Travel: Chilling Out in Door County, Wisconsin for Ice Fishing and Beyond

By Suzanne Corbett

Recent sub-zero winds chills have some thinking of flying south with the Redbirds to take in a game or two in during spring training in Jupiter, Florida. A place to soak up the sun, but it’s not for everyone.  Outdoor sports fans looking to chill out head north to Door County, Wisconsin to celebrate winter sports.

While renowned for its cool summers, Door County has become the hot destination for winter fun.  When the snow falls and the temperature drops, Door County’s shorelines and quaint harbor villages are transformed into a winter wonderland. Attracting outdoor sport enthusiasts to cross country ski, ice skate, snowshoe, sled, snowmobile and ice fish.

Ice fishing is on the bucket list for most diehard fisherman. And Door County is one of the best places to ice fish in the U.S., especially along the western bay side where the ice can get as thick as three feet. Perfect conditions for fishing in a cozy ice shanty. Those little shanks you might recall seeing in the 1993 film, Grumpy Old Men. From now until the ice begins to melts in late March ice fishing shanties will dot the Green Bay tundra along with pick-up trucks, snowmobiles and ATVs of which all serve as an oasis for fishermen.

ice fishihng Dooe CountyWith spring a month away and the ice is still thick, it’s not too late to plan a fishing trip. Begin with contacting a fishing guide. Guides can arrange for tackle, equipment, shanty rentals and fishing licenses. Most shanties are heated, have bench seats and pre-drilled  holes ready for you to sink a line and begin catching your limit.  Guides are recommended because they can safety take out on the ice and know where the fish are biting.  So, what’s biting? Primarily perch, walleye, northern pike, trout and whitefish, the center of the plate featured at Door County’s famous Fish Boils.

According to local fishing guide Nick Nault, ice fishing for whitefish has boomed in popularity. Whitefish can grow over five pounds and 20 inches plus inches. Making whitefish a great catch that can put up a good fight.

If the fish aren’t biting or if you caught your limit for the day, don’t despair. Strap on a pair of snowshoes or cross country skis and take off down one of the many trails found throughout Door County’s five state parks. Perhaps you prefer something a little more faster paced. Then go snowmobiling. One of the best ways to cover the 250 miles of trails that crisscross the county.

After a day outdoors, hunker down and warm up at one of the many historic inns, supper clubs or taverns nestled in the quaint bayside villages between Egg Harbor to Ellison Bay. Fish Creek, located in the middle of the Bayshore tiny harbor towns is a favorite. Fish Creek, an eclectic destination in Door County, appeals to both the genteel to rustic vacationer. Wilderness wanderers can escape into nearby Peninsula State Park, a 3,776 area, year-round park. Minutes from the shoreline is downtown Fish Creek, whose main street strip is lined with historic houses, artist shops, eateries, galleries and inns.

To maintain the traditional look, culture and charm, Door County’s small harbor villages, fast food chain restaurants and hotels won’t be found. And that’s OK. It’s a chance to enjoy the mom and pop shops, taverns and historic haunts where locals and visitors eat and sleep such as  the Whistling Swan Inn. Visitors, which have stayed at the Whistling Swan since 1907, was built in 1887.  It was moved across the lake over the ice to Fish Creek to become what was then Welcker’s Resort and Casino.

To eat like a local, stop at a Wisconsin supper club. Each are unique and can range from retro chic and highfalutin to charmingly rustic and eclectic. Case in point, Earl’s Sister Bay Bowl and Supper Club. Located eight miles from Fish Creek, Earl’s Sister Bay Bowl is a Door Country original,  a combination Wisconsin supper club and bowling alley with a great story. Opened by Earl Willems when he bought the place when it was a hotel in 1950. Soon after he torn down and replaced the hotel’s dance hall with a six lane bowling alley. In 1964, the supper club was added. After nearly 60 it remains a hot spot for affordable food, cold drinks and retro bowling. I recommend bowling a game or two before or after supper. And when ordering supper, consider  the fried lake perch, a specialty of Door County, served with a Brandy Old Fashioned Sweet. Wisconsin’s state drink.

To get the hook up needed to ice fish and chill out in Door County, check out for links to all its winter sports, events, fishing guides and outdoor outfitters   Meanwhile, toast the remainder of the winter sports season with an Door County Brandy Old Fashion.

Door County Old FashionedDoor County Brandy Old Fashion (Sweet)

3 dashes Angostura bitters

1 orange slice

2 maraschino cherries

2 ounces brandy ( cherry brandy if you have it)

ice cubes

lemon-lime soda (7-up)

Place bitters, orange slice, and cherries in an Old Fashioned glass. Muddle (gently mash). Add the brandy. Fill glass with ice cubes, then top off with soda. Pour into a shaker to blend, then return to glass. Garnish with an orange slice and a cherry.

Editor’s note: If you want to make an Old Fashion Sour, use sour mix instead if sweet lemon lime soda. Important to know, because when in Door Country the bar keep will ask, “Sweet or Sour”.