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Early ice-out

Wolf River open for navigation

By John Faucher

Monday, March 6, 2017 is the sixth earliest ice-out in 166 years of record on the Wolf River at New London.

Ice-out records have been kept since 1851, as a means of recording when navigation could occur on the river in New London.

Early setters once relied heavily on the river for transportation.

In later years it became less important as a mode of transportation, and more important for recreational purposes.

Each year, anglers await the ice-out to signify the start of the open water season and the Wolf River walleye run.

In 1952, New London Fish and Game Club member Orville Jossie became the official record keeper of ice out for the club. In 1986, club member Dale Sternhagen took over the record books and maintained them ever since.

The New London Fish and Game Club once held an “Ice-out Contest” between the bridges. The winner that picks the closest date and time of ice-out won a new fishing boat.

When the club started the contest in the early ‘50s, they fashioned two dummies named “Pete and Joe” in a boat and put them out on the ice below the Pearl Street bridge. A string is attached from the boat to a clock near the bridge.

When the boat floats out, the string pulls and stops the clock. Then the official ice out time is recorded.

The club no longer holds an ice out contest but they still put out Pete and Joe as a matter of local tradition.

Early ice out dates
The earliest ice out date recorded in New London was Feb. 26, 1998. The latest ice out date was April 21, 1856.

The second earliest ice out date was Feb. 28, 1984.

Ice out in the first week of March is relatively rare considering it only happened four times in 166 years.

It went out on March 1 in 1851, March 4 in 1983 and 2000, and March 6, 2017.

The most common ice out dates typically fall in mid to late March.

New London High School science instructor John Ruckdashel has students in his science class estimate an ice out date when they return to school after Christmas break.

“They look at historic dates and other things like weather, water levels and forecasts to try and make their best prediction,” said Ruckdashel.

Two of his students landed their predictions right on the head this year.

Matt Luebeck and Javid Beaudoin both picked March 6. Many other students had picks later in March or April. Two hopeful students listed the last week of February for their picks.

Ice-out is a universal topic of discussion for many New London residents.

Jill and Jim Verhagen, owners of the Corner Café on West North Water Street, said customers have been talking about ice out for the past several weeks.

“They’ve been watching it close every day,” said Jill Verhagen.

She and her husband open the restaurant every day at 4:30 a.m.

“This morning we looked out on our way in and saw Pete and Joe were gone and there were whitecaps on the river,” said Verhagen.

Patrons at the restaurant were talking about the ice out and their recollections of winters and springs past.

The Verhagens see many anglers in their restaurant once the famous Wolf River walleye run begins.

“They’re always a lot of fun,” says Jill with a laugh. “I tell them get your first bite here.”

The couple has owned the café for 11 years.

The breakfast menu contains selections like “The Jigging Irishman” (named after Mike Coyle), “The Angler,” “The Big Eddy Special” (named after a fishing hole just down river from New London), and “The Little Wolf.”

“When we made up the menu we made it with the river in mind,” said Verhagen.

“Hopefully this wind will let up so people can get out there and fish.”

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