Traveling Trails Less Traveled. By Buckshot Anderson
For May 9th, 2008 Edition.
Sullen skies and patchy fog cast a shadow of doubt across our long awaited catfish fishing trip to the Fox River, but undaunted by the gloomy weather JR DeWitt and I headed south with boat in tow prior to sunrise on the morning of April 20th.
Being a Sunday, traffic was light and by some sort of minor miracle we managed to find every stoplight in the Woodruff/Minocqua metropolitan complex green! As JR's truck took us ever further south weather conditions began to steadily improve. By the time we stopped in Merrill for breakfast at Pine Ridge Café Old Sol was chomping at the bit to cast its rays through the thinning clouds. Our spirits soared as our hunger pangs diminished.
Trucking through Wausau was delightful, as the ongoing construction near the highway 29/51 interchange was shut down for the weekend. Occasional glimmers of sunlight continued to heighten our anticipation and expectations that we'd be able to battle the Fox River Cats without the encumbrance of rain suits.
An abundance of roadside wildlife plus feathered fowl in the sky above helped to shorten our 190-mile journey. We passed a half dozen or so wild turkeys, several deer feeding on fresh green grass, mallards, wood ducks and Canada geese rested on roadside ponds and small streams while others soared overhead. Ma Nature was putting on her usually wonderful spring show.
Our second stop of the morning took place at the Piggly Wiggly super market in Princeton to stock up on some basic foodstuffs anglers require. Stop number three was just down the road a bit at the local bait shop where we purchased two dozen minnows and four dozen nightcrawlers, plus an assortment of sinkers to anchor our catfish presentations to the mucky bottom of the Fox.
JR and I arrived at our friend's cabin shortly after eleven. John, the owner of the property, and another of our pals, Al, were outside at the "cleaning table" converting a couple dozen catfish to fillets. Without even asking JR and I knew, "they were hitting!"
After stashing our sleeping bags and duffle bags in the cabin we launched JR's boat and commenced doing what was the primary excuse for coming to the Fox annually.
Fishing for "cats" is a lazy man's sport. Most any location along the wide and sluggish Fox River slightly downstream from where it exits Lake Puckaway is prime catfish habitat. Here the river is wide and reasonably shallow, having an average depth of three to eight feet. However, this spring the Fox was at flood stage, perhaps three to four feet above what is "normal." John's cabin, normally a hundred yards from the riverbank, this year was less than fifty yards from water!
Fishing for catfish is a relaxing sport. After dropping two anchors, fore and aft, JR and I cast four different lines in four different directions from the boat, propped the rods in rod holders, leaned back in our padded seats and simply waited for a wandering catfish to find our offerings!
While we waited the entertainment was continuous. The air above the river is always filled with birds of all sorts. Ducks wing their way up and down the stream searching for that just right nesting site. Flock after flock of geese criss-cross the sky coming and going from Lake Puckaway to feed in the numerous farm fields that dot the surrounding landscape. Sandhill cranes croaked incessantly talking to each other in crane language. Black cormorants seem to be in constant motion searching for a fishing spot of their own. Cardinals, swallows, purple martens, red wing blackbirds and numerous other types of songbirds serenaded us from the forest and cattail thickets that line the riverbank. And of course, there are also feeding catfish to contend with.
Presently, the daily bag limit on this stretch of the Fox is quite generous. Each angler may have twenty-five catfish per day, which is way more than I personally wish to clean. Besides catfish it is not uncommon to latch on to carp, northern pike, walleye, largemouth bass, perch, blue gill, sheephead, or bullheads. A few longnose gar also inhabit the waters of the Fox.
The weatherman produced a wonderful spring day. Winds were mostly calm, with brief periods of variable breeze, hazy skies and temperatures that peaked out at a balmy 72. Monday was almost a carbon copy of Sunday, but with a steady southwest breeze and the temp topped out at 75. The catfish continued to cooperate giving us another two-dozen to clean.
Spring grass seemed to turn green as we watched. Buds on the aspen, birch and maple materialize in a matter of hours! We were even treated to the arrival of the first mosquitoes of the season, along with several wood ticks! Yes sir, even spring has a few negatives!
The four of us, in two boats, ended our Sunday afternoon fishing with about three-dozen average sized catfish, and a brace of sheephead, plus JR added one stray walleye to the mix. Cleaning the catch was accomplished by a small number of assembly line workers. JR removed the catfish from the holding pen. John quickly filleted the fish with his portable electric fillet knife. Buckshot removed the skin with his manual fillet knife. Al washed the finished product and wrapped the fillets for the freezer. The process proceeds quickly, -- and then it's "Miller Time!"
Our evening meal on day one consisted of charcoal grilled beef tenderloins, potato salad, fresh rolls, pickles, and a beverage of choice. Sound, peaceful sleep followed by ten p.m.
Our annual pilgrimage to the Fox is in a way a step back in time. The property where we bunk has been in John's family for over one hundred years. John's grandfather built the cabin we stay in over a hundred years ago! It is a historic treasure!
We do "rough it", as there is no running water and no inside bathroom. A modern "one-holer" is just thirty yards beyond the front porch. A hand pump at the fish-cleaning table supplies cold, fresh water, but John has conceded somewhat to modernization by installing a propane cook stove, propane space heater and electric lights.
The spacious property is thickly wooded with ancient oak, maple, birch and ash trees, which is home to numerous varieties of wildlife. Deer, turkey, fox, squirrels, raccoons, grouse and tons of songbirds call John's forest home. It is truly a little piece of heaven man has not as yet destroyed.
Well, thank you John for your friendship and hospitality. But I have to close, as there are a dozen catfish fillets in my smoker that must be about done. Yum, yum, here I come!
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: firstname.lastname@example.org 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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