Deer, anglers share a common goal in searching for a meal

with Jim Furley

In winter, fishermen and whitetail deer are both actively looking for their next meal. Anglers will be heading to the ice, while whitetail deer may end up in your front yard if other food sources are unavailable.

According to the University of Illinois Extension, “A hungry deer in the winter will eat about any vegetation and puts away four pounds or more of twiggy branches a day. Damage to trees and shrubs can be extensive, affecting plant shape and exposing bare wood to disease and insects.”

If you want to save your expensive landscaping from winter deer decimation, there are a number of options you can try. Some people hang bars of soap from trees and shrubs. Sprinkling human or pet hair is another trick that some folks say will work. And of course there are sprays, commercial and home-made liquid deer repellents. A farm dog is the best choice for scaring deer out of your yard, said an elderly southwest Wisconsin farmer.

Other than the canine option, we’ve tried all the above solutions; most with limited success. We finally resorted to building deer fences around our apple trees.

Although a deer repellent salesman may argue this point, the best resolution to protecting your shrubbery may be as simple as don’t plant trees and shrubs that attract deer.

From experience we have learned that deer love to nibble on our Autumn Blaze Maple (cross between a Red and Silver Maple tree) but they leave our other maple tree alone. Last spring, deer knocked down fences surrounding our Honey Crisp apple trees to eat stems and buds. Deer knocked down the same fences in early summer to devour the green leaves of the Honey Crisp. However, deer left the limbs and leaves of our McIntosh apple tree untouched, even though it’s just a few feet away.

“Deer absolutely love White Cedar,” said Chris Kaplan, of Tallgrass Restoration, a prairie restoration company near Milton, WI. Kaplan said deer will chew everything they can reach on White Cedar. “It’s one of their favorite treats,” he said. White Cedar, also known as “Arborvitae,” is an evergreen that many homeowners plant as a hedge.

The Michigan DNR reports that deer really like to dine on pine trees, and prefer White Pine over other pines. They said deer prefer Red Maple over Sugar Maple. Other favorites include Yellow Birch, Dogwoods and Sumac, they noted.

Deer will eat almost any tree if they are in starvation mode. Though not desired, hungry deer will eat Spruce, Beech, Red (Norway) Pine, Balsam fir and Tag alder as a last resort.

Just like deer, ice fishing anglers from Chicago to La Crosse have been out in droves recently looking for their favorite meal.

After the recent cold snap, I jumped in the truck and logged 340 round-trip miles driving across southern Wisconsin to check on ice fishing success.

As I drove along highway 60 between Gotham and Bridgeport, a group of anglers were spotted catching bluegills and crappies in the shallow backwaters of the Wisconsin River. The ice was questionable in places, but the locals who knew how to navigate through the dangers were putting fish in the bucket.

My next destination was the Mississippi River, Pools 9 & 10. I traveled from Prairie du Chien to Stoddard, checking on several Mississippi River backwater spots along the way. There are thousands of acres of slack water on the Mississippi to fish; these spots are away from the hazardous currents of the big river and are popular places to wet a line, especially in the winter.

There were anglers everywhere. It seems there is a pent-up desire to get out ice fishing this year. Better late than never is what some people said. Some of the popular fishing towns on these pools are Prairie du Chien, Lynxville, De Soto, Genoa and Stoddard.

Out on the ice near Genoa, I bumped into Wes Hardman of De Soto. Hardman had caught several bluegills up to 8 ½ inches. Hardman said he saw lots of fish on his underwater camera, but many would not take the bait. While there I talked to a gentleman from Indiana who just arrived. “I drove over 300 miles to get here,” the eager fisherman said.

I pushed on to Stoddard. While on the ice outside of town I talked with Jim Webster of Mauston. Webster said he was catching about one quality fish per hour. He’d caught bluegills up to 9 ½ inches that day. Others were talking about a 14.5 inch, 2.42 pound perch caught recently. Some of the other fishing reports I heard from Stoddard were the type of reports we all hear too often: “You should have been here yesterday.”

As I headed southeast I drove through Madison, but rather than trek out on one of the several frozen lakes in the area, I called (608) 244- 3474 for the D&S Bait & Tackle up-to-date fishing report. This detailed phone recording will give you the fishing scoop on lakes Monona, Waubesa, Mendota and other waters on the Madison chain.

When I returned home to Fort Atkinson and near the waters of Lake Koshkonong, I was greeted with a report that an ice fishing group had 25 “flags” and iced a dozen walleyes on the big lake. However, no walleyes were kept as none of the fish met the minimum size limit of 15-inches for that body of water.

My phone rang as I was in the office finishing up this story. A friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go ice fishing this week. I said “certainly” and he then asked, “What day?” I thought about that for a moment and responded: “Let’s go yesterday.”

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