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updated: 2/8/2012 8:31 PM

Warm winter causes spike in cabin fever up North

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"They're going nuts up here," my friend, Roger, reported this week.

'Up here' means northern Wisconsin, not too far from the Flambeau flowage.

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Roger is one my fishing pals who abandoned his home state to return to the wilds of small-town America and the plethora of rural supper clubs.

"Cars are going through the ice like falling dominoes," he exclaimed, blaming the mild northern winter season and thinner-than-normal lake ice.

"How can those goofy politicians declare there's no such thing as global warming?" he added.

Amen, brother.

Naturally, Roger's ear has been tuned to the local grumblings about marginal ice conditions and so-so angling. But he did tell me he's also been in close contact with his new physician, who just happens to be a staunch fly fisherman.

Because Roger lives close to Butternut Lake, a Class A muskie fishery, not very many Chicagoans would travel the 400 or so miles to chase anything except the big boys and girls that inhabit the semi-clear waters there.

But there are other great opportunities available in the area as well, including big brown trout and hefty smallmouth bass.

"There have been times with my doctor that once the important medical matters are discussed, the conversation finds itself leading to angling and especially fly fishing.

"I regret not having you teach me the basics of fly fishing," he continued. "There are quite a few streams up here that seem to be loaded with brown trout or smallmouth and, according to the doc, they are perfect spots for the fly rod."

And because of the mild weather much of the north country has experienced, locals throughout the evergreen belt have been going through tough emotional times. And the economy is not the main culprit behind the foggy head stuff.

Oddly, many of the folks up north are suffering one of the worst cases of cabin fever in decades, all because of a nontypical winter warming.

That's not saying there isn't some safe ice to be had. In fact, in some areas there's anywhere from 8-12 inches of the hard stuff. But in other spots, the open pockets just haven't firmed up enough to be safe.

"I met some old-timers up here who seem to have some heavy-duty cabin fever," Roger said, "and these guys do nothing but hang out in an area coffee shop and listen to the weather reports all day long."

Bert is a former Arlington Heights resident who spent decades fishing Deep Lake and Fox Chain down here. It was his dream to live in the north country and have great angling opportunities. And he now looks out his front window on to a lake that has provided countless fishing encounters with big fish.

When I called him the other day to see how he was doing, I could almost hear the anxiety in his voice.

Bert explained he's content to just wait for ice-out and go after some the lake's big pan fish. His neighbor shares the exact same attitude, even though the neighbor is an ardent ice fisherman who didn't do so well this season.

"Everyone I spoken with has tossed in the towel and they're ready to greet spring with open arms and lots of anticipation to feel the pull of a big crappie," Bert said.

And what about Roger?

Well, he wouldn't admit it, but I know he's on his fifth cycle of cleaning every lure in the box as well as oiling the reels. He also wouldn't admit that he has trouble sleeping, but when he does knock off, his dream factory keeps him visually locked into days-gone-by when he would slip in and out of slack-water pools on the Flambeau River.

Area fishing report

Fox Chain: Despite the iffy ice conditions on the Chain, the Northern Illinois Ice Fishing derby is scheduled to muddle through the weekend. If you plan to fish the Chain stay close to shore and work the back channels.

Fox River: Nielsen's Channels can be tricky but worthwhile for white bass and crappie.

Lake Michigan: Some coho salmon being caught off Montrose.

• Contact Mike Jackson at angler88@comcast.net, and catch his radio show 6-7 a.m. Sundays on WSBC 1240-AM and live-streamed at www.mikejacksonoutdoors.com.

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