The best fish fry in Chippewa Falls doesn’t happen on Friday nights.
Instead, it’s a quiet, midday picnic on the shoreline of Lake Wissota twice a month during the summer.
At least that’s what volunteers, Rod and Gun club members and veterans from the Wisconsin Veterans Home at Chippewa Falls think — and taste.
In its fourth year, the Chippewa Rod and Gun Club has been hosting veterans from the Wisconsin Veterans Home twice per month during June, July and August. On Wednesday, several veterans from the home, some volunteers and Rod and Gun club members and workers were at the club’s Lake Wissota boat landing, fishing off the dock and preparing a lunch of battered fish, coleslaw, chips and cookies.
And a portion of the meal is freshly caught, right in Lake Wissota, by some of the veterans.
Kevin Hanson, a member of the Air Force reserves for more than 26 years, was the big angler of the day, reeling in the group’s only two fish, each catfish at 18 and 16 inches.
He landed that hot spot after fellow veteran Bob Karpenske gave it up without any catches to claim — much to Karpenske’s self-deprecating joke that he should be called “Bad Luck.”
The fishing trips to Lake Wissota are popular among the veterans home residents, as they each share in a day outside and fishing stories of their own, activity aide Kim Shew said.
“They are going back in time with their fish stories, who’s in whose spot today… some just like to hang out,” Shew said.
Ron Bakken, president of the Rod and Gun club, said the event is popular among club members, too, who enjoy sharing in outdoor activities with the veterans.
“They’re great people,” Bakken said. “We have the means to do it, so why not?”
The club often supplies extra fish for frying to ensure everyone gets a hearty and full meal, and they will slice, fry and prepare the fish and meal for the veterans.
But despite always bringing extras, in four years, the group has yet to be skunked, always catching at least one fish.
“(There’s) lots of smiles… We probably enjoy this as much as they do,” Bakken said, adding that the group that comes out is always appreciative.”
The home typically brings out six to eight veterans, Shew said, and volunteers help the residents cast, reel in their fish, net them and any other tasks they may need help with.
But the art of fishing — that’s something they have all been doing for decades.
Hanson nearly caught his own monster on a previous fishing outing with the Rod and Gun club, when his rod began to bend in an extreme angle he’d never seen before. With help from volunteers and other residents, Hanson began reeling in the fish. But just 25 yards from the dock, the fish jumped out, bit the line and freed itself from Hanson’s grasp.
“And (it) went on its merry way,” Hanson said, gesturing over the lake.
But that jump confirmed what Hanson had on the line: a three-foot muskie.
For Karpenske, he figures he’s been fishing for nearly 80 years. He’s got plenty of fishing stories, as photos and memories of fishing near Amery fill his room at the veterans home.
A chance to be outside, reeling in fish — or sharing fish stories — is a perfect morning spent for Karpenske, who takes every opportunity to get a fishing rod in the water.
“This is really nice of the sportsman’s club to put up with us,” Karpenske said as he looked at his fellow veterans spending another day with a fishing pole in their hands.