Chef Dan Fox is a well-known restaurant and catering company owner in Madison. It’s been a pleasure to be part of his crew with him in numerous times. Always an exciting adventure- lamb kill in South Dakota, iron pour in Twin Cities, SloPig event in Madison…
So when Dan called me and asked: “Mister! Net fishing for lake whitefish. Washington Island, WI. January 8th, 2012. Are you in?”, my response was: “Fuck yeah I’m in”!
So… 2 hour drive from Chicago (that’s where I live at the moment) to Madison, WI. Another 4 hour drive to the tip of Door County, 30 minutes ferry trip to the island, and we’re about to me the man.
Ken Koyen and his brother Tom are the well-known fellas on small 5 miles wide by 6 miles long island. Ken own bar/ restaurant called “KK Fiske”; Tom is the man behind the crop grown here, on island, for the Madison area based Capital Brewery’s Island Wheat.
Both brothers are the only ones left behind open water fishing- main family business for the few last generations.
Night before the fishing trip we all meet in “KK Fiske” bar for a few drinks. Ken is checking weather cast and still not sure will it happen- bad wind, rough water makes it dangerous to go out to the Lake Michigan. We go to bed with uncertainty- decision will be made only the morning.
Next morning brings good news- we meet Ken and Tom in Jackson Harbor- boat docking area. Our ride “Seediver” was built in 1950 and is 2 years older than its current owner. Inside the boat we get greeted by the challenging mix of odors- fish, cigarettes, diesel, and wood burning stove. Lots of steam- apparently to warm boat up and melt unwanted ice.
We take off.
Harbor is full of ice; it disappears after we hit open after. Ken spots a buoy that marks the beginning location of nets left there two days ago. Two miles of that beauty is right below us.
Action begins- nets are being collected and placed into boxes (quarter of a mile in each). Fish we comes, gets untangled and goes into containers. Brothers work fast.
It is a quiet day- waters are not too rough, but I start getting sick. I try to do my best not to throw up. Apparently watching at the horizon helps. I give it a try.
After all the nets with fish are out Ken and Tom open the door in the rear of the boat and start putting nets back. Same 2 miles goes back where it will be left for couple of days. When the last net with attached to it buoy goes in the water Tom marks it location coordinates. Marks it old school way- with a pencil on metal panel, next to the steering wheel.
That day we catch about 150 lbs. of fish. Roughly two thirds of is lake white fish- the rest are burbots (AKA lawyers). All fish gets gutted and cleaned before returning to the shore.
Despite the great adventure it feels good when to notice approaching shore. It feels great to feel solid ground beneath my feet.
Ken Koyen has three grown up sons. Doesn’t look like that any of them will follow fisherman’s path and take over fathers business- they all left the island and do not show any interest in coming back.
It seems that saga about family fishing business will end in the hands of the dying breed. The breed that brought their knowledge front ancient times- same place where one day that knowledge will go.