Traveling Trails Less Traveled. By Buckshot Anderson
For October 31st, 2008 Edition.
At this stage of my life I infrequently spend time during the fall season fishing, especially for muskellunge. But here it was, October 18th and our son, Chris, and I were standing at the landing at Crab Lake planning to do just that.
The fog-shrouded lake rippled buffeted by a modest southwest wind, which had a knife's edge to it. Visibility was limited to less than a hundred feet providing an environment that would have been an excellent setting for an X rated horror movie. A half-dozen- vehicles towing small boats were lined up waiting their turn to launch as the occupants exchanged friendly greetings and words of encouragement. As many of you know, musky hunters are a unique group.
Chris and I were attending our first outing in what was the 5th annual "Bob Ellis Row Trolling Musky Classic." The event is the brainchild of Eagle River fishing guide Patricia Strutz, who instituted the outing as a tribute to a gentleman who has become famous as a "northwoods row trolling guru."
For many, many years Bob plied his unique style of musky fishing at a time when the ancient sport had all but disappeared from the waters of the North. He outfitted a small Shell Lake skiff as his one man fishing machine and did a great deal to pioneer the art of fishing for suspended musky in deep water. Unfortunately his life was cut short one autumn day in 1989 on Papoose Lake when a boat accidentally crashed into Bob's small boat.
When one first meets Patricia their usual impression is she would be an unlikely individual to decide to attempt resurrecting a sport that was nearly completely dead and rapidly becoming a mere footnote to history. Often described as being a perky blond, about five feet in height and about one hundred pounds soaking wet, she does not conger up an image of a row-trolling crusader. This initial impression reinforces the old adage, "first impressions are not always correct."
I first met Patricia in 2002 when she was kicking around the idea of becoming a guide. She booked a day with me in early May of 2003 and spent most of the morning picking my brain about row trolling as I rowed my 16 foot cedar strip Seboygan Falls Guide Model over the frigid waters of an area lake in quest of walleye and smallmouth. Patricia asked me to give her an honest opinion if I thought she could "make it" as a row trolling guide. She further indicated she'd like to bill herself as "A Blond and Her Boat." I suggested if she put a picture of herself on her business card she'd be booked solid all summer. We still chuckle about my flippant remark. But,.the rest is history! I know of no person in the present day world that has done more to restore the artful art of row trolling to the northwoods than The Blond and Her Boat! Almost single-handedly Patricia has brought row trolling back from the brink of extinction!
The initial Bob Ellis Classic took place in 2004. Like many "new ideas" the fledging event drew only a handful of row trollers. This year's event included thirty boats and fifty plus hearty nimrods.
My personal absence from the first four outings was because of a matter of timing. The BEC was scheduled at the same time as my gang's annual North Dakota Waterfowl Adventure. In the future the conflict will not occur.
Indeed, the Bob Ellis Classic is a classy affair. Adam Johnson and his staff at Skyview Supper Club in Presque Isle host the annual conclave. The normal itinerary includes coffee and donuts at 8:00 a.m. Fishing takes place from nine till four. Patricia keeps the rules of the classic simple, which is refreshing in this day and age. No entry fee. Catch and release only. Successful anglers may verify their catch by visual conformation by another angler or by photo. Artificial lures only. The champion angler receives a traveling trophy and no cash or prizes are involved. A party and celebration takes place from five till ??, with cocktails, dinner, the awards ceremony and bragging rights from those so inclined.
Three of the lakes Bob Ellis loved to fish are open to anglers who attend the classic, Papoose, Presque Isle and Crab. Attendees may fish any or all of the lakes during the seven-hour fishing period. And let it be known there are few if any lakes more beautiful with pristine clear water than the Classic's trio.
It had been over thirty years since my son and I fished Crab Lake. We were pleasantly surprised to discover the lake looked pretty much as we had remembered it, a rare experience in the northwoods now days! Property owners have obviously kept Ma Nature in mind and have left the shoreline in nearly original condition.
Chris volunteered to take the first shift on the oars. It was a somewhat eerie sensation as the shoreline evaporated into the fog and our sleek craft seemed to be floating in a fog filled void. As the morning progressed the fog stubbornly clung to the landscape, defying Old Sol to disperse it. Islands and other anglers in silent boats appeared through the mist as ghostly images balancing on a horizon of clouds. Our depth finder became our only mode of intelligence as to what depth of water we were passing over. Numerous rock bars that Crab Lake are noted for leapt onto the viewing screen with alarming regularity. For any boats under artificial power, it would have been a living, propeller chipping nightmare.
By eleven the fog had vanished and a typical fall day materialized. A few stubborn birch and maple, plus the tough oaks still retained a smattering of faded fall colors. Stately white and red pines interspersed with white cedar, helmlock and spruce joined in the mix. A lone juvenile loon combed the depths of the lake for sustenance. Majestic eagles soared on high, taking full advantage of the brisk wind. The air was clean and crisp, occasionally making ones nose drip. Yes sir, Old Man Fall was showing us his finest hour!
Musky action wandered between "slow" and "non-existent." I had one fish in the mid forty inch range race to the boat chasing my deep diving lure, only to roll over and zoom back to its basement apartment. Chris had three "light hits" but whatever species of finny critter that tentatively tasted his offering avoided the hooks.
The late afternoon/evening portion of the Classic was likewise classy. Geoff Crandell serenaded the diners with two of his original songs he labeled as "Row Troller Blues." He leaned on an old Willy Nelson classic, "Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up and Be Cowboys" with "Mama Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up and Be Muskie Trollers." We all helped out with the chorus, "Mama don't let your babies grow up to be trollers. Don't let um' troll hookers and drive them old trucks. Just have em' fish bluegill and crappies and such. Mama's don't let your babies grow up to be trollers, they'll never stay home and they'll fish through a storm even with lightning above."
A second number, based on Johnny Cash's hit, "Folsom Prison Blues" was also a rib-tickler.
Dinner was superb! Chris and I smacked our lips over Skyview's blackened prime rib, which you could cut with a fork. The staff was attentive and friendly in prefect harmony with the entire event!
A film crew from Ron Schara's very popular outdoor TV show was on hand to capture the essence of the event via film of anglers combing the water and the awards ceremony, plus interviews with several participants of the event.
I was surprised and honored to receive the annual "Bob Classic Conservation Award" and a beautiful book entitled "The Deer Hunters" compiled and edited by my good friend Patrick Durkin, a fellow outdoor writer who is also a columnist for the Green Bay Press Gazette. How did I "win" the book? Simply by being the oldest guy there! (But not by much!)
This story has a truly wonderful ending, one that could never have been scripted in advance. There was but one musky landed by the multitude of musky anglers on this day of the Bob Ellis Classic. A dandy 42 incher accepted the offering of twelve-year old Ben Ruffing of Kaukauna, WI. The fish was Ben's first ever musky and won him honor and respect from his fellow anglers, plus provided him with a wonderfully sweet lifetime memory! Although I'm not sure who was more proud and happy, Ben or his dad!
Patricia, once again thank you for all your time and effort in keeping the art and sport of row trolling alive and making it well again!
See you at the Bob Ellis Classic on Oct. 3rd, 2009!
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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