THIS HAS BEEN perhaps the best first month of a fishing season I have enjoyed for many years. I’m finding out this being retired stuff isn’t bad at all. 

Give me a nice spring afternoon with the choice of raking leaves or going fishing and guess which option I choose. Mow the grass or go fishing? Easy answer. Stay home and study the to-do list drawn up by my lovely wife or hitch up the camper and take off for three days of fishing? Guess which choice was made.

Best of all, the fishing has been good. Whether I have been fishing trout, bluegills or northern pike, not only has the fishing been good, but the catching has been “A-plus,” too.

Soon, I will add bass, largemouth and smallmouth, to the chase. I have not eaten a bass of either species in more than 40 years, preferring all this time to make pike, walleyes, panfish and trout the centerpiece of my fish dinners. I had a bad experience way back when with some largemouth I caught on a hot summer day, immediately cleaned and fried.

They were, in a word, terrible. In another word, horrible. Looking back, I believe the reason they were so bad is that it was a hot summer day and without giving them some time on ice, they were bound to be soft, mushy and blah tasting. At least that’s my theory upon reflection decades later.

Over the past several years, I have fished often with a good friend from St. Louis, Mo., who loves bass. We have caught plenty and operating on a one fish per person personal bag limit on the small lakes we fish, I have abstained from keeping any myself, giving two bass per trip to my friend. He has been telling me forever what I’m missing out on, so this year, upon his testaments and those of other local friends who now eat bass regularly after disdaining them for years, I am going to keep a bass, probably a smallie, for the fry pan.

That is still to come. So far I have stuck with my regular fish and they have been delicious. There is nothing better than a north Wisconsin fish fry, especially when the fish are caught and cooked by the angler. That has certainly been the case for me so far this spring.

Trout were first on the menu, mostly rainbows with a couple of browns. Dipped in egg, dredged in crumbs and fried in butter, they were delicious. Speaking of the crumbs I use for breading, after much experimentation, I have chosen Rice Krispies® rolled into very fine crumbs as the best of all for frying fish. Of course, there is a little salt, pepper and maybe another bit of spice or two, but for my money the crisped rice beats any brand of corn or wheat cereal.

After a couple meals of trout this spring, I switched my fishing efforts to bluegills, haunting a 40-acre lake that has been very good to me. I have fished it three times, keeping a meal of seven gills each time with none less than 8 inches, running up to 10. One bag of bluegills is in our freezer; the other two have been the centerpiece of excellent fish fries.

Lately, my efforts have turned to northern pike. On three outings, I have caught fish each time, not a skunked outing yet, with three of those pike ending up as boneless, including the Y-bones, fillets. So far, they have been fried in my time-tested manner, but soon, I am planning to take the time to fix one pike with a fillet of sole thermidor recipe I first prepared with sole fillets many years ago. I found the recipe, an easy one to use, in “The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook,” given to me by a college friend shortly after my wife and I got married.

I have used the recipe many times since and have never been disappointed with the results. As I found out right away, any good white fish works as well as sole. Northern pike have become my fish of choice over the years.

Now, without question, all the fish my wife and I have enjoyed eating this year have been great, but maybe the best part about them wasn’t the catching of the main ingredient. It isn’t just climbing in my rowboat or kayak, casting live or artifical bait and hauling the fish in. The most important part of fishing for me is taking in the completeness of the surroundings as I fish.

My fishing experiences so far have included two beautiful swans gliding over my head on one occasion not 10 yards above me prior to landing 100 yards down the lake. I can tell you fishing was forgotten for several minutes on that occasion as I watched and listened to them as they paddled toward a small cove. 

On another trip to a small lake, I forgot all about casting for a while as I watched mallards, wood ducks and common mergansers up close and personal. Not a fishing trip goes by that doesn’t include at least one flyover or nearby tree perch from one or more bald eagles.

A trio of deer wading in the shallows highlighted another outing, while what appeared to be a beaver frustrated by my close company enlivened another evening on the water. I can still hear the repeated tail slaps with which he tried to steer me to another part of the lake.

And finally, not to demote the actual fishing, catching and cooking of fish that have been part of my outings this spring, really the very best thing about them is that on almost every occasion, I have had the small lakes I’ve chosen all to myself. In that regard, I am a selfish fisherman.

As a trout stream angler I have to admit that one other fisherman on a mile-long stretch of creek is one too many for me. One other fisherman on a lake of 200 acres or less is one too many. The sound of an outboard motor, large or small, on a lake where I am fishing is one sound too many.

I value and treasure solitude when I am fishing, and with my choice of small and sometimes hard to get to waters, I usually get my wish. Fish are caught, sights and sounds are absorbed, and I get to be one and only one with the north Wisconsin woods that surround me.

So far. I haven’t been skunked yet. It doesn’t get any better than that.