Traveling Trails Less Traveled. By Buckshot Anderson
For April 3rd, 2009 Edition.
Early April most frequently mirrors March, which for outdoor enthusiasts offers a limited amount of meaningful outdoor activities. Other than praying for warmer weather, and suffering mood swings between warm days with snow melt and spring storms that bring more snow, March and early April is mostly a waiting game.
During a recent ice fishing outing with some pals from Green Bay, interspersed between blue gills, perch and crappie, an occasional golden shiner would be pulled to the surface. Being about the same size and shape as smelt, the shiners caused my mind to drift backward in time to April of 1956.
At the time I was winding down my freshman year in college at Superior State in Superior, Wisconsin. During late March the commercial fishermen on Lake Superior began to catch a few smelt in their nets, which triggered "smelt fever" among the locals, many of which suffered from "cabin fever" and looked forward to getting out and about netting smelt dinners when the onslaught of the smelt spawning run took place.
My roommate, Tom Dean, and I, both of which were nickel and dime poor college students, formulated a sure fire plan designed to pad our non-existent bank accounts with some non-taxable income. Knowing full well folks back in our hometown would pay good money for fresh fish, our scheme was to corner the market on smelt.
Our plan lacked one important piece of equipment. We needed to secure a vehicle that could haul enough smelt from Lake Superior to Vilas County that would render a sufficient amount of cash to make our plan economically feasible. Our only hope to secure such a vehicle rested with my dad, who owned a '53 Chevy ½ ton pickup truck. It was hoped he might be convinced to allow his kid to borrow it for a week. The truck was wintering in our garage at our resort in St. Germain, dad and mom were spending the winter in Florida.
A hurried phone call to the Sunny South resulted in dad approving my request, but he had no idea where the keys for the truck might be. At first that didn't seem to be a problem, after all, how hard would it be to find a set of keys in my own home?
Tom and I returned from college on a Friday afternoon, riding in his '48 Studebaker. Our weekends away from college were spent at Tom's home as his parents, Pop and Ole, always had room for extra bodies. Early Saturday morning we invaded the locked up Anderson residence and searched the house from top to bottom without finding any keys for a '53 Chevy truck. So - we did what any desperate would-be smelt entrepreneurs might do - we "hot wired" the ignition!
Dad's truck took us back to college Sunday afternoon for another week of hitting the books. On Friday afternoon, after our last class, we hit the road for a load of smelt.
As the expedition leader, I decided Tom and I would harvest our bountiful supply of smelt from the mouth of the Brule River. And I knew exactly how to get there as dad and I had fished at that location a couple of times when I was in grade school. Well - I thought I'd recall how to get there!
Old Sol was kissing the horizon goodnight as I turned dad's truck north on highway H out of the little village of Brule. Twenty minutes later I turned left into a two-rut road I was positive would take us to the mouth of the Brule River. It didn't! I began to get my doubts about my perceived navigational skill when we were forced to stop and open a rustic gate and then crossed a decrepit wooden bridge. The road eventually ended at the top of a high bluff overlooking Lake Superior!
Tom and I got out to scan the darkening environment and our initial disappointment ebbed as we spied a small creek flowing into Lake Superior at the bottom of the bluff. We gathered our smelt catching equipment and climbed down the steep embankment to investigate.
To our amazement and delight the tiny steam was busting at its seams with smelt. Our 8-foot seine went to work and each short pull filled a washtub with silver-sided smelt! The climb up the steep embankment was challenging, especially carrying a washtub full of smelt! But shortly after 10 p.m. dad's ½ ton pickup was filled to capacity! Patches of lingering snow along the roadside allowed us to harvest refrigeration material to keep our cargo fresh. About 1:30 a.m. we arrived safe and sound at Tom's home in St. Germain.
The following morning Pop helped us wash our smelt clean in a 55 gallon barrel, and then with cashbox, bags and a scale we began our deliveries. Our advertised price of ten cents a pound went over well with our customers. Nearly every tavern in town bought copious amounts of smelt for their Friday night fish fries. Very few households passed up the opportunity of a lifetime to purchase fresh caught Lake Superior smelt from two smiling, penniless, college kids. Our venture was a howling success!
By Sunday afternoon all the smelt had been sold and our cashbox held many dollars. Next came the job of cleaning the cargo box of dad's prize baby! I sincerely hope none of my readers will ever be required to remove dried smelt spawn and milt from the cargo box of a truck! Wow - what a job!
After dad's truck was spick and span we returned it to its winter home in the garage - re-wired the ignition switch, and headed back to Superior in Tom's Studebaker.
When my parents returned to their resort after wintering in Florida, dad called me to inquire as to what I had done with the keys to his truck. I was forced to confess concerning my new found skill of "truckjacking."
He laughed, and eventually located the keys.
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: email@example.com 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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