A brutal winter canât keep Craig Haas away from the Port Washington waterfront and his year-round passion for fishing
The sky is leaden. The temperature is in the teens, but it feels way below zero in the biting north wind chilled by the hundreds of miles of Lake Michigan ice it has crossed on its way to the Port Washington waterfront. Thatâs Craig Haasâ world, and he loves it, because being there means heâs fishing.
Haas is a fisherman for all seasons. He doesnât let a brutal winter interfere with his angling passion.
âYou put enough layers on and itâs pretty good. Iâve got the layering down to an art. When people say, âYouâre out there fishing in wintertime?â like Iâm crazy, I say, âYeah,ââ Haas said.
âSome people stay indoors. Not me. I refuse to stay inside. I have to be outside. If I get out of the wind enough, the cold doesnât bother me.â
On frigid days, he lubricates his reels so they wonât freeze and must clear ice off the line frequently.
âThree casts later, and itâs full of ice again,â he said.
To not fish is unthinkable to this busy father of three who grew up in Belgium and started fishing on inland lakes with his father when he was 4.
When he moved to Port Washington in 1997, Haas quickly found his way to the harbor. Itâs been a love affair ever since.
âI love Port. Iâll never move out of Port. Itâs so convenient to fish here,â he said.
There are many things that draw him to the sport â the challenge of outwitting the wily creatures that have a way of swimming past a perfectly placed lure, the fresh lake air, sunrises on the lake, wildlife encounters and time to be alone and relish the silence.
âItâs my me-time,â Haas said. âItâs my relaxing time. I like the peace and quiet.
âIâm what you call a pier rat. I donât have a boat big enough for Lake Michigan, so I have to fish from shore.â
Haasâ favorite fishing spot is Coal Dock Park, where he has room to spread out his gear away from other fishermen. The warm water discharge from the We Energies power plant and the entrance to Sauk Creek lure fish in, but heâll go wherever he thinks the fickle creatures might be.
âIâll never figure that lake out,â Haas said. âEvery time I think I have the fish figured out, the next day it changes. Thatâs what makes it a challenge and so much fun. The other guys say the same thing.
âWhat works one day wonât work the next, so I bring a tackle box full of all kinds of things.â
Haas prefers artificial lures, especially spoons, to live bait. He uses nine to 10-foot-long fishing rods with four to six-pound test lines. He usually uses 1/4 to 1/8-ounce spoons and jigs.
âTrout nip at bait like blue gills and they like smaller meals,â Haas said. âYou need the light line to cast the light lures, especially in this wind.â
Brown trout are biting now, Haas said, noting that the Department of Natural Resources stocks the fish in the harbor.
âThey were biting like crazy in September and October,â Haas said. âI was down there almost every day. I went to work a little later those days.
âRainbow trout will start coming in shortly and once in a while lakers will come to shore, then coho and king salmon. I donât fish for perch any more because their numbers are so low.â
Although he enjoys catching the big 20-pound lunkers that put up a fight, Haas releases them. He finds smaller four to five-pound trout and salmon tastier and fills his freezer with them.
âI also catch fish for others who put in requests,â Haas said. âI have a friend who likes smoking them, so Iâll give him four or five fish and heâll smoke one for me. We have a good trade going on.â
He canât always fish during the week, but Haas is at the harbor most Friday afternoons, Saturdays and Sundays, sometimes two or three times a day.
âWhenever I have a few moments to get away, Iâm down there fishing,â Haas said.
âI never sleep in. Iâm up before sunrise. If they (his wife Cindy, son Ryan, 11, and daughters Erin, 9, and Eily, 6) find my truck gone, they know where I am. They know this is my passion.â
Even when he doesnât catch anything, Haas said, he feels rewarded.
âIf you fish there long enough, you see some amazing things,â he said.
âThis fall, a buck jumped out of the creek and swam all around the park. We all had to move our lines out of his way. He finally got out at Rotary Park. He was cold and shaking. Iâve seen otters, especially around the boat launch, and a black mink is usually around the main pier (to the lighthouse).â
Haas, a manager in the buffing department at Calibre Inc. in Grafton, usually has Friday afternoons off for fishing.
At home, Haas does most of the cooking and serves fish from his freezer about once a week. He debones and filets the fish, then puts the filets, skin side down, on a grill, sprinkles lemon pepper on top, closes the grill and lets the fish cook undisturbed for 12 to 15 minutes. He doesnât turn the fish.
âItâs done perfect,â he said. âThe skin sticks to the grill, and there are no bones.â
In nice weather, the children sometimes go fishing with him. They enjoy being in the park more than fishing, he said, but he hopes that changes.
âSometimes, I have them grab the net so they can share the excitement,â Haas said.
âSoon Iâm going to sit them down and say, âBetween the three of you, one of you has to be my fishing buddy. I donât care who it is, but one of you has to step up.â
âItâs something I would love to share with them. I would love to have a fishing buddy.â