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Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

Logan's Maguire Werner takes a shot in front of Menomonie's Sam Zbornik in the first half of Tuesday night's game at the Logan fieldhouse.

La Crosse area anglers tiptoe onto ice where water flows
Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

An angler carries a beauty of a bass to his bucket Tuesday on Swift Creek in South La Crosse. Ice anglers have begun their season, venturing out onto some waterways where the ice is scarcely thick enough to be safe. Conditions should improve for anglers through the end of this week as temperatures dip; La Crosse will see a high of 21 degrees on Thursday and only 17 degrees on Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

Increasing numbers of anglers are walking on water in the Coulee Region to take advantage of the early ice that is said to offer up some of the best catches of the season.

Safety conditions vary depending on where the anglers are — lake vs. river, swift current vs. calm backwater, shore vs. middle — but it wouldn’t hurt to have a few more days’ patience to avoid swimming with the fishes in some areas.

Jesse Griep and Brody Rundhaugen of Coon Valley were rewarded Monday with fair numbers of crappie and sunfish for their temerity in walking on half-inch ice that occasionally broke through to firmer ice a couple of inches below on Swift Creek on La Crosse’s South Side. That scenario resulted from the fact that some ice had formed last week, then the warm weekend’s mix of rain and snow added a layer of water on top.

Thus, Griep and Rundhaugen had to slog through slush to get to the spots where they drilled holes in ice 2 to 3 inches thick. Griep was fishing in 28 feet of water, and Rundhaugen 22 feet.

It wasn’t even their first venture of the season, they said, having tempted fate in the same spot on Nov. 26. Swift Creek is a gut off the Mississippi River with a current — it’s called swift for a reason — that could propel a person into the main channel faster than a bass inhales a spinner bait.

Even though a bit of open water was just a weak stone’s throw away, Griep wasn’t worried, other than to say some areas were “sketchy,” and noting that the only time he has broken through while ice fishing was just one leg.

After another night of freezing temperatures, the number of anglers on Swift Creek had swelled to 10 on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, 6 miles north as the eagle flies, only two anglers were trying the thin ice in the middle of Lake Onalaska around 9 a.m. Tuesday. A village of trucks, cars and fishing shacks will sprout there in three or four weeks — Lord willing and the sun don’t shine too hot.

But fishing action closer to shore is good on 2 to 5 inches of ice, said Mark Viner, owner of Emma’s Bait Shop at N5610 County Road OT. The bait du jour is waxworms, although a few anglers have been using shiners, Viner said.

In addition to panfish, anglers have caught some decent bass and a few northerns, he said, noting that conditions for tip-up rigs aren’t quite right yet.

Fishing conditions are better on lake chains to the north and in Trempealeau County, Viner said.

Twelve miles east-northeast of Onalaska, on Lake Neshonoc near West Salem, anglers “are starting to wander out,” said Tonya Whitewater at Neshonoc Sports. Some caught a few walleyes below the dam last week, but not much since then she said.

Another cold snap should unleash a torrent of anglers, speculated Whitewater, who said the shop is gearing up for the season.

Even though a few anglers are testing their luck on dicey ice, they would do well to remember that the season began much later last season, when warm temperatures left ice perilous well past mid-December.

Clear, solid ice at least 2 inches thick usually is enough to support one person on foot, according recommendations from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The DNR advises waiting until the ice is at least 3 inches thick and making sure to go with a friend in case of a breakthrough.

The DNR also has several safety tips to avoid falling in, as well as what to do if you do take the plunge. As counterintuitive as this may sound, one tip is not to remove winter clothing because heavy clothes — especially snowmobile suits — can trap air, providing warmth and flotation.

The DNR website also offers illustrated plans to make ice claws to grip the surface and help pull yourself out of the drink.

Share your Christmas memories with the La Crosse Tribune

The La Crosse Tribune again is soliciting Christmas memories to publish at Christmastime.

The reflections of 250 words or fewer can be happy, such as the best present ever or stealth missions to find where your parents hid the packages, or somber, perhaps sharing why Christmas has a special poignancy for you, a story of the kindness of strangers or the challenges of a snowed-in holiday.

They can be religious or border on the sacrilegious — as long as they are clean. Your memories can be old, such as a 95-year-old’s reminiscences about Christmas Days of yore, or brand-spanking new, like the delight of a grandchild anticipating Christmas.

The stories can be about your favorite present — or the worst you ever received.

Feel free to include a photo.

Send your memories by Dec. 14 to Christmas Memories, c/o Mike Tighe, La Crosse Tribune, 401 N. Third St., La Crosse, WI 54601, or via email to Include a phone number in case we need to reach you.

Key congressman optimistic about passing farm bill soon

SOUTH ST. PAUL, Minn. — A key congressional voice on agriculture, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, said Tuesday that he’s optimistic that lawmakers can pass a new farm bill next week after a delay caused by the break for the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush.

Peterson, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, who’s expected to become chairman next year, was heavily involved in negotiations that produced an agreement in principle last week among the top committee leaders in both the House and Senate. He said at a news conference that the final bill will get filed Monday, that he expects the House will take it up next Wednesday or Thursday, and that the Senate could then take it up the next day.

“With any luck it’ll be out, it’ll be passed by the end of next week. But knowing how things go around here, it may drag into the week after,” Peterson said. “But I think we are going to get this thing done before the end of the year.”

The farm bill governs farm subsidy and other agricultural programs, but by far the largest chunk of its more than $400 million in spending for the next five years goes to food stamps for the poor. As part of the final deal, House Republicans dropped their push for stricter work requirements for the program, which for months was the biggest sticking point due to opposition from House Democrats and many Senate Republicans.

Peterson said the bill isn’t everything he wanted. He said couldn’t win support for putting additional money into the bill above the levels set in the 2014 farm bill, so it wasn’t possible to raise target prices for farmers who’ve been slammed by low commodity prices that have been depressed even further by the U.S.-China trade war.

The bill, therefore, largely maintains the status quo, he said. The biggest winners will be milk producers, he said, because the legislation fixes a dairy safety net program created under the 2014 farm bill that didn’t work. Participating farmers with about 240 cows or less can now expect to at least break even, he said.

“It isn’t the best possible bill, but it’s the best bill possible,” he said.

Peterson said he doesn’t want to drag the process out until next year, even though he could have a greater influence in shaping the package as the House agriculture chairman. If it does get delayed into next year, he said he would still plan to quickly pass the existing agreement and send it to the Senate. Given that there will be few rural Democrats in the next Congress, he said the current deal is as good as farmers are going to get.

“The clock’s ticking,” agreed Thom Peterson, a lobbyist for the Minnesota Farmers Union, saying that newspapers have been full of stories lately about farmers facing bankruptcy.

Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap said he’s excited that the bill is close to passing because farmers will know for certain what help they can expect from the government as they calculate their cash flows and work with their bankers over the winter.

But the congressman also said he doesn’t think the bill does enough to protect farmers from the trade war and overproduction that keeps crop prices low. He said he’s warned Rep. Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders that the situation is going to be bad enough that Congress will have to look at providing additional aid.

“When that will happen, whether it’ll be next year or the year after, I don’t know,” he said. “How much it’ll be, I don’t know.”