By Greg Seubert
Waupaca, Wis. — Social distancing and COVID-19 were not on Kurt Schanen’s mind on May 2, opening day of the 2020 fishing season.
Catching a rainbow trout or two was high on his to-do list.
Schanen was one of several anglers who showed up May 2 at Waupaca’s Riverside Park for the first day of Wisconsin’s inland fishing season.
While others in the park waded through the Waupaca River’s swift current wearing hip boots and carrying a fly rod, Schanen sat on the bank on a five-gallon plastic bucket and used worms for bait.
“It’s very enjoyable to get out and enjoy the weather instead of staying cooped up in your house,” he said. “I wish the fish were biting better. I had a couple of bites, but I don’t think they’re trout.”
Schanen drove to Waupaca from his home on the Big Eau Pleine Reservoir near Mosinee.
“I like coming here for the opener,” he said. “I usually start out with trout because that’s one of my favorite fish to catch. I go for a little bit of everything.”
While Schanen had a stretch of the Waupaca to himself, Lyle Schneider of Neenah was upstream about a mile with his family in Rotary Riverview Park in downtown Waupaca.
“It’s a family tradition,” said Schneider, who spent part the morning fishing with his 12-year-old grandson, Sam Schneider of Delafield. “We’ve done it for over 50 years on the Waupaca. We have four children and nine grandchildren. Three of our children are here already and the other one will be here shortly with my wife. Five of the grandchildren are here now and two of them are coming yet. They come back here just to be together. We have a Nesco plugged in and we’re going to have lunch here.”
The park gave Schneider and his family plenty of room to spread out along the river.
“There are so many places you can go and this gives us a lot of options,” he said. “We can still be a family and still be apart.”
The river’s fishery includes brook, brown and rainbow trout, as well as the occasional bluegill and largemouth bass.
“There’s nothing like trout fishing,” Schneider said. “It’s a different style. We have a boat and all that, but there’s nothing like stepping into a stream.”
While Schneider’s family and Schanen tried their luck in Waupaca, Tim Barber launched his kayak a few miles downstream at the Weyauwega Lake boat landing in Weyauwega’s Petersen Park.
“I like kayak fishing,” said Barber, who headed to Weyauwega from his Appleton home. “It’s a nice little body of water for kayaks. It’s not a real busy lake. There aren’t jet skis and stuff running all over.”
He has fished the lake several times and was after largemouth and smallmouth bass.
“It’s good to be able to get out of the house and do some fishing,” Barber said. “This is great for this time of year. The water temperatures are probably a little bit lower than what they would normally be at this time of year. It’ll be interesting to get out and see what the fish are doing and see if I can find some.”
Schanen has taken his hobby of fishing to the next level.
It took him 10 years to catch one fish in each of Wisconsin’s 72 counties and he also tries to catch as many different species as he can.
“I have a library of books on species,” Schanen said. “I’ll say I know 95 percent of them, but I don’t know them all. I keep track of anything on hook-and-line. Then I look it up in a book. I just get a thrill out of catching different stuff. I don’t even care if it’s big or small. I don’t care of it’s a rough fish. I just enjoy all forms of fishing.”
He has caught as many as 47 different species in one year in Wisconsin and one his strangest fish came out of Pickerel Lake in Portage County.
“I caught what I call a largemouth bluegill,” he said. “It had the head of a largemouth bass and the body of a bluegill. It was a hybrid, a freak fish. It had a huge mouth that was disproportionate to the body. It did not look right.
“I was looking on the Internet to see if anybody else ever caught such a fish,” he added. “Some guy out in Oregon said he caught the same thing. It was 6 inches long and my regret is I never had a camera to take a picture. My son was with me that day and he also caught one that was a little smaller.”
Schanen likes fishing rivers.
“I probably do more river fishing than lake fishing because there’s a little more variety,” he said. “The Fox, the Wolf, the Wisconsin, I fish all of them every year and I get on the Mississippi once or twice a year.”
Schanen often uses an atlas map to pick his fishing sites.
“I look for public access,” he said. “I’ve been out on a few boats with friends, but I do a lot of shore fishing. Wherever there’s a park where I can fish, I’ll pull in, give it a shot and see what happens. If I go back a couple times and catch nothing, it’s a scratch. I’m not going back there again.”
Schanen eventually began crossing counties off of his list.
“I started when I got serious about fishing,” he said. “This counts bluegills, minnows, everything. It’s not like a stellar record or anything, it’s just that I’ve been in those counties.”
He also keeps track of his largest fish of each species, including one he caught on the Menominee River near Menominee, Mich.
“I had a carp 37 inches long that weighed 35 pounds,” he said. “I’ve seen big carp before, but not like that. I wanted a picture so bad and my phone camera went dead. They just have to take my word about that one.”