/ Articles / The Lake Where You Live: The light in the tunnel

The Lake Where You Live: The light in the tunnel

February 14, 2020 by Ted Rulseh

Today the sun sets at 5:23 p.m., 10 minutes later than a week ago. It will still be somewhat light past 6 p.m., especially in the (lately rare) event the day is sunny. We recently spent a few days in Sturgeon Bay, rediscovering at the sight of ice-free areas in the canal that water still exists in the liquid phase.  
If you’re like me, these shards of hope turn your thoughts back to your lake, outside your windows under a blanket of white. Beneath the snow and ice, life goes on. Creatures hibernate. Plant rhizomes wait for warming water to send shoots upward. Fish move and feed in a sort of gelid slow motion.
A few warm days will turn my thoughts to the pier frame sections under the snow and the pier decking boards wrapped in a snow-covered tarp. With any luck, two months from now I’ll be in the water, hip boots on, bolting that pier together, expecting delivery of the pontoon boat from storage.
And I’ll be wondering: What will the open-water season bring? Last fall the walleye and smallmouth fishing was uncharacteristically poor. The rusty crayfish population stood at the lowest level in more than a decade. Is something going on with the lake’s food base that’s upsetting the fish populations? Will the crayfish be back with a vengeance? Was last fall an anomaly, or are we facing new normal?
Time will tell. In the meantime there are rituals to attend to. I’d like to take in a fishing expo, less to buy equipment than to window shop and get a taste of the season to come. Then there’s my (nearly) annual winter trip to Park Falls and the St. Croix Rod store to look over models I crave but emphatically don’t need.
Then there’s the equipment inventory. I need an afternoon to go through the tackle box, weed items that have worn out or that I no longer use, and list the items I need to buy (more non-toxic sinkers and jigs will be on the agenda). I’m advised to replace my fishing line every year; I can’t say I always do, but surely some reels need new monofilament.
I’ve also made myself a promise to take a Clean Boats Clean Waters inspector course, to make sure I’m doing my part to stop the spread of invasive species, and make myself more useful as a boat landing volunteer.
Most important, I’m resolved to spend more time with Birch Lake. In seven years living here full time I have not once chosen and day and spent all of it fishing, dawn to dusk. That’s partly because my lake has a morning-evening bite, but also because I’ve been excessively disciplined, reluctant to spend a full day so frivolously. 
More time in favorite fishing spots, more leisurely outings in the canoe, more moments tossing the stick into the water for Bernie the springer spaniel to sail through the air to go fetch, more sunsets observed from the pier — all of it would do me good. Now it’s all just a matter of time.
Ted Rulseh resides on Birch Lake in Harshaw and is an advocate for lake protection and improvement. His Lakeland Times and Northwoods River News columns are the basis for a book, “A Lakeside Companion,” published by The University of Wisconsin Press. Ted may be reached at [email protected].

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