Popular trout pond returns to Journal Sentinel Sports Show March 10-13
A statewide survey a few years ago said Lake Michigan was Wisconsin’s most popular fishing destination.
With all due respect to the Great Lake, a temporary fishing hole in West Allis will attract more anglers per acre over the next few days than any other in the state.
The trout pond Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Sports Show will host several thousand patrons Thursday through Sunday, according to venue designer Jim Hill.
Is it the atmosphere? Twin peaks of faux granite rise to the north, and the smell of corn dogs wafts through the air.
Is it time? Winter hasn’t quite lost its grip, and for many of us desperate to fish in the open water, it’s a real spring break.
Is it the tradition? The show has had a trout pond for most of its 81 years; about 1 million anglers have cast a line in inland water. Who doesn’t like to return to familiar, fishy waters?
Fisheries managers often express trout populations as the number of fish per mile of river.
We count our trout a little differently around here. The show’s trout pond will hold approximately 5,000 trout in 7,500 gallons of water.
That’s a little more than one trout in two gallons of water. It’s a “honey hole”.
It’s no secret, either: you’ll find it among hundreds of Wisconsin waters at lake-link.com. Seriously.
Hill of Asheville, North Carolina travels to Wisconsin every year to set up the liquid attraction.
He’s a professional trout pond fisherman – he’s somewhere between an amusement ride supervisor and an angling guide. As owner of WNC Mountain Trout Fishing Inc., he provides the fishing experience at approximately 20 events a year: company picnics, sporting goods store events, church and sports shows from “Texas to Maine and everywhere in between”.
Nowhere is it bigger than Milwaukee.
In fact, the Milwaukee show is the only one Hill has said he uses his “grandfather” trout pond at. He’s so big he leaves it year-round in southeastern Wisconsin.
The pond is 14 feet wide and 72 feet long. Its extremities are curved; if you froze it, it would be a perfect toddler hockey rink.
The vinyl liner and wooden frame hold approximately one pool full of fresh water.
Yes, “leak” is a four letter word.
“You just stick it as best you can,” Hill said. “Outdoor shows are fun. Never worry about a little dripping water.
The Sports Show’s trout pond has another distinction: it’s the only site where anglers have fallen, according to Hill. That’s right, fishermen.
One was a teenager who simply leaned too far forward in an attempt to coax a distant fish. He got wet up to his knees.
The other was a man in his 50s whose loose physique caused loss of balance and resulted in a full body splash. “He was floating over half the pool before we caught him,” Hill said. “Someone hung up their wallet.”
Don’t get your hopes up: fish can’t be overpowered by a cannonball. Or hooked.
The rules state: anglers must catch the fish in the mouth and must use the lure or bait provided.
A few dollars and a ticket gets you a few minutes of fishing. No license is required. And if you wish, you can flaunt it to a director of the Ministry of Natural Resources.
This is the Sports Fair. A sense of humor is mandatory.
Water tankers will show up the day before the show and pump some of Wisconsin’s finest water into the pond. Then, a truck from a trout farm will stop on the first morning of the show and transfer approximately 5,000 trout to their new temporary quarters at State Fair Park. The population will also be increased later in the show.
The fish will mostly be about 12 inches long. But some bigger trophies are usually also included.
In 2006, a 10.5 pound rainbow tempted all anglers, but was not caught. They named the fish the “Milwaukee Bruiser”. One of his descendants may be back this year, as big or even bigger than the legend.
Over the four days of the show, Hill sincerely hopes there will be as much catch as fishing.
As proof, he often baits the fishing rigs with Uncle Josh Pork Rind made in Fort Atkinson. “It’s a fish catcher,” Hill said.
If catch rates drop, he will switch to other baits, including corn kernels.
As they have done for decades, long lines will form outside the picket fence around the trout pond. Every few minutes a new group of anglers will land, grab a simple fiberglass pole and claim along the water.
A trio of wood ducks float in the pond; cut-out silhouettes of pine trees, dogs and fishermen adorn the center.
No, it should never be confused with the Brule River.
But the water is clear and cold and the trout are real and fiery.
Among important life events, no one really knows how many kids have caught their first fish at the Sports Show. And how many went home after the show and ate their first delicious self-caught meal.
Here are many such firsts – and just as many happy returns – this year.
If you are going to
What: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Sports Show.
When: From Thursday March 10 to Sunday March 13.
Or: State Fair Park, Wisconsin Exposition Center, S. 84th St. and W. Greenfield Ave., West Allis.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday closing at 5 p.m.
Tickets: $12 at the door for adults, $5 for children 5-17, free for children under 5.
Car park: $10.