Snowy Salmonids: An angler’s approach to enjoying the winter weather.

By: Sean Bertalot, WAV Student Assistant

Early January is a unique time. Reflection on the past is coupled with excitement for what is to come in the new year. Christmas lights are packed up while a startling realization sets in. We still have (at the very least) 3 more months of this weather to go. While Wisconsin winters begin to drag for most of us sooner or later, I’ve learned the importance of embracing the opportunities that the winter months offer. None of those excites me more than the opening of the inland trout season. 

Growing up, I loved fishing. Despite my affinity for the sport, most of it was limited to the pier at my grandparents’ house or occasionally a family friend’s boat. While I seized every chance to target a new species, one group always eluded me: Trout. Trout fascinated me; they were so unlike anything I fished for regularly. Slender, fast, with patterns reminiscent of paintings. Fishing for trout offered an entirely different experience from what I was used to. Despite living on the edge of the driftless, known for its trout fishing, I was limited. I couldn’t drive and had no one willing to embark on an excursion with me. Trout continued to be a fish I admired from afar.

That all changed during high school. A classmate and I connected on our love of fishing and a particular interest in trout. One key difference between us was that he had the experience I lacked. He offered to take me out with him; the rest is history. That classmate would go on to become a great friend. We have shared many excursions since then, catching beautiful fish and exploring the streams of driftless Wisconsin.

“It can’t really be understated how special this setting is.”

We look forward to the season opener in January yearly, itching to get back on the water. Winter fishing on the streams is unique compared to traditional ice fishing. Instead of choosing one spot, you’re nearly always moving. The streams rarely freeze over, so the process is similar to summer fishing (with the added bonus of your hands and reel freezing). The fish are always the ultimate prize, but my appreciation for the setting has grown each time I go out. There is something profoundly peaceful about being on a stream early in the morning. It’s quieter than in the summer, and the silence fosters a feeling of connectedness with the landscape. On the best days, frost coats the trees and the hills, making for the most picturesque setting. 

It can’t really be understated how special this setting is. There are few places like it in the whole world. A sense of pride surrounding our waterways is entirely justified. That said, when everything is on a t-shirt, sticker, or koozie, it is sometimes easy to take it for granted and forget it’s literally in our backyard. We may all get a bit more sleepy during the winter, but I can assure you the streams do not. So while the long nights drag on, I encourage everyone to get out to their local stream. You don’t have to fish. In fact, you don’t have to do anything at all (although walking would keep you a bit warmer). Another winter activity never hurt to have, and I promise the experience is well worth the effort.