More Than a Fish Story

Join me for a two-week tour of ice fishing in Wisconsin’s Northwoods.

More Than a Fish Story

This story is part of a larger series on ice-fishing culture. To read all series posts, click here

Winter in northern Wisconsin is harsh. I threaten to move to Hawaii regularly but I know I never will. Love it or hate it — and I do both — this is home.

For the next two weeks I’m working remotely from my ice shack on Boom Lake in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. It’s an unusual assignment to be sure, but one that I hope will capture the culture of what ice fishing is all about and give you a good look at how it’s done, or at least how and why I — and the group of guys I fish with — do it.    

Boom Lake and its connecting waters — also known as the Rhinelander Flowage and even the Rhinelander Chain of Lakes by some enterprising Realtors — is a flowage system created by a dam on the Wisconsin River at the Rhinelander paper mill. It was originally constructed to hold logs that were floated downriver to the lumber mills this city was built on.

We fish the Boomer because it’s central to where we all live, and because most winters you can drive anywhere on the lake once the ice thickens up — not necessarily because of a reputation for producing trophy northern pike. It’s easy to get to the shack and meet up with friends, and on a subzero Saturday in January, it’s a nice little oasis.

Boom is the largest of the “chain of lakes” at 365 acres, with a maximum depth of 30 feet. The water is dark and clarity is low. Bass and Thunder lakes are also connected, the latter of which transitions into Lake Creek on the opposite end. The flowage system starts north of town where the river widens well beyond its channel, sprawling over 1,372 acres. While the section closer to town holds more open water, the upper stretches are more scenic, with classic Northwoods cottages dotting the banks and vast fields of wild rice covering the shallows. It’s where I learned to duck hunt as a kid with my older brother and his friends.

The flowage system is a great body of recreational water, with fishing, wildlife and plenty of water for everything from water skiing to slow tours on the pontoon boat. It fills with boats on the Fourth and with trucks in February for the annual Lions Club Fisheree. 

Chasing Snakes

Plenty of guys take ice fishing seriously. They defy common sense and creep out onto first ice for walleyes. They catch crappies on tip-downs all winter long. They bring fish home to their hungry families. We’re a little different.

I fish with a group of guys I’ve been friends with for a very long time. Some since before I was old enough to go to school. Our ice shack is an old camper we’ve christened the Snake Chaser, because we mostly fish for northerns, or pike if you prefer, and we catch a lot of little northerns in the 16- to 20-inch range. Snakes.

We’re here more for the fun than anything. It’s a clubhouse on the ice. But make no mistake, we’re fishing. Ours is usually one of the first shacks on the ice and there aren’t many people who are out here more regularly over the course of the winter. It’s a rare weekend day when there aren’t at least three or four guys fishing out of the Snake Chaser. We fish a lot, we just don’t take it too seriously. It’s more pastime than pursuit.

Two Weeks On the Ice

So, I could write a story about ice fishing, but you’d just be getting a cropped down version of the full picture. It would just be another fishing story. This isn’t that. And it isn’t a how-to, although if you’re not an experienced ice fisherman you’ll certainly pick up some knowledge.

Over the next two weeks I’ll post daily logs of my days on the ice, along with photos, videos and stories about fishing the flowage. Think of it as a two-week guided tour of a place that means a hell of a lot to me. When it’s done, I hope you’ll understand why. Maybe come up and visit. It’s gorgeous this time of year.

Next in the Series 

There's No Shack Like Mine

Two Weeks on the Ice: Daily Log 1

Deep Ties to the Lake I Fish

Two Weeks on the Ice: Daily Log 2

If you'd like to see all the stories, videos and images in the series, go here


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.