A Southern Girl Goes Ice Fishing
A DAY WITH THE WACKY WALLEYE GUIDE AND GEORGE DICKEL
Wisconsin has tugged at my heartstrings on more than one occasion. Tennessee will always be home, but anytime y’all will have me, I’ll be there directly for a visit.
Certainly, I have found a few kindred spirits on my midwestern adventures. When I first met you, your “Canadian-lite” accent seemed no match for my extra syllables. These days, Siri would have a time translating the conversation, bless her heart.
The snow … could I ever get used to the snow? Oh, you betcha. Moments in the Badger State are probably some of the only times this Southern girl doesn’t run hot. So, you can only imagine my anticipation last winter when I was invited to go ice fishing. I packed my bag with coveralls, snow boots and my favorite cure for the cold- George Dickel (Tennessee Whisky is often scarce up here.)
Low and behold, it ended up colder in Nashville than it was in The Door that late February weekend. Still, there was enough snow up here that would paralyze my beloved Music City. Call it global warming, climate change or even a stroke of bad luck, but the lack of ice was a problem.
When Captain Dale Stroschein of Wacky Wall-eye Guide Service, hitched up his Yamaha Viking 6 to show me around, the first thing he had to explain was why I would not be hanging out in the shanties that day. My interest in surveying the shanty-drinking culture with Dickel in tow, would be overshadowed by visions of the dear Captain pulling my novice Carhartt-clad rear end out of the frigid waters beneath the cracked ice. “A lot of times it’s just recovery rather than rescue and recovery,” expressed Stroschein rather ominously. His GPS had detected fragile ice conditions.
“Anywhere you see cross bones on the screen, that’s a crack in the ice. It’s separated,” he said. Off to a safe place on the ice we drove to catch a glimpse of the ice-angling gig. The ice conditions weren’t the only thing affected.
“This isn’t a normal lake. We’re basically on Lake Michigan on the bay of Green Bay,” Stroschein pointed to the line of shanties jutting out toward Sherwood Point. It’s here that zebra and quagga mussels now serve as water filtration, leaving very little bug and larvae resources for the carnivorous whitefish to eat. A member of the trout family, these stars of a traditional fish boil have ended up in the bay to supplement their diet, Stroschein believes.
He drilled a 9-inch wide ice hole that took no time flat. You could see clear to the bottom. He explained that our little spot reached just about 6-7 feet deep, whereas out by the shanties provided a deep swale as deep as 70 feet offering a diversified fishery with trophy fish in each category. Still, whitefish bite all day long. He pulled three large whitefish out the back of his Yamaha, and exclaimed, “this is what we chase after.” Fresh caught that morning, these 17-inch pretties were the closest to a catch I would come. After all, the fun is in the process, not the result.
Since we weren’t headed out to the shanties, I offered my new fishing buddy a little snort of Dickel. He graciously declined as he had an afternoon on the clock ahead of him. He laughed, “You’d fit right in.”
Off in the distance, I could see the little black specs on shanty row. I could only imagine the amount of testosterone exuding from those shacks, as each guy shared stories of grandeur while throwing back a few tall boys.
“Acutally, we just had a big Valentine’s Day weekend. Tons of couples came out and the wives seemed to have no problem getting away for a big weekend of fishing,” he demystified my subconscious sexist notion. This is one “outdoor in the door” experience enjoyed by all who choose it. Yep! There’s quite a few Door County outfitters to choose from, but Captain Dale Stroschein frontiered the area’s ice fishing industry many moons ago, 32 years to be exact. The only angler inducted into the National Freshwater Hall of Fame within a 150-mile radius, he’s fished professionally for more than 15 years chasing mostly walleye. In fact, it was just a mile from where we stood that day that this legendary angler nabbed the world record walleye (13.76 lbs.) on March 21, 1995. “It was pouring rain with heat lightening everywhere that night,” he remembered, “I felt like I was in the movie ‘Caddie Shack.’ Walleyes are elusive. They’re just not something you can stumble upon.”
With a lot of time for tranquility out there on the ice, I asked what Stroschein contemplates while waiting for that elusive bite. He laughed, “I don’t think about anything. I just sit and look off into the distance. You can look for miles and not see anything. So, it just really calms your soul.” Whatever fi sh you’re chasing, expect the red carpet treatment when hooking up with Wacky Walleye. Heaping hot pots of homemade chili were even driven out to the folks brave enough to fish the day I was there. Stroschein said that “he’s not a guide that runs by the clock. It’s more about sharing my (his) passion with people from the outside, so they can build a foundation, and then go out on their own to share something with their family.”
Back to that fish boil. Sorry y’all! it’s one of the few things up here that doesn’t turn my radio on. It’s just too much work with not enough flavor for my salty palate. But, a fish fry? That’s another story. Everything tastes better in a hot, crispy crust.
As a matter of fact, my city’s signature dish is “Nashville Hot Chicken.” Yet, I can’t say its traditional recipe is my favorite. The heat on these pungent yard birds will light you up more than the kerosene-induced flames that lick that boiling pot of whitefish.
Hot chicken dates back to one woman’s intended revenge on her womanizing lover. She made his favorite dish of fried chicken. However, she dredged it in copious amounts of cayenne and other scoville scale toppers in hopes of teaching him a lesson. She’d have to find another way to light up his behind, because the debonair philanderer liked her concoction.
He even took it to his brothers to try. They liked it, too. That man was Thornton Prince. Today, folks line out the door of the James Beard Award-winning Prince’s Hot Chicken. Many who partake use milk to quench the feathered fowl’s fiery powers, yet they vow the adrenaline rush is worth their blistered taste buds.
No need to fear a “burning ring of fire” with this recipe. Grant and Kathryn Johnson asked me to attend a house party that has been featured in Nashville Eats, by Jennifer Justus. If you ever are in need of a quintessential Nashville dinner and music pairing, this is the book for you! The Johnsons shared their spin on Nashville Hot Chicken that will work great with the ever elusive walleye, or whitefish.