Ice Fishing Is So....Cool

They love winter–it’s ice-fishing time!

Stefanie and Stacy Kaye (back row) and their children (from left) Amalia, Tyler and Shiala go ice fishing across the state as often as they can each winter. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

The concept of spending time on frozen water during frigid weather may send chills down the spine of those not familiar with ice fishing.

But longtime fisherman Stacy Kaye of the Town Port Washington said being cold is not a problem with his favorite winter sport, as long as you have proper gear—like an ice-fishing shack and plenty of propane to heat it.

“In the shack it’s probably not much different than in your house,” he said.

Kaye’s family of five loves the sport, but ice camping isn’t for all of them.

“I’d rather stay on solid ground,” Stacy’s wife Stefanie said. “The thought of having a campfire on the ice doesn’t really appeal to me.”

“It’s actually really cool,” Stacy said.

Both Port Washington High School graduates grew up in fishing families, and they’re passing the hobby on to their son and two daughters, who got acclimated early. All three spent time in an ice-fishing shelter at 6 months old.

Tyler, 17, said he loves being outside and was dead-set on  the fishing lifestyle by the time he was 5.

Amalia, 14, said she has friends who have never seen a fish in the water before. “I don’t know how you could live like that,” she said.

Stefanie remembers Shiala, now 12, wearing a snowsuit while being pulled onto the ice on a sled when she was 1. She played with fish on the line.

“She was like, ‘Sorry, fishy,’” she said.

That novelty has since worn off.

“I don’t like to touch the fish. It’s really slimy,” Shiala said. “But it’s really exciting when you catch one.”

The first time she caught a fish was while standing on a pier on a boat dock. She was scared of the bluegill.

“She started to scream. She didn’t know what to do,” Stacy said. “She was not touching that fish.”

The family at least knew what Shiala caught. Once, Tyler snagged a fish that was a mystery on Lake Winnebago.

“It was like an alien,” Stacy said.

“I didn’t want to touch it. It was really weird,” Tyler said.

He threw it back before the family learned Tyler had caught a burbot, or lawyer, which is good for eating and sometimes called poor man’s lobster.

Catching fish isn’t always a guarantee, but that’s not always the best part either.

Amalia’s favorite memory was a jamboree on Crooked Lake several years ago when she slept on the ice. Stacy said a section of the ice was shoveled to allow kids to skate.

Amalia doesn’t remember catching anything but said she loved the fishing and “running around on the lake with a bunch of other kids.”

Tyler’s favorite trip was to Lower Red Lake when the shacks were zipped together “like a hotel room.”

Stacy used to use an old camper trailer that he drilled holes into in order to fish, which required a truck to pull it onto the ice. Stacy would rather not travel with that much weight over water, so he switched to pulling shanties on snowmobiles.

“It makes mobilization easy. You have to move a lot to catch fish,” he said.

For Stacy, it’s the “sense of adventure” in ice fishing that keeps him coming back. He gets out as often as he can — “as much as the wife lets me get away with,” he said.

Trips can last from several hours to a few days, and fishing may never stop. Walleye will bite all night long, and the family has rattle reels that wake them when they get a bite.

Fishing in bitter cold is possible but requires a style change. Tip-ups can’t be used because they’ll freeze.

Another kind of weather, however, quickly ends the activity. During a jamboree on Crooked Lake, the family woke up to rain so they packed up and left. Rain, Stacy said, causes everyone to slide around and makes for a slippery mess.

Stacy said he does research before each trip to make sure the ice is safe.

“They say no ice is safe ice,” he said.

All of the family members wear outfits that have flotation devices, but they’ve never had to use them.

“I’ve seen demonstrations. I’ll take their word for it,” Stacy said.

In the 30 years Stacy has been fishing — on the ice or in water — technology has improved “almost in a scary way,” he said.

Ten times the number of people are on the ice as when Stacy started fishing, some with electronic instruments such as ice graphs and sonars. It’s a far cry from the day when Stefanie’s mother used a manual auger and a few poles.

“She didn’t catch as much,” Stefanie said.

The family uses an underwater camera and finds it interesting to watch fish in their environment, but Stacy said he is selective about what fish he keeps.

Crappies are plentiful, so the family keeps some of those, but, “We don’t keep a lot of fish,” Stacy said. I’m dedicated more to preserving the resource. We’ve seen areas get fished out.”

For someone just getting started in ice fishing, Stacy suggests watching YouTube videos to figure out what species to go after, how to catch them and how much money it takes. He suggests following Tom Boley, a fishing enthusiast from Hayward, who addresses safe and proper fishing techniques and doesn’t promote brands of equipment.

“If he’s not actually fishing or collecting gear to go fishing, he’s watching it,” Stefanie said of her husband.

Tyler and Stefanie said one of their favorite kinds of fishing is jigging for walleye with cameras.

“It’s a game almost, trying to get bait to the fish,” Stefanie said.

Seeing fish on the camera and catching them are two different things, however. The family’s first trip this season to Lake Poygan was a “100% skunk,” Stacy said. They saw one fish on the camera and caught nothing.

Stacy has developed a few favorite spots in his decades of experience. One is the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage, a nearly 13,000-acre body of water in Iron County.

“It’s about as close to being in Canada while still being in Wisconsin,” Stacy said.

Another favorite spot is Lake Winnebago when 30,000 people converge for an ice fishing tournament.

“The entire lake is lit up like a city,” Stacy said.

The family’s children bring their phones on fishing trips, but they’re able to disconnect from technology.

“They enjoy the moment for what it is,” Stacy said. “As a group I think we’ve grown to enjoy the time together.”



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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