I ran across Whitehall’s Bill Johnston just after 1 p.m., late last week. He had just left the ice near the south end of French Island. “Caught 1 bluegill, 1 bass and 1 crappie,” he said, shaking his head in disgust. “And I’ve been out there since daybreak.” Johnston was the only angler to be found near Veterans Point Marina, a popular winter fishing spot. Lack of anglers is evident throughout the Greater La Crosse Area. Heaviest traffic is obviously on weekends, but even that is waning as spring nears. Walleyes are providing pretty good action in open water below the Genoa Lock and Dam. Bass and northern pike are biting on tip-ups on Lake Onalaska. Shopko Bay is also producing some action. Meanwhile, across the Mississippi River, Minnesota DNR conservation officer Tyler Ramaker, in La Crescent, continued with ongoing deer hunting investigations. Training was attended. Enforcement action was taken for snowmobile registration violations. DNR conservation officer Mitch Boyum, stationed in Rushford, reports working area snowmobile trails. Conditions were fair to good and many users were out over the weekend. Violations encountered were failure to display valid registration, no state trail sticker and operation violations. Boyum attended training as well. DNR conservation officer Tom Hemker, in Winona, reports high fishing pressure and snowmobile activity in the area. He received several calls about deer in homeowners yards and farmers feed bags. Hemker also followed up on an unlicensed, unidentified shelter left on the ice and complaints of people illegally feeding deer. Remember to take a kid hunting or fishing. It will be the best thing you ever did. Until we meet, have a great day outdoors.
From Southern Wisconsin
Due to the pandemic, Wisconsin residents, as well as those in other states, have been limited in what they deem safe during time away from jobs. That idle time has been expanded exponentially in some situations. People lost their jobs. Gathering is a convenient term for any outside adventure, regardless it involves taking plants, animals or fungi into possession or just seeing a bird or plant and thinking about it for a moment. Many folks have turned to gathering Wisconsin in the broadest of ways. That big picture shows gatherers engaging from simply walking and looking at ice crystals, photographing wildlife struggling through winter, incorporating exercise with observing nature, becoming weekend farmers raising and harvesting, and taking from the wild by fishing, picking, hunting and collecting. All that and much more is how we gather. In any or all these ways, this gathering has them becoming outdoors men, women and children. There is no need to call them in from the woods. So much the better if they are not out of the woods yet. These and dozens of other ways now find people reconnected, or connected, with nature. In a few cases, the desire to use these activities for food and finances have become the reason to be outside. Selling created artwork, publishing experiences observed or experienced, guiding others in this lifestyle, bagging a turkey or deer, or frying a fish. Data is now available for some recreation being practiced. Hiking in one study found hikes logged were up 171 percent in 2020 with the number of hikers increasing 135 percent. Even those who were already doing a hiking activity increased. These are not made-up numbers. Nearly 8 million cases were analyzed. Where licenses have been required and sold, solid numbers and evidence is also available. Even returning or new anglers or hunters in some states get a break in license fees, so DNR agencies can say for certain if an increase in hunters is due to those new to the activity or returned after a five-year layoff. Vortex Optics customer sales specialist, Ryan Muckenhirn, in Barneveld, said the increase in optics for hunting to bird watching has been remarkable. “Inquiries, email, texts and phone calls are telling us a lot are new to this lifestyle and adventure,” he said. “Hunting, shooting, general birding and bird feeder watchers have picked up binoculars, spotting scopes and are watching out their windows.” Now that Wisconsin weather has begun to turn more spring-like, activities will surge even more. “People need to be aware there is still ice and snow, which can be very slippery and sometimes dangerous,” said Doug Williams, at D & W Sports Center in Portage. Last autumn’s equipment shortages continue, according to Don Martin, at Martin’s in Monroe. “So many items, like snowshoes, are just not available,” he said. “Ice augers and reels for ice fishing were ordered, but never came. I have a few reels in the case.” Williams has seen sales of socks, hiking boots and water bottles clear the shelves. Dealers selling products could not supply hunters with ammunition and warnings were whispered about garden seed supplies being short. Turkey hunting, call training sessions and sports shows, hyping new products, are not scheduled. Has turkey calls and calling run their course? Maybe to some degree in terms of providing information, but the discussion may still be valuable to put hunters in a mindset to play a tune to a gobbler. Game feeds are also greatly missed in some circles just about the time we might like to see what all this wild food tastes like. Will those turned away by a shortage of supplies get frustrated? Williams doesn’t think so. “I don’t see that happening because it was families, grandparents, small children, teens all reconnecting in the family and doing something together rather than everyone going their separate ways,” he said. “They can all ice fish, shoot archery, camp and hike, too.” One might pay visits to second hand stores, garage and yard sales, town clean-up days, and even advertise a need on social media. Animals are becoming stressed, but so far have found survival foods ample. With snow disappearing in the forecast, more vegetation will show and so will shed antlers.
Schafer's River Rentals
Chad Knapmiller, owner of Schafer's River Rentals on Brice Prairie, posted on his website earlier this week, “I think I can officially say that we are through the midwinter lull. The fact that the cold snap coincided with the lull did not help things.” Knapmiller said warm weather is definitely making a difference in fish activity. “The tip-ups are absolutely on fire with both bass and northern being caught,” he said. “The perch are starting to ramp up and that bite should continue improving. “The big wild card this season has been the bluegills. Marge’s Island has been the most consistent area for them, but I have heard there are nice gills by the airport landing lights as well.” Knapmiller said although the crappie bite has been poor so far this season, there are signs action will improve for a good late ice bite. Knapmiller also said there has been a recent effort to raise some money to kick start some larger projects on Lake Onalaska. “This year especially, but every year this lake absorbs a tremendous amount of fishing pressure and is still able to produce trophy fish. To keep doing this, and also to make it even better, habitat projects will need to be done,” he said. Knapmiller suggests a project studies for the lake showing what is wrong and the best way to fix it. “That is where we come in. If we can all pitch in a few dollars, we can make it happen!” he said. “Please go to gf.me/u/zb6wdz and give what you can.” Knapmiller said a few of the needs to improve fishing is more deep water habitat, islands with sheltered bays as well as other features added to the lake. “We have a ton of water that is not currently good habitat and if that changes we will have so much better fishing,” he said. “Please go to gf.me/u/zb6wdz and donate today!”
Karen Perry from Wild Birds Unlimited
We are at the end of February, so we need to start thinking ahead to March and nesting. I want to discuss what makes a good birdhouse this week. This will give you time to do a few things. Clean out your bird houses, determine if they are in suitable shape for birds to choose it as a place to bring their young into the world and replace or rebuild if necessary. Keep in mind that Wild Birds Unlimited carries a wonderful selection of birdhouses for the birds that you may want to attract. Also, keep in mind that not all birds will nest in a box. What makes a good birdhouse? * Untreated wood: Make sure the house you are making or purchasing is made of untreated or unpainted wood, preferably cedar, pine or cypress. Many houses are now made out of recycled materials. This is also acceptable and will last the longest with good care. * Galvanized screws: These are best for the seal. Nails can loosen over time allowing rain into the nest box. Screws are also easier to remove for repairs or maintenance. Staples are unacceptable. * Sloped roof: This keeps birds dry * Recessed Floor: A recessed floor keeps the nest from getting wet and helps the box last longer. This usually is a piece of galvanized wire placed above the floor. * Drainage hose: This allows any water that enters the box to drain away. If your box does not have drainage holes, you can drill your own. * Thick walls: Walls should be at least ¾ inches thick to insulate the nest properly. Additionally, there should be at least two, 3/4-inch diameter holes on the top of the side walls near the top, two on each side total of four. * Absolutely no perches: A perch is unnecessary for the birds and can actually help predators gain access into the box. * Predator Guards: There are different types of guards that can be used to keep predators away. Use collar or stovepipe for a pole and/or a Noel guard which is a wire mesh tube attached to the front of the nest box. * Proper hole size: Make sure the hole is the right size for the bird you are trying to attract; 1-1/2 inches for bluebirds and Carolina wrens (yes there are Carolina Wren’s in our area); 1-3/8 inches for white breasted nuthatch or tree swallows; 1-1/4 inches for tufted titmouse; and 1-1/8 inches for house wrens and chickadees. * Easy access for cleaning or viewing: Try a hinged door on one side or bottom for cleaning and on the side especially for viewing and managing bluebird houses. * Predators: Be aware of snakes, raccoon, chipmunks and cats as they are the biggest predators to nesting boxes as well as house sparrows. Please keep in mind if you are going to put nest boxes up in your yard to be a good landlord, monitoring and removing any unwanted nests a house sparrow will make. The only two birds that will enter a nest box that ARE NOT protected are house sparrows and starlings. These are not protected birds. Also, keep in mind it is unlawful to remove any nests or eggs from protected birds, such as house wrens, chickadees, titmice, etc., that may make one of your boxes their home. Wild Birds Unlimited is an excellent source for your questions regarding nesting. Stop in our store and talk with one of our knowledgeable associates and get ready for spring! Happy Birding! Karen Perry, Wild Birds Unlimited, Onalaska, 608-781-5088