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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

December 2001

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White waters

When ice forms, it's time to winter on -- even under water.

Natasha Kassulke


On New Year's Day about 500 human "polar bears" are expected to take the 32nd annual Polar Bear Plunge at Northside Beach in Sheboygan on Lake Michigan.

"The warmer it is, the more swimmers we'll have," explains Dan Bogenschuetz, chairperson of the event. "The colder it is, the more spectators we have because they come out to see who is crazy enough to do this."

Bogenschuetz's advice? Have someone waiting with a towel or blanket, steer clear of drinking "antifreeze" (alcohol) before taking the 1 p.m. plunge and wear footgear. For more information, visit Bogie's Promotions. Register Jan. 1 at the armory in Sheboygan.

Other New Year's Day polar bear swims are held in Milwaukee, Jacksonport and Phillips – Long Lake. On Jan. 5, polar bears brave the icy waters of Big St. Germain Lake benefit the Angel on My Shoulder charity. (715) 542-3433 or (800) 727-7203.

Ice bowling

Dan Bogenschuetz switches to another unusual winter event in March: Ice bowling.

"It's just like regular bowling, except the bowlers are standing on ice and the ball rolls on ice," Bogenschuetz says. The 2001 ice-bowling event in Sheboygan attracted more than 3,600 bowlers. The 2002 bowl will be held March 15-17 on an indoor hockey rink with 18 alleys.


Ice also offers the potential for curling (a 500-year-old ice sport that involves "sweeping" a rock toward a target), hockey (the most popular sport of the Badger State Winter Games), and a sport that has yet to reach Badger State Winter Game status – broomball.

Broomball is played on an ice rink, but participants wear tennis shoes instead of skates. Six players per team strive to score goals while propelling the five inch broomball with a paddle-shaped stick made from a straw broom dipped in water and frozen stiff. Some players wear hockey helmets and padding.

The beauty of broomball is that you don't have to know how to ice skate to play. Broomball tournaments are held all winter at carnivals and other events.

Ice fishing

Crouching over a hole in the ice waiting for a fish to bite might not be glamorous. But many shanties popping up on lakes are more luxurious than they let on. Some come with swank accouterments such as carpeting, heat and televisions.

While there are no specific ice fishing regulations in Wisconsin, the regular hook-and-line regulations, seasons and licensing do apply and there are regulations for the date to remove ice shelters. Visit Department of Natural Resources for information on ice fishing safety, techniques and ice fishing equipment.

Sturgeon spearing

Sturgeon fishing is a unique kind of ice fishing. The technique and spearing the fish themselves are special. Sturgeon can live up to 100 years and grow to a length of seven feet or more and weigh up to 200 pounds.

Lake sturgeon season on Lake Winnebago opens Feb. 9, and runs until the harvest cap is reached.

"Last year we reached the harvest cap for adult females the first day (Saturday), which forced us to close the season at the end of the fishing day on Sunday," says Ron Bruch, a DNR sturgeon biologist based in Oshkosh.

The harvest cap for the 2002 season is 400 adult females, 400 juvenile females or 1,368 males. The cap system, prompted by increased participation and spearing success due to water clarity, has been used to control sturgeon harvests since 1999. Sturgeon spearing licenses and tags cost $10 and the minimum size limit is 36 inches. Spearing licenses are available at DNR service centers and license agents, or call (877) 945-4236. Pick up a copy of the regulations: This year, the use of artificial lights during spearing is prohibited, and the spearing hole size is limited to no more than 48 square feet per shanty.

Kites on ice

Kites on Ice is one of the most colorful festivals of the season. Held Feb. 2-3, at the Monona Terrace Convention Center on Lake Monona in Madison, the festival includes workshops, exhibits, stunt shows, kite skiing and more. It's held on the ice, so you don't have to worry about getting your kite tangled in trees. (608) 278-9666.

Ice sailing/boating

It's also possible to boat year-round in Wisconsin. Iceboats can reach speeds of up to five times the wind speed. Who needs an engine? There are no brakes while the boats are under sail; to stop, a skipper steers directly into the wind.

December 15 is the average freeze date in southern Wisconsin. Sailors typically get in four to six good weekends of ice sailing a year. See or call (608) 233-9744.

Lake Geneva's Skeeter Iceboat Club in Williams Bay races weekends throughout the winter on Wisconsin lakes (262) 245-5146. Other popular lakes for ice boating include Big Green, Winnebago and Pewaukee.

Ice diving

Another world awaits scuba divers in winter. The University of Wisconsin-Madison Hoofers Scuba Club will join the Four Lakes Scuba Club of Dane County to chop a hole and take a plunge in the ice on Lake Mendota outside the UW-Memorial Union. Treasures found in Lake Mendota include Memorial Union Terrace chairs, bicycles and more.

"When ice diving you wear a harness and rope attached to the surface to help you find your way back to the hole," says Renato Lyra, vice-president of education for the Hoofers Scuba Club. "The ice looks beautiful from below and the water is cleaner because there are fewer weeds and suspended particles. The hardest part is keeping your face warm because that's the only part of your body not totally covered."

For safety reasons, Hoofers limit winter dives to 20 minutes. (608) 262-1630 or visit Hoofer Scuba.