WJILDERNESS

Thirty-three years of fun
Mark Walters • OUTDOOR COLUMNIST

We have all witnessed the unusually warm weather that hit our part of the world in early March. Generally March is when I spend a lot of time camping and fishing on Wisconsin’s frozen waters.

The clock is ticking at a very rapid pace on those opportunities. It kind of looks like this is my second-to-last ice camping trip of the season.

Tuesday, March 10

High 58, Low 25

Here is the scenario. Last week I fished and camped on the ice in Sheboygan harbor on Lake Michigan. I kept two 31-inch northern pike and a 5-pound brown trout.

What bought me back to this same piece of ice one week later is numerous stories from other fishermen of trophy gators and brown trout, and March being the time to catch them.

Now here is the other part of the story. On Saturday I went to the retirement celebration for my good buddy Jeff Neitzel who is about to complete a 33-year stint in the Wisconsin Air National Guard.

Jeff is the chief enlisted manager at Volk Field and has had one heck of a career which was proven to many people by the 90-minute ceremony honoring him.

I met Neitzel back in ‘82 when I was in the Wisconsin Air National Guard. We were both weapons loaders on the A-10 Warthog and let me tell you folks, we were a couple of wild critters but in reality we knew how to load bombs, missiles, rockets and bullets, so that is all that matters.

So my buddy, who unfortunately is very ill at his ceremony, has expressed a strong interest to go to Sheboygan with me. The only thing is that he is so sick that he cannot even tell me until 3:00 this morning if he is going and my truck and trailer, which are fully loaded, is pulling out of the driveway at 4:00.

We hit the harbor just as it was getting light out. I drill six holes with my Jiffy Pro-4 and as I am setting my second tip-up, my first one pops up. I land a 27-inch gator (northern pike) which I released and am thinking we are gonna kick butt today.

I have no cares about how many fish I catch. My goal, no matter what the species is, is always “quality.”

So our home for the night is going to be the floor of my enclosed trailer which is kind of on the ice. We have 34 hours to land the next state record and despite some groans and moans, chief master sergeant Neitzel is gonna make it.

Here is the real laugher. We have one hot hole and that is the one that I caught the 27-incher out of. Other then that, no one is catching a fish.

My golden retriever “Fire” is also along. Her last pup left four days earlier and it is very obvious that Fire is happy to be living the nomadic, outdoor lifestyle that she has always lived

Neiztel and I have bow hunted for deer and camped on the Flambeau, fished the frozen waters of Winnibigoshish for seven days and literally not caught a meal. Then we caught 300 jumbo perch with our buddy Jody Bigalke on the last day.

Jeff has been my partner in our annual musky tournament and after “I taught him how to fish” he caught his first musky (I thought he would like that).

When we were in the guards together, l lived in New Lisbon as did Jeff and another “disruptive comrade,” Dan “Foxxy Fox.” We used to drive down to guard drill together and always stayed in motels.

For some dumb reason we would always wrestle and it was always the two of them “New Lisbon” against me “Poynette.” The matches were insane, I always won and we would always laugh our heads off.

Today we caught five gators and Jeff caught an 18-inch small mouth bass. We had the highest of hopes that a super pig would be flopping on the ice but that was not the case

Jeff’s retirement from the guards has me reflecting for weeks about how the clock is always ticking and you had better enjoy the ride. The ride has been so much fun that in an hour the Chevy will be heading out the driveway, loaded with ice-fishing gear and my canoe for what will probably be about as crazy a trip as Poynette whopping up on New Lisbon’s butts back in the ‘80s!

Play like it’s your last game!

Sunset


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