Traveling Trails Less Traveled. By Buckshot Anderson
For June 20th, 2008 Edition.
For the dyed in the wool sportsperson, Wisconsin abounds with numerous “opening days” that nimrods of all ages fondly look forward to. A few examples of cherished “openers” include early trout, walleye and northern, musky, grouse and woodcock, early geese, ducks, and deer.
But there is one opening day that has faded into near obscurity, -- the smallmouth and largemouth bass opening day, which, by the way is tomorrow, June 21st.
During my early formative years during the late 1930s and early 40s bass season opened on June 20th, regardless what day of the week it fell on. Back then, and well into the 50s, the bass opener was a much-anticipated date. At daybreak on the 20th eager anglers jockeyed for positions on the most favored local bass lakes.
I recall one year during the late 40s when my dad instructed his opening day bass clients to “be up and ready to go at 4:30!” After cooking breakfast for his companions on his Coleman gas stove in their cabin at Ed Gabe’s Lost Lake Resort, the trio beat a hasty path to Dad’s Lake. At the time there was a rustic boat launch on the lake and it was one of the top largemouth bass lakes in the region. Once around the small body of water netted the sly bunch their legal limit of twenty-one lunkers!
Dad was loading his Thompson Guide Model in the bed of his ’41 Chevy pickup when the line of “normal risers” began to arrive. But my dad, the old fox, and his two clients had skimmed the cream of the crop.
When I began following my mentor on “double parties” in 1951 the legal size limit on bass was ten inches and the daily bag limit per person had been lowered from seven to five. However, one could legally keep five largemouth and five smallmouth, and many anglers did just that. Back then “catch and release” was not in vogue, but “catch and fillet” was.
I believe it was in the late 50s, my memory says 57, when our Wisconsin Conservation Department did two stupid things. They took the size limit off bass and walleye, plus added bass to the list of fish that could be kept when walleye and northern opened. If my memory serves me correctly, musky was also on the list of fish that could be kept after the mid-May traditional open water opener for game fish.
During the next decade quality bass fishing plummeted like the stock market crash of ’29. Spawning bass were plucked off their spawning beds before a new crop could be hatched. It took many years before the rule makers in Madison realized they had made a terrible mistake. The opening for bass season was eventually pushed back to the first Saturday in June. That helped some, but during late springs, like the one we had in 2008, bass were still trying to make little bass by that date.
Next the season was pushed back to the second Saturday in June, and a size limit of 12 inches was enacted. Those were two big improvements. Still more recently the season opener for bass in the Northern Zone was moved to the third Saturday in June and the size limit on most lakes was increased to 14 inches. Some lakes having a potential to produce trophy-sized bass now sport an 18-inch size limit and a bag limit of one fish per day per person. Now that’s what I call progress and sensible regulation!
We also have four local lakes that are strictly catch and release for bass. I suggest the DNR should establish more lakes that boast catch and release bass angling! Most folks love being able to catch dozens of good-sized bass during a day on the water.
Presently, we here in the northwoods are enjoying the best bass fishery I’ve experienced in my lifetime. Due to the change of heart by the DNR in regards to bass fishing regulations and the rise of catch and release sport fishing, bass have multiplied like mosquitoes in a rain barrel. Many lakes that were never regarded as good bass lakes have recently become excellent bass lakes.
Fishing, like many subjects abounds with myths. One I often hear is a statement “bass ain’t fit to eat.” I often correct that misconception by tossing a couple of bass fillets in with the walleye and northern, then ask the doubting diners after they have tried all three entrees which chunk was bass. Most subjects can’t tell unless they are savvy enough to tell the difference in the texture of the cooked flesh.
I suspect the attitude by those who rate bass low on their list of fish they enjoy eating might have developed because they ate bass from warm, muddy southern waters or consumed bass fillets that still contained the skin. Skinned bass from our clear, clean, cold lakes are tasty, especially when cleaned and deep-fried on the shore of the lake from which they were taken. End of sermon.
Another nice thing about bass is that they are generally not a finicky fish. They feed often and don’t care too much about what they attempt to put in their stomach. Also, bass have a short memory and will often strike again shortly after being released. I recall catching one such glutton four times during the same day. The fish had a very distinct black circle about the size of a quarter on its head and was easily recognized from its relatives. In fact, we took that same fish from under the same log each of the four times we fished that particular spot that day!
Our tourists, who are the main suppliers of greenbacks, generally come up north to do at least a bit of fishing. Bass and panfish are often the species that can easily supply even novice anglers with a successful day on the water and a lasting memory. Walleye and musky, which receive top billings, are not inclined to be easy targets. Those finicky walleye are not always easy to find and tend to be fussy about what they dine on. And when they do put on the feedbag the lunchtime is generally short. Musky tend to go on a feeding orgy and then sleep for the next several days. Bass are more like humans; they enjoy eating often and like variety in what they eat.
This year we had a “new bass fishing rule.” For those who didn’t read the rulebook, if you decided to fish bass during the catch and release season from May 3rd through today, June 20th, there were two new “no-no’s.” Bass anglers could not use hooks with barbs or fish for bass with live bait. But bass don’t read the rule books either. My clients and I were often frustrated when those dumb bass would hit our jigs and minnows while we were fishing for walleye and northern! How dare they! The dummies even attacked our tiny minnows when we fished for crappie! For shame! To add to our frustration bass even nibbled small chunks of nightcrawler that were intended for bluegills! Disgustingly piggish!
Possibly next season the DNR will enact new legislation that will stop or penalize bass that cause anglers to unintentionally break the “no barb, no live bait” rule during the catch and release period.
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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