Traveling Trails Less Traveled. By Buckshot Anderson

For August 17th, 2007 Edition.

As we rapidly coast towards the end of the busy summer season here in the Northwood's it becomes more and more evident that Ma Nature is playing a cruel joke on our environment. The drought of the past half-dozen years continues to raise havoc on the health of our lakes, streams and forests.

I've lived here up-north for enough years to realize that there are "cycles" in our weather patterns, such as the present drought, but this one is without a doubt the worst one I've personally witnessed in the past seven decades.

Our landlocked lake levels are dangerously low, and water flow in our streams can presently be described as "a trickle." For example, the water flow from the dam on the Rainbow Flowage is normally 3000 to 4000 cubic feet per minute at this time of the year, but I've been informed that presently the current flow is less than 1000 cubic feet per minute!

The severe lower water level in our landlocked lakes is the result of three basic factors. Most obvious is our lack of rain and the long series of winters with much lower than average snow pack. A second obvious factor is the hotter than normal summers, which causes higher than normal rates of evaporation from our lakes and streams. And thirdly, and perhaps the most frightening fact, is our underground water tables are shrinking.

The water levels in our landlocked lakes are maintained by "seepage" of water from the underground water table, which in turn is maintained by rain and snow melt. As the water table that surrounds a lake drops, the water in the lake is lowered.

Recently there have been a number of reports of shallow wells going dry, which can be remedied by extending the depth of the well pipe. During a period of drought in the late 1970s a large number of wells between Mercer and Ironwood went dry, but "came back to life" once the drought ended.

If you will look at a map of Vilas County you will find a small lake named "Dry Lake" about a half-mile north of Big Arbor Vitae Lake. Although so marked on the map, the lakebed no longer contains any water. Once an outstanding fishing lake for bass and panfish, small trees and an assortment of wild grasses, weeds and wildflowers now flourish where fish, turtles, frogs and lily pads once flourished.

When I was a youngster I asked Mike Froelich, a renowned area fishing guide, why Dry Lake was so named. His reply was simple. "Sometimes it dries up."

To me this was a mystery that needed to be solved. However now, over 60 years later the answer to the mystery remains unsolved.

During times of normal or above normal water levels Dry Lake was on what could be considered a three lakes chain of lakes. To the north of Dry Lake is Erickson and Ross Lakes. Ross Lake is fed by a small spring system, and during normal water levels the water from Ross Lake flows southward down a very tiny creek into Erickson Lake. Erickson Lake in turn normally flows into Dry Lake. Dry Lake has no visible outlet, yet during periods of drought it dries up! Hence the mystery.

In my lifetime I have witnessed water levels in Dry Lake drop to dangerous lows four times, and watched it return to somewhat normal water levels twice. Water levels dropped in the early 50s, late 70s, but eventually returned to normal. It pretty much dried up again in the late 80's and although it recovered somewhat after the drought of the 80s, it never returned to normal. Today there is no Dry Lake.

In its prime Dry Lake was a joy to fish. Small boats and canoes could easily exit Erickson and enter the main basin of Dry Lake. Meandering south anglers and pleasure seekers would pass two pine-covered islands and continue southeast through a bottleneck into a second smaller basin. From this basin several narrow bays jutted into the surrounding mature hardwood forest, creating a wonderland for angler and sightseers alike.

I recall an afternoon with members of the Dudek clan when we took time out from catching fish to watch three adult pileated woodpeckers hammer a dead balsam tree to shreds as they feasted on carpenter ants.

I recall exploring a newly flooded area at the extreme eastern end of Dry Lake with Mr. & Mrs. Edward Brown, after the lake had recovered from the drought of the early 50s. Rose had her own personal names for the various basins of the lake, Dry Lake, Very Dry Lake and Martini Dry Lake.

I recall dragging my canoe through muck and mire in the bottleneck to reach what was left of the second basin with Ed Brown II and his son Ned, back in 1977. All the fish in that area were crowded into a two-acre hole. We had a day to remember, hauling in fish after fish. It was the proverbial "shooting fish in a barrel."

We caught dozens of bass, including one 21-inch monster by Ned. Ed landed a 6-pound walleye. We caught crappie, perch and bluegill. But the sad memory was that we knew all these fish were condemned to die once winter set in.

My pal, Hank Maines and I, plus several of our children paid a visit to that small ice covered area during the Christmas break. We easily harvested enough panfish for a gigantic fish fry for our families. We returned a month later to discover a frozen pond containing smelly green water devoid of life. The death sentence had been carried out by the drought conditions.

My fear is that other area lakes may be faced with a similar fate if Ma Nature does not end our current drought.

Time will tell.

Mr. Leon "Buckshot" Anderson is one of the few old time hunting and fishing guides left in Northern Wisconsin.   Buckshot is a personal friend of the family and has known and worked with my grandfather, Howard "Pop" Dean,  both of whom are members of the fresh water fishing hall of fame, Legendary Guide.   Buckshot has authored 7 books on the great outdoors. All of his books can be purchased directly from him, at a discount, by email:  or by mail to: 2220 Deadman's Gulch Road, St. Germain, WI 54558.

Books by Leon "Buckshot" Anderson Click Here

Yes; Deadman's Gulch is the correct name, I have been on that road many times. Sincerely David D. Cruger

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