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Marge Gibson of the Raptor Education Group, Inc. in Antigo and a rehabilitated eagle. / Submitted by Gary Engberg

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This past weekend was a typical winter weekend in Wisconsin. The last couple of weeks I’ve been writing about a few of the winter activities that are available in southern Wisconsin. The cold of winter has allowed quality ice to freeze on most Wisconsin waters and this means ice fishing and ice fishing tournaments or 'derby’s' almost anywhere that there is 'hard water.'

The week before last, the Yahara Fishing Club of Madison, held their 'Kid’s Ice Fishing Day' on Madison’s Lake Monona and the Brittingham Park Bay. The purpose was to introduce more children and families to the sport of ice fishing. There were many club members on hand to teach any beginners and families the basics of this winter activity and how much fun can be had if dressed properly even in cold weather.

This 'Kid’s Fishing Day' had hundreds of children and their parents or guardians on the ice and learning basics from the club members. The Yahara Fishing Club gave away over 300 rods and reels plus other fishing gear to the children as a way to introduce them to the sport. Hopefully, they enjoyed themselves and will continue fishing in the winter for many weekends to come!

Saturday was also the 26th 'Bald Eagle Watching Weekend' in the Sauk Prairie area. Saturday was a mild day for winter (except for the wind) and carloads of people came to Sauk City to see bald eagles and take in the numerous eagle related activities that were there for the entire family. The weekend started with a program on Friday night put on by the University of Minnesota Raptor Center titled 'Raptors in Wisconsin.' Besides talking about the many and diverse raptors that make Wisconsin their home, the Raptor Center had rehabilitated birds to show people as they walked up and down the aisles showing people owls, hawks, falcons and eagles up close. Truly, a great presentation! There were many other activities for the family including things for the children to make relating to bald eagles.

The highlight of the day was Marge Gibson of the Raptor Education Group, Inc. from Antigo, Wisconsin. Marge is a biologist and has worked with wildlife around the world for over 30 years with her husband, Don, who is a recently retired doctor. Marge released four rehabilitated eagles (3 juveniles and 1 mature) back into the wild. Marge walked around the crowd, estimated at close to two thousand people, with the eagles as she softly talked to them before their release. The eagles flew away to join their 'friends' back in the wild. The work that Gibson and her staff do is magnificent and sometime look up REG, Inc. on the Internet to see the work this group does for wildlife in Wisconsin and nearby states. The only problem with the day was that the eagles were spread out over a large area with the loss of snow cover and not concentrated in one area to see.

I was supposed to work at the Eagle Overlook viewing station on Sunday morning, but I got a call on Saturday night, as the wild howled outside, not to bother going to the Overlook because it was too cold and there wouldn’t be many people there. Being someone who is used to spending time in the outdoors, I decided to dress right and go to the viewing station anyway. It was a good thing that I did! Ferry Bluff Eagle Council member, Larry Czosnek, was already there and another club member, Joan Ouenan, soon showed up too. The wind had died from the night before and it was not too cold for viewing. Sunday morning the bald eagles were everywhere along the Wisconsin River from the Highway 12 Bridge to the Prairie du Sac Dam. It was if the eagles decided to put on a “show’ for those who were brave enough to be outside watching them. There were eagles feeding, flying, and perching up and down the river. There were eagles constantly on Eagle Island and regularly flying and feeding on gizzard shad from the Prairie Dam to the Highway 12 Bridge. We had a steady flow of people coming to view the eagles many who had come to town for the weekend and many more visitors from all parts of the state coming just to see “our” bald eagles on Sunday. There were visitors from Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota who all came to Sauk City to see “our” winter residents. Sunday was one of the best days that I can remember to see eagles without leaving town and the general viewing locations like the VFW Park and the Prairie du Sac Dam. Some people even commented that they were amazed at the large number of eagles after a rather slow Saturday.

Now is one of the best times to view eagles in the Sauk Prairie area. Take a drive to Sauk City and visit the new Chamber of Commerce (http://www.saukprairieriverway.com) building just over the Bridge and past the stoplight on your right for information and pamphlets on eagle viewing in the area. There will be bus tours on Saturdays for the rest of the winter to view the eagles in the immediate area. Everything you need is also available online. Come to town while the eagles are still here in large numbers and before they leave to return to their northern nests and homes.

The other winter event that kept me busy this past weekend was the Yahara Fishing Club’s Ice Fishing Derby on Madison’s Lake Waubesa. Club member, Jim Kloth, put this event together to try and revive the 'Percheree' that was held on the Madison lakes for decades. Saturday’s derby was based out of the Green Lantern Restaurant in McFarland with anglers paying $10 to fish the derby and try to win some great prizes. There were 130 anglers who fished till the 2 p.m. weigh-in with big fish categories for walleye, northern pike, bass, and the heaviest 10 panfish (bluegills, crappies, and perch) plus the largest single fish by a child under 12 years old.

This was a great turn-out for the first year and hopefully this event will continue and grow to what the old 'Percheree’ was like! Mike Christ won the heaviest panfish category with 10 perch for 5.09 pounds, Dave Niterski had the largest bass at 2.34 pounds, Mike Schmitt won the walleye category with a 4.88 pound fish, John Jacobus won the pike category with a 12.96 pound pike, and Jordan Nondry won the children’s category with a big perch.

The Derby was a wonderful event and I thank all who fished and the sponsors who made it possible. All monies will go to the Yahara Fishing Club for the children’s events that they sponsor in the spring and winter. This is a great group and look them up on the internet and think about joining. All you have to do is enjoy fishing and spend the $25 membership fee.

This weekend there is another fishing event on Crystal Lake called the Cottonwood Club Ice Fisheree. Registration is from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. with a $10 registration fee. The headquarters is Shoepp’s Resort, N586 Schoepp Road in Sauk City, which is off Highway 60. Anglers may fish on Crystal, Fish, and Mud Lakes after registering. There are many great prizes and this is always another fun event in the Wisconsin outdoors.

Call Dave at (608) 219-5694 for information, Schoepp’s Resort at (608)-643-4200, or visit the Cottonwood Club Ice Fisheree on Facebook. The ice is good and these lakes always produce some nice fish.

The Stoughton Conservation Club Ice Fisheree and Bounty Hunt starts at midnight January 28 and runs till 4 p.m.The headquarters is at Springer’s on Lake Kegonsa, 3097 Sunnyside Street in Stoughton. Call Roy Quam at 608-873-3366 or visit http://www.stoughtoncc.com for more information.

As I’m writing this column, I keep looking up and out on the Wisconsin River from my window as the many bald eagles fly up and down the river fishing for shad. This is the best time to come to the Sauk Prairie area to view these majestic birds. The weather is going to remain cold, so ice is constantly being formed for the ice angler and the eagles should remain concentrated in this area. Dress properly and enjoy these fishing and eagle viewing opportunities in the Wisconsin outdoors. We could use a little snow for the cross-country skiers and snowmobilers, but I’m sure it will come. One last comment, these are tough times for the many birds that winter in our state. I know that bird seed is costly, but these birds that give us so much enjoyment need a little extra food during winter. Be sure to keep your feeders full during winter’s cold.

Gary Engberg is a professional tournament angler, fishing guide, and writer. He began fishing tournaments in the early 1990’s and has fished the In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail (PWT), North American Walleye Association (NAWA), Masters Walleye Circuit (MWC), World Walleye Association (WWA), FLW, and Mercury Nationals in the years since. Gary has hosted the Outdoor Horizons radio show weekly for 14 years in Madison on WTDY 1670 AM and WTDY 106.7 FM Saturdays at 8:05 am. and is also a correspondent for the Wisconsin State Journal for the last 12 years. Visit http://www.garyengbergoutdoors.com for more from Gary Engberg.

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