Traveling Trails Less Traveled. By Buckshot Anderson

For April 10th, 2009 Edition.

One highly anticipated annual event of yesteryear was "ice out." I fully realize that many folks who have had their fill of Old Man Winter still look forward to seeing rippling blue water as opposed to wind swept snow covered ice, but I firmly believe that years ago ice out meant much more to the year-around locals living up north!

Many Northwood's communities sponsored contests to see who could most accurately predict when ice out would occur. One common practice was to place some large object on the surface of a lake and allow folks to predict when it would disappear into the depths. The most common object was an old car or truck. Some communities placed an outhouse on the ice. One local community used a broken down snow machine as their ice out indicator.

For those who recall the original route of highway 51 may recall the city of Tomahawk always placed an old clunker car on the ice just north of town. The city fathers, in respect of the environment, hooked a cable to the car and pulled it out of the water after it fell through the rotting ice.

Of course stunts like those are no longer legal due to more recent laws designed to prevent pollution caused by old cars, outhouses and snowmobiles.

Another more sensible object that was sometimes used as an ice out indicator was a man-made "brush crib." Brush cribs resemble mini-log cabins filled with brush, tree limbs and weighted with rocks or cement blocks. When spring ice melted the crib sank and provided excellent fish habitat, therefore killing two birds with one stone. But Big Brother in Madison no longer fondly looks upon even non-polluting objects such as brush cribs.

Due to the fact there is a limited amount of pertinent subjects to discuss or argue about during the early spring season, (not counting politics) discussions concerning when ice out will occur on any given body of water often takes center stage at local watering holes and coffee shops. Some folks keep accurate records concerning ice out and freeze up, which clearly show both of those events can and do occur over a fairly wide period on the calendar.

My dad was one who meticulously recorded freeze up and ice out on Kasomo Lake and Big St. Germain for many seasons. Kasomo Lake is landlocked, shallow and just 26 acres in size. Big Saint is classed as a drainage lake, (which means it has inlets and an outlet stream), depths to 38 feet and 1600 acres in size. Generally the time between Kasomo giving up its ice and Big Saint becoming ice free is about five or six days, with the smaller lake always being clear of ice first.

During the span of time from 1938 to the present the earliest ice out on Kasomo was March 25th in 2000 and the latest ice out was May 1st in 1997.

There was a time many years ago when fishing was the number one reason tourists traveled to Northern Wisconsin. The last time I saw a survey as to why visitors head north was about 10 years ago and at that time "fishing" had fallen into 11th place!

Tourism today is totally different than it was in the good old days, but there is no surprise in that comment as history proves time and time again that very little ever remains unchanged for very long. In this day and age it is possible to view vehicles roaming our highways sporting out-of-state plates during all 12 months of the year. That was not the norm decades ago.

Up until snowmobiling and owning a vacation cottage/home/condo became common, north woods tourism was pretty much sandwiched between the opening of fishing season in mid-May through Labor Day, just three and a half very short months! And every business catered to vacationing anglers!

Spring was a hectic time as countless resorts began preparing for the short, but massive influx of tourist dollars. Musty smelling cabins needed to be cleaned and aired out. Primitive running water systems needed to be put back in service. I can't recall any time after we converted our rental cottages from hand pumps at the kitchen sink to actual running water that we ever turned the water on without discovering a few, or many, leaks! And those annual spring water leaks spanned 1950 through 1976!

Mounds of leaves and pine needles had to be harvested by muscle power. I wonder what the old time resort owners would say if they could watch a giant motor driven "leaf sucker" remove the dead fodder in several hours rather than several days!

Another annual time consuming chore concerned getting all the wooden rowboats ready for a new season. It was necessary to provide at least one boat for each cabin, plus have a few extras around to rent to "drive in" anglers. Very few downstate or out-of-state anglers towed boats north years ago!

Being stored upside down on the lakeshore for eight months or more, the wooden boats dried out causing cracks to form between the strips of wood that formed the hull. As soon as ice out took place and the weather warmed enough for paint to dry, the scrapping, caulking and painting began. Once a fresh coat of forest green paint was applied inside and out and was allowed to dry, the boats were placed in the lake where they filled up with water that seeped through the cracks. The "swelling up process" took several days to complete, after which each boat had to be dragged back to shore and emptied of its cargo of water.

Older boats sometimes needed additional caulking stuffed between the cracks. The most common material used was a hemp material called "oakum." Oakum contained a gooey tar-like substance that repelled water. Narrow strips of oakum were carefully inserted between the larger cracks with a putty knife or screwdriver to prevent the boat from leaking.

Yes, getting ready for those rich tourists was a lot of work. But you know what, I often wish I could return to that "quieter, gentler time", if only for a moment or two. And I often do, but only with the aid of my memory!

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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