The month of February is finally winding down in a winter that many of us in Wisconsin would rather forget. People love to talk about the “weather”, but this winter has really given Wisconsinites something to talk about and in most cases something that they have had to deal with most days. Those of you who live in towns and cities have had to “fight” with piles of snow, below zero temperatures, and slippery streets. Obviously, this hasn’t been a picnic for you. But, those of you that live rurally or in the country have had a winter that you’d rather forget. My now, most of you readers know that I live on the banks of the Wisconsin River in south-central Wisconsin. I have had to have my driveway plowed 12 times and that doesn’t count the snows of just a few inches that I drive thru. The average snowfall here is about 47 inches annually, but this year I’m pushing 100 inches of snow which is a record for as long as records have been kept and this is still only the end of February. My older, cabin home needs some remodeling and insulation work and during the arctic cold blasts I’ve had to leave my water running a trickle, so that my pipes won’t freeze. Though, I like to burn wood when I can, it seems as if the furnace never stops running or kicking on every few minutes. I should have bought Madison Gas and Electric stock for what it’s costing me to heat a house under 1000 square feet. Don’t get me wrong, I love living in the country and I wouldn’t trade my residence for anything. But, this winter has been tough and I think that cabin fever has finally gotten me. One of the main problems this winter is that the snow and cold has prevented me from being outside as much as I and my lab, Bo, would like. I don’t snowmobile or ski anymore, so my choices have been limited.
We’ve been spoiled by the winters of the last decade which have been warmer than normal every year. I’ve heard the different reasons and causes why we have had such a winter and after being spoiled the last ten years, we probably were due for an “old-fashioned” winter. I don’t want to get into the global warming debate and there is little doubt that industrialization and burning fossil fuels has hurt the environment, but I don’t think things are that clear cut. Weather, like most things in life, has to be viewed over a long period of time because weather like most things is cyclical. Anyway, that’s my opinion on what’s been happening this winter.
The last few years, I’m usually walleye fishing on the Wisconsin or Mississippi River by now and fishing regularly by the beginning of March. Things could change quickly with a sudden warm-up and thaw, but I don’t think that we’ll be fishing open-water for awhile. This is only the second time that the Wisconsin River has been totally frozen-over where I live. The Wisconsin River has opened up a few times during the brief periods when the temperature has been above freezing, but basically it’s frozen over for miles below Sauk City. The geese that have wintered here for the last decade have finally moved south to where they can find food and even the symbol of winter in my area, the bald eagle, has moved in numbers to other areas where there is open water and their mainstay for survival, fish.
Winter’s Affect on Animals
Winter has had a profound affect on humans this winter, but what about animals? According to Scott Hull, a DNR upland game biologist, don’t worry about the turkeys. Hull said recently that “turkeys are doing just fine. There won’t be any population crash. People see them near corn cribs, along roads, and in fields because that’s where the food is. There will be a few mortalities, but no major impacts on the population.”
Deer are doing o.k. locally too. Northern Wisconsin uses a winter severity index to gauge the winter. The index is figured by adding one point for each day with 18 or more inches of snow on the ground and one point for each day that the thermometer is zero or below. Keith Warnke, the DNR big game ecologist, said that if we used the index in the south of the state like the north, the index number would be below 20 this year in southern Wisconsin. Warnke goes on to say, “A severe winter up north would be above 80 on that scale.”
Laine Stowell, the DNR elk biologist, said that the “winter severity index number in the Hayward area is 24 this winter” which isn’t that severe. Stowell says that the elk are doing fine because when the snow gets deep they browse more and they even eat a broader variety of foods than deer. There have been four elk fatalities this winter, but not from the cold of winter. Two young bull elk were taken by wolves and two heifer calves were hit by cars. People have learned not to feed the elk and risk a fine of over $500.00.
Smaller birds and animals are having a tougher time this winter with the deep snow cover and a layer of ice in between. If you feed birds, keep doing it because they will learn to depend upon you and ground-feeding birds are having the toughest time. If you haven’t been a bird-feeder, this is a great winter to start because you will have birds looking for food. Feeding and watching birds is now done by over 80 million people in the United States. It’s a great family activity which can bring the whole family together in something away from the electronic and computer world. Talk to those who are in the bird business for tips on feeding and how to get started in this year-round activity. You’ll feel good knowing that you’re helping some of natures creatures survive this harsh winter.
Turkeys are doing much better than quail, which have become more prevalent in recent warmer years and pheasants that also have to scratch for their food. The long legs that turkeys have help them in deep snow, while the smaller gamebirds like pheasants and quail have problems in the snow. Wild pheasants have been doing better in Wisconsin, but this winter may hurt their growth. If it wasn’t for the few major thaws that we’ve experienced, things would be much worse.
The committee of 18 individuals that was formed last summer released their report on how to handle and manage the state’s six year struggle with chronic wasting disease. The initial idea was to come up with a plan to minimize CWD’s impact on deer, woodland habitats, the economy, and everyone else who benefits from deer in our society. The group, who initially had good intentions, ended up fighting amongst themselves and defending their own selfish interests in the struggle against CWD. The group came up with some recommendations like having a varying set of deer herd goals for all the CWD zones and having the need to reach statewide population goals. They also suggested going back to the traditional gun and bow seasons from September to November but added a confusing number of hunts in December to try and control the herd. There’s been more in-fighting and some “minority reports” which DNR Secretary Matt Frank must work into a proposal to present to the Natural Resources Board on February 27. This is not an easy situation and it will take input from many more people in and out of the DNR to come up with a workable plan. This is a tough call and it’s very difficult to please all the parties involved in the struggle against CWD. I thank those who have tried to work out this complex problem and hope that an answer can be found.
Bald Eagle Days
The 21st Annual Bald Eagle Days was held January 19-20th, 2008 in Sauk Prairie. The weather (here I go again) was frigid, but the sky was clear and the local population of bald eagles gave the thousand or so visitors to the area a chance to view these magnificent birds of prey.
The cold weather that week had concentrated the eagles in the open water below the dam at Prairie du Sac and down to the Highway 12 Bridge. This weekend event was before the continued cold froze up much of the river and sent the winter population of bald eagles looking for better areas and waters for feeding. The initial eagle count done by the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council the first week in December had 314 eagles counted on the 10 roost sites that are watched for the purpose of counting eagle numbers. This was an all-time record for the first weekend count of the winter. But, since then bird numbers have dropped because of the frozen waters that have made feeding much more difficult. The February 10th count showed 96 eagles which is up from the last count, but still way down. The eagles are also using more off-river roosts and feeding areas.
Thanks to the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council, the DNR, the Sauk-Prairie Chamber of Commerce, and the many volunteers who made this great event happen. Vortex Optics of Middleton donated a $500.00 spotting scope to the Eagle Council and loaned binoculars to use on the bus tours to the various eagle viewing locations. If you have a chance, check out the optics that Vortex makes including rifle scopes, spotting scopes, and binoculars.
Crossroads Family Church in Wautoma had their 12th Annual Outdoor Expo on Saturday, January 26, 2008. There were great seminars all day with speakers talking about fishing, hunting (deer, turkeys, and bears), trapping, quality deer management, black powder hunting, establishing food plots, and one by the local DNR warden, Dave Algrem. T.V. personality and pro hunter, Tammy Koenig, was the keynote speaker for the Expo. There were activities for children with rock climbing, archery shooting, and a DNR laser shoot. A silent auction was running all-day with many prints and outdoor gear to bid on. I was honored to speak on “River Walleyes” in a power point presentation that people seemed to enjoy. The best thing was that the admission price was money for the local food pantry or a donation of goods for them to give to the needy.
The Capital City Chapter of Muskies Inc. will again hold their Muskie School on March 8th, 2008 at Waunakee High School. This is an annual event that has everything that a muskie fisherman could want to see, hear about, and do. Registration is open to the public and there are different “blocks” of seminars and presentations suited to your interests. The program starts at 7:30 AM and lasts till 3:30 PM. Some of the seminars include; poolside demonstrations of various lures, night fishing techniques, electronics, spring muskie techniques, sucker and quickset rig fishing, fishing Minnesota muskies, fly fishing for muskies, and fishing Vilas and Oneida Counties. These are just a few of the many presentations and seminars available that day. The cost is very reasonable at $29.00 and $5.00 for youths under 18 years old. For more information and a list of the seminars call Bill Wood at (608)-849-7659 or Geoff Crandall at Crandall@msbnrg.com or call (608)-831-6020. If you fish muskies then this is an event for you.
Speakers and Seminars
This is the time of the year when we all get a little cabin fever and look forward to the many sport shows and seminars that start now and continue into the spring.
The Yahara Fishing Club is having a great speaker and muskie guide, Lee Tauchen, at Madison’s Lakeside VFW Hall on March 11th, 2008 at 7:30 PM. The VFW is located on John Nolan Drive and Lakeside Street close to the Alliant Energy Center.
Lee is a friend and member of the same guide association as I am, the Four Lakes Guide Association. Lee has become one of the Midwest’s top and highly respected guides spending part of the year in southern Wisconsin and the bulk of the summer and fall on Minnesota’s famed Lake Mille Lacs. Last year alone, Lee and his clients boated over 30 fish greater than 50 inches and some 40 and 50 pound muskies were boated. Lee can be seen on Lindner’s Angling Edge, The Next Bite, and John Gillespie’s Woods and Water television show. He also is the owner of Lee Lures and writes for Esox Angler and The Next Bite magazines. This seminar is free and Lee will put on a top-notch presentation. For more information call Jeff Western at (608)-831-1092 or contact Lee at (608)-444-2180 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Wilderness Fish and Game store in Sauk City, Wisconsin is having their 25th Free Fishing Clinic Saturday, March 1, 2008. Two great legends in the fishing industry will speak that day with muskie guide and manufacture, Russ “Smity” Smith of Minocqua, Wisconsin speaking at 11:00 AM. Then, Mr. Walleye himself, Gary Roach will speak at 1:00 PM. Roach is probably one of the most well-known walleye anglers and personalities in the walleye and fishing world. Anglers and fishermen and women will get a chance to see and hear both Roach and Smith up close and personal. Both Gary and Russ are great ambassadors for fishing and always have time to talk with the crowd and sign autographs for the kids. Roach has seen the growth of walleye fishing and has been around the fishing scene for over 50 years. Smith moved to the Northwood’s over 30 years ago and has been a full-time guide and maker of the line of Smity Baits for many years. This is a great opportunity to see two of fishing greats talk and answer your questions. Call Wilderness Fish and Game at (608)-643-2433 for info and details. This is one that you don’t want to miss!
Rinehart Wins Award
Dan Rinehart of Edgerton, Wisconsin recently won the top honors at the Mandalay Bay Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada for his TV series, “Taxidermy for the Sportsman”. The award was given by the Berlin, Wisconsin based station, The Sportsman Channel. This is the first taxidermy focused TV series to win national honors. “Taxidermy for the Sportsman” won for the BEST INFORMATIONAL/EDUCATIONAL episode in the 2007 Sportsman Channel broadcasting season. The show provides a new and exciting outdoor programming-niche that taps into the curiosity of the sportsman. Dan says that “All sportsmen have a natural curiosity about how taxidermy is performed.” “Taxidermy for the Sportsman” breaks through the secrets, mystery, and misconceptions of taxidermy and educated the public and sportsman about modern taxidermy. Dan says, “Taxidermy completes the Conservation-Circle; starting with the sportsman in the field, continuing through the acquisition of game during the hunt and completing the circle by preserving nature through taxidermy.”
Rinehart owns and operates the Rinehart Taxidermy School and Supply Warehouse in Edgerton, Wisconsin. Interested parties can gain a professional education at the Rinehart School and hopefully begin their own taxidermy business. Dan is also a world-class taxidermist having won many national awards for his life-like work. Contact Dan at www.LearnTaxidermy.com or by calling (608)-884-3047.
Bits and Pieces
Here are some other announcements and press releases that relate to the Badger Sportsman.
- The Pheasant Forever’s National Pheasant Fest celebrated their 25th anniversary with a record attendance of 29,802 people at their three day event in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
- Clean Wisconsin, an environmental advocacy organization which protects Wisconsin’s clean water and air and advocates for clean energy applauded Governor Doyle in his State of the State address. Keith Reopelle, Program Director, said the group was pleased with the Governors effort to pass a Great lakes Compact with strong protection for Lake Michigan and his effort to find global warming solutions. They may be reached at www.cleanwisconsin.org.
- Turkey permits for this spring have been sent out to those who applied. The over-the-counter sales start March 28, 2008. There are presently more than 56,000 permits available.
- Fish are now swimming in the new $15.9 million coldwater facility at the Wild Rose Fish Hatchery. This is why Lake Michigan has such a world-class fishery.
- A wolf was recently photographed and seen in Iowa County near Yellowstone State Park, near Blanchardville, Wisconsin. The DNR reported that the wolf traveled at least 80 to 90 miles from the nearest pack in the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in western Juneau County. DNR biologists say that there are now between 500 and 600 wolves in Wisconsin. During mating and when food supplies are short, it is not unusual for wolves and bears to travel looking for mates and food. The wolf was taken off the federal endangered species list in March for the western Great Lakes region. The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, the states largest conservation organization applauded Governor Doyle and Attorney General Van Hollen for filing a brief supporting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to remove the grey wolf from the Federal Endangered Species list in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan.
My new website and blog is up and running. Everyday more stories, photos, and info are being added. Be sure to check out, www.garyengbergoutdoors.com. Stay warm and think about walleye fishing in Wisconsin’s rivers and trout fishing during the early catch and release season. Hopefully, we will soon be fishing the spring river walleye bite while the mountains of snow melt and raise the water levels on lakes, rivers, and ponds where water is needed.