IĎll admit that I was born and raised in the northern part of Illinois through my high school years. After high school graduation, I came to Wisconsin to go to college and play football and hockey. But, some of my best times in my childhood were when our entire family would pack up the family station wagon and head north to Wisconsin and the Boulder Junction area in Vilas County to fish and vacation.
My grandfather was an immigrant from Sweden whose father was a commercial fisherman, so I guess that fishing was part of my life from a very early age. John Chellman was my grandfatherís name and he and our family would trek to the Northwoods of Wisconsin to fish numerous times every year, but opening weekend was special.
This was before 'catch and release' began and most fish that we caught were for the frying pan. Initially, my grandfather picked the lakes of Minnesota to go to with the family. But, after a few years and many miles driven from Chicago, our family chose Vilas County as the place to go to for the opening weekend of the inland lake fishing season. 'Gramps' always said that Minnesota and Wisconsin reminded him of his homeland with the numerous lakes, trees, forests, and of course the fishing. The main fish of choice was the walleye and as he got older my grandfather became a muskie fanatic.
All winter, we would go to the many sport shows in the Chicago area and check up on the numerous resorts and fishing. After many years of fishing the inland opener and hoping that the ice would be off the lakes, much like this season, we would head north to the Armour Lake Resort on Armour and the adjoining Horsehead Lake.
Itís funny that I can remember fishing the Wisconsin opener fifty years ago and what a great family tradition it was. Our family would go to Vilas County for the week of the opener and then head back to the resort 3 or 4 more times throughout the fishing season.
There were fishing guides in those days, mostly Native Americans, but my grandfather was a good fisherman and usually found fish for the family. These were the days of the first fiberglass boats made by the Shell Lake Company in Wisconsin. In those days, the cabins came with a boat and you had to bring your own motor or rent one for the duration of your stay. Then, a 10-15 horsepower motor was all you needed for a 350 acre lake like Armour Lake.
The question back then was whether or not there would be open water for fishing (much like the question that anglers are facing this weekend). In the 1960s, I donít think that the DNR stocked as many lakes in the southern part of Wisconsin as they do now. If you wanted to fish for walleyes and muskies, you headed to the northern third of the state which was then considered 'muskie' waters. Now, an angler can catch a 50-inch muskie in the shadow of the state capital and be home for dinner!
There was something special about heading north for the opener in those days. There wasnít an Interstate Highway and you took Highway 12 out of Illinois to Highway 51 in Wisconsin which made the majority of the trip to the Northwoods and Vilas County.
Cabins were rented by the week and came furnished with bedding, kitchen supplies, dishes and everything but your food which usually was fish. My grandfather would pay for the entire family to stay in the two cabins that weíd rent.
This was one of the few times that the children were allowed to miss a few days of school. The weekend of the fishing opener was much like the deer hunting season opener in which families would get together to hunt, eat, tell stories and spend some time with your family and relatives that you'd only got to see a few times a year.
This fishing opener was a family tradition that many donít get a chance to experience these days because so many things have changed. Families arenít as close as before, families move apart and donít get together as much as they used to and children have so many more things to do. Fishing is not high on many priority lists anymore.
But I remember those wonderful days and the great times in the outdoors that we would spend fishing and talking with our relatives and friends during the opening weekend of fishing. We were always worried about whether or not the lakes would be open and if the walleyes had spawned.
Now, many of the old resorts have been converted to condos and fewer and fewer families are retreating to the Northwoods of Wisconsin for the fishing opener. One doesnít have to travel much to fish and youíll always be home in your own bed at night. But, there was something special about going to northern Wisconsin for the opening of the inland lake fishing opener. Those were great days and times and hopefully some of us remember those special moments. I sure do!
Get out this weekend and remember the days of the past and those great fishing openers. Catch a few fish too, but remember those old days!