come inside for warmth, food and beverages.

This year, "We’re not getting any fisherman," Nelson moaned.

With the current from a channel flowing in front of his establishment, open water now stretches to the end of one of the two piers off the Channel Inn, a distance of some 80 feet from shore.

Nelson said he has lived in the area for 20 years and would not consider venturing on to the semi-solid lake.

"We need some cold weather, and I won’t be the first one out on it again after it refreezes," he said.

Mark Baldock, urban fisheries biologist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, also called the lack of ice an unusual condition for mid-January.

"It is a very strange occurrence with all the rain," he said.

The DNR is warning ice fishermen that it is unsafe to go on area lakes, but Baldock said he still sees anglers on the ice.

"It’s not a law, but we definitely want to let them know they should not be out on the ice," he said. "You are definitely taking your life into your own hands."

Baldock said any rains may further weaken ice sheets, even following a prolonged cold snap.

Smith noted that although ice may be thick enough from which to fish, getting to that ice is difficult if not impossible on many lakes because ice along shorelines is absent or mushy at best.

Asked if he could recall a warmer January during his 24 years living in Lake Country, John Laimon, owner of Smokey’s Bait Shop, 129 Park Ave., Pewaukee, on Pewaukee Lake, said, "No I haven’t."

He said the unseasonably warm weather is "killing" his business and other businesses and nonprofits that rely on ice fishing, either for income or for fund-raisers.

Laimon stopped selling live bait at his second location two weeks ago - Smokey’s Muskie Shop, on Lakeview Boulevard on Pewaukee Lake - because of bad ice conditions and lack of fishermen. The store continues to sell artificial lures for muskie fishing.

Despite the warm weather, Smith said she will not cancel the Feb. 11 fishing jamboree she sponsors annually for fishermen on Waukesha County lakes. The event is in its sixth year, with the weigh-in held at the Channel Inn.

"If the ice is unsafe, we will have a party anyway," she said. "We’re selling tickets and we will have the food and door prizes.

"It will be at the fishermen’s discretion if they want to go fishing."


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