HOWARD - Sharon Herlache Kugler, 84, of Algoma has been ice fishing the waters of Green Bay since she could walk.
As a toddler growing up on the Door Peninsula, she'd accompany her parents on trips on the hard water.
"It was part of living here, part of what we all did," Kugler said. "I loved it from the beginning."
A prized family photo from a 1941 outing shows Homer and Helen Herlache, Kugler's parents, jigging through an ice crack. Kugler is just out of the frame; she says she always was included in the trips.
The family's hard-water chariot that day was a 1939 Nash.
The early lessons set in and Kugler became a life-long angler. Over the decades she accessed winter fishing spots on foot, by snowmobile and ATV, too.
But in late December she was treated to a first: an airboat ride.
Capt. Zach Burgess of Casco used his airboat "Why Knot" to whisk Kugler and seven other woman anglers out on Green Bay for a day of ice fishing for yellow perch.
In the iffy ice conditions, it was the only powered craft to leave the boat landing that day.
The aluminum hull glided like an air-hockey puck over the smooth sections of snow and ice and, where necessary, bull-dogged through slushy areas.
Burgess cranked the 350 Chevy engine on the three-fourths-mile ride out to an ice-covered flat northeast of Howard and fishtailed to a stop.
"Wow!" Kugler said. "That was quite a start to the day!"
The outing was organized by Wisconsin Women Fish and its founder, Barb Carey of Oxford.
In fact, the propeller-powered ride wasn't the only first Kugler recorded on the day.
The group of anglers included her daughter, Brenda Maier of Forestville, and grand-daughter Kelsey Kornaus of Shoreview, Minnesota. Never before had the three generations of Kugler's family gathered to ice fish for yellow perch on the water where she cut her angling teeth.
"We're feeling very grateful," Maier said. "What a great way to spend time together."
Burgess took two trips to ferry anglers and supplies from the landing to the fishing spot.
In addition to the Kugler trio and Carey, the group included Chris Boche of Oxford, Carol King of Danbury, and Jane McMahon and Lisa Wilson, both of Poynette.
Carey is a retired police officer and nurse who formed Wisconsin Women Fish in 2005 to help fellow female anglers become more active in the sport.
Carey said when she was trying to learn more about fishing she was often rebuffed by people who didn't want to share knowledge. But she kept at it, got more experience and eventually even earned a Great Lakes charter captain's license.
She knew that path wasn't right for everybody, however.
"I decided a group like this could help speed up the process and help more women gain confidence in the outdoors," Carey said. "We don't have secrets (at WWF). Helping people succeed is where all the fun is."
When Carey started the organization, most outings were conducted by shore fishing. As time went on, more and more members bought boats. Now dozens of members own their own fishing craft. Some have also become guides and tournament anglers.
Today the club has 425 members; the ages range from 18 to 86. Outings are scheduled throughout the year, most in the Upper Midwest.
Even before the sun crested over the bay, the WWF formula was on full display.
A large hub (ice fishing tent) was erected by club members and heaters were turned on to create a warm shelter. Meanwhile others untangled fishing lines and readied tackle for the day.
After Burgess drilled a couple of dozen holes in the ice, still other WWF members cleared ice chips, baited lines with minnows and set "dead stick" rods in place.
"OK, we're fishing!" Carey said about 7 a.m.
With a 15 mph wind chilling the 25 degree air, Kugler, Maier and Kornaus fished on stools in the shelter.
The Green Bay perch god seemed to be aligned with the outing, too, when after just 10 minutes Kugler's line tightened, her rod doubled over and she reeled in a 12-inch jumbo.
It was high-fives all around for the three generations of anglers.
Action was good outside, too, as McMahon landed an 11-incher and a dozen other perch between 7 and 12 inches were iced in the first 50 minutes.
The best presentation was a 2- to 3-inch-long fathead minnow live-hooked through the top of its back and fished within a foot of the bottom.
Although the three generations of Kugler's family are fishers, it was not lost on her that it took the opportunity provided by WWF to get them on the ice in the same spot on the same day.
"What's even more special, this is where I grew up fishing," Kugler said. "This water and these perch are in my blood."
While it seemed destined to happen, it took some reassurance by Maier to get her mother to join WWF and sign up for the outing.
Maier has been a WWF member since 2017, while Kornaus joined in 2019.
"Mom was worried she would be in the way or slow us down," Maier said. "I told her, 'Mom, don't you remember when you took me fishing when I could barely walk? I was always in the way, yet you always had me along. Please, you're coming with.'"
Kugler joined WWF in October and the trio set their sights on the airboat outing on the bay.
The sun climbed into a cobalt sky and the wind stayed brisk through the day. Bald eagles and herring gulls provided fly-overs. The WWF members spread out and tended the holes, waiting for a rod to quiver or bow.
Then it was off to the races to set the hook.
A couple of anglers also set up flasher units and jigged with tiny lures tipped with soft plastics.
Action picked up each time a school of perch moved through the area, then dropped off. Everybody in the group caught fish. A hearty cheer went up when Kornaus landed her first of the day.
"They had been playing with me," Kornaus said of the fish that evaded her hook-sets.
At the end of the day about 50 dandy perch were taken ashore by the group. Some of the WWF members dined on fresh fish that evening.
Burgess shuttled the group back to the landing about 4:15 p.m.
Shuffling the last few feet across the ice, Kugler wore a broad smile.
"I just want to say, I couldn't be happier I came out," Kugler said. "I might be 84 but that's nothing. I'm ready for more."
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin women's fishing group brings generations together on ice