A brutal winter can’t keep Craig Haas away from the Port Washington waterfront and his year-round passion for fishing
The sky is leaden. The temperature is in the teens, but it feels way below zero in the biting north wind chilled by the hundreds of miles of Lake Michigan ice it has crossed on its way to the Port Washington waterfront. That’s Craig Haas’ world, and he loves it, because being there means he’s fishing.
Haas is a fisherman for all seasons. He doesn’t let a brutal winter interfere with his angling passion.
“You put enough layers on and it’s pretty good. I’ve got the layering down to an art. When people say, ‘You’re out there fishing in wintertime?’ like I’m crazy, I say, ‘Yeah,’” Haas said.
“Some people stay indoors. Not me. I refuse to stay inside. I have to be outside. If I get out of the wind enough, the cold doesn’t bother me.”
On frigid days, he lubricates his reels so they won’t freeze and must clear ice off the line frequently.
“Three casts later, and it’s full of ice again,” he said.
To not fish is unthinkable to this busy father of three who grew up in Belgium and started fishing on inland lakes with his father when he was 4.
When he moved to Port Washington in 1997, Haas quickly found his way to the harbor. It’s been a love affair ever since.
“I love Port. I’ll never move out of Port. It’s so convenient to fish here,” he said.
There are many things that draw him to the sport — the challenge of outwitting the wily creatures that have a way of swimming past a perfectly placed lure, the fresh lake air, sunrises on the lake, wildlife encounters and time to be alone and relish the silence.
“It’s my me-time,” Haas said. “It’s my relaxing time. I like the peace and quiet.
“I’m what you call a pier rat. I don’t have a boat big enough for Lake Michigan, so I have to fish from shore.”
Haas’ favorite fishing spot is Coal Dock Park, where he has room to spread out his gear away from other fishermen. The warm water discharge from the We Energies power plant and the entrance to Sauk Creek lure fish in, but he’ll go wherever he thinks the fickle creatures might be.
“I’ll never figure that lake out,” Haas said. “Every time I think I have the fish figured out, the next day it changes. That’s what makes it a challenge and so much fun. The other guys say the same thing.
“What works one day won’t work the next, so I bring a tackle box full of all kinds of things.”
Haas prefers artificial lures, especially spoons, to live bait. He uses nine to 10-foot-long fishing rods with four to six-pound test lines. He usually uses 1/4 to 1/8-ounce spoons and jigs.
“Trout nip at bait like blue gills and they like smaller meals,” Haas said. “You need the light line to cast the light lures, especially in this wind.”
Brown trout are biting now, Haas said, noting that the Department of Natural Resources stocks the fish in the harbor.
“They were biting like crazy in September and October,” Haas said. “I was down there almost every day. I went to work a little later those days.
“Rainbow trout will start coming in shortly and once in a while lakers will come to shore, then coho and king salmon. I don’t fish for perch any more because their numbers are so low.”
Although he enjoys catching the big 20-pound lunkers that put up a fight, Haas releases them. He finds smaller four to five-pound trout and salmon tastier and fills his freezer with them.
“I also catch fish for others who put in requests,” Haas said. “I have a friend who likes smoking them, so I’ll give him four or five fish and he’ll smoke one for me. We have a good trade going on.”
He can’t always fish during the week, but Haas is at the harbor most Friday afternoons, Saturdays and Sundays, sometimes two or three times a day.
“Whenever I have a few moments to get away, I’m down there fishing,” Haas said.
“I never sleep in. I’m up before sunrise. If they (his wife Cindy, son Ryan, 11, and daughters Erin, 9, and Eily, 6) find my truck gone, they know where I am. They know this is my passion.”
Even when he doesn’t catch anything, Haas said, he feels rewarded.
“If you fish there long enough, you see some amazing things,” he said.
“This fall, a buck jumped out of the creek and swam all around the park. We all had to move our lines out of his way. He finally got out at Rotary Park. He was cold and shaking. I’ve seen otters, especially around the boat launch, and a black mink is usually around the main pier (to the lighthouse).”
Haas, a manager in the buffing department at Calibre Inc. in Grafton, usually has Friday afternoons off for fishing.
At home, Haas does most of the cooking and serves fish from his freezer about once a week. He debones and filets the fish, then puts the filets, skin side down, on a grill, sprinkles lemon pepper on top, closes the grill and lets the fish cook undisturbed for 12 to 15 minutes. He doesn’t turn the fish.
“It’s done perfect,” he said. “The skin sticks to the grill, and there are no bones.”
In nice weather, the children sometimes go fishing with him. They enjoy being in the park more than fishing, he said, but he hopes that changes.
“Sometimes, I have them grab the net so they can share the excitement,” Haas said.
“Soon I’m going to sit them down and say, ‘Between the three of you, one of you has to be my fishing buddy. I don’t care who it is, but one of you has to step up.’
“It’s something I would love to share with them. I would love to have a fishing buddy.”