Traveling Trails Less Traveled. By Buckshot Anderson

For June 12th, 2009 Edition.

When the subject is fishing I've always been a big fan of small, secluded lakes. Growing up on a tiny 26-acre bass and pan fish lake most likely was the catalyst that sparked my ongoing love affair with little back in the boonies lakes. But alas, the present fifteen-year drought is causing much pain for numerous small, landlocked lakes all across the North Country.

A recent news item claimed area water levels are at a 70 year low with no relief in sight. Having lived here in Vilas County for over seven decades I must agree with the report. Ma Nature can often be a cruel creature and she's showing this portion of her demeanor via lack of normal rain and snow amounts year after year.

All the small landlocked lakes I am familiar with presently have water levels that are anywhere from three to seven feet below what are normal high water levels. This condition has devastating effects on the animals and vegetation native to a specific body of water. Traditional fish spawning areas are eliminated, as water levels decline changing what once was shallow shoreline spawning structure into barren beaches. Lily pads and bulrushes, which are very important fish holding habitat, are being left high and dry to whither away.

Lower water levels have resulted in frequent "freeze-outs" in many area lakes. For those not familiar with this destructive situation let me explain. Freeze-out occurs most frequently on small, shallow, weedy lakes during the winter months when ice forms earlier than normal and remains on the lake longer than normal. Additional factors most often include severe cold that causes the ice to form thicker layers than normal coupled with heavy snow cover. These conditions prevent light from penetrating the ice and snow covered surface of the lake and the weeds die and begin to decompose. Now instead of releasing oxygen the rotting weeds produce carbon dioxide. Major fish loss takes place when oxygen levels in the water fall below what is required to sustain life.

Such was the case this past winter. Ice formed early and our lakes re-opened later than normal. Many small lakes suffered partial or complete "fish kills." I visited one such lake recently expecting to enjoy an afternoon of bass and blue gill fishing only to discover the lake was dead. No spawning beds were present and the only sign of life was a few tiny yellow perch.

On a more personal note I'd like to update my readers concerning what is happening to four of my all time favorite small lakes. Bittersweet, Prong, Oberlin and Smith lakes are located pretty much in the middle of the Northern Highland/American Legion State Forest in the township of Arbor Vitae. These pristine clear water lakes are typical of hundreds of other similar bass and pan fish lakes across Northern Wisconsin. All four contain depths that up to now have prevented fish loss during severe winters and even if water levels continue to drop I would expect the fishery to remain healthy. But change of another sort is taking place.

I "discovered" these four rare jewels in the early 1950s. At the time the only lake of the four that had what roughly resembled a public landing was Prong Lake. Oberlin did have a rustic goat path that sturdy vehicles could navigate leading to a launch site but the so called road passed through private land but public access was denied by a very sturdy iron gate and a padlock. Bittersweet did have limited access via a logging road that ended about a hundred yards from the shore, which allowed the young and the restless to carry small boats or canoes into its pristine waters. Smith Lake, which is lodged between Bittersweet and Oberlin, could only be reached by portage trail from either of the two neighboring lakes.

My bride to be and I began exploring these lakes quite frequently beginning in 1957 when Peggy was hired as a waitress at my parent's resort during that fabulous summer of '57. From Prong Lake we portaged my canoe into paradise and fell in love with the peace and quiet - plus the excellent fishing - the area provided.

It was also during the summer of 1957 when someone constructed a final leg to the old logging road into Bittersweet Lake creating a lakeside rustic landing. Oblivious to my mother's stern verbal disapproval, my dad drove their 1956 Chevy sedan into Bittersweet to check out the road! I don't think the car was ever the same after that excursion!

Eventually the iron-gate blocking the road into Oberlin vanished after the state purchased the private property and the general public was allowed access. Smith Lake continues to be only accessible via portage trails.

Over the years I have counted these lake as true friends, and introduced them to oh, so many of my family members, friends and clients. A quick check of my computerized fishing records indicate that I have spent nearly 800 days enjoying the beauty, peace, quiet and tranquility of these unique bodies of water! Oh yes, I know them well!

In 1989 a major change occurred for these four lakes. Thanks to a DNR fisheries biologist named Harland Carlson these four lakes were designated as "catch and release only" for largemouth bass, which was the principal game fish species present. The bold, fresh experiment paid great dividends! Populations of respectable sized bass skyrocketed! Anglers of all ages could enjoy a semi-wilderness fishing adventure and often catch a hundred or more fish in a day! A fisherman's Shangri-La had been created! Many of the folks that fished the four lakes often commented, "Why go to Canada? This is an angler's dream!"

I visited these lakes often and never found a crowd and rarely discovered a messy landing area, unlike some "high usage" lakes. Oh sure, once in a great while I'd arrive at the landing and find a pile of beer cans some slob or slobs left behind. But I suspect these rare occurrences were the result of a remote "beer party" rather than garbage disposed of by anglers. Upon my departure I always took the garbage with me, as I'm sure most caring persons would.

But once again more change is taking place. A major logging operation that began during the winter is still underway. Much of the forest that once surrounded the countryside near the four lakes now resembles a World War I battlefield. The DNR's new plan, hyped as "The Bitttersweet Wilderness Area", includes blocking normal access to Prong and Oberlin by blocking the long established public roads with gates - which are already in place awaiting padlocks. Presently, the road to Bittersweet remains open to vehicle traffic. However, bulldozers have reduced the number of parking spaces near the launch site from five to two. A small "parking lot" several hundred yards south of the lake is in place for "overflow parking." It remains to be known if the DNR will provide valet parking service.

I'm continually amazed that so many of our governmental bureaucracies fail to practice common sense policies such as - "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", or "why waste money on non-necessary projects!"

For years and years I actually believed the woods and waters owned by the state belonged to all Wisconsin's citizens to use and enjoy regardless of age, gender or physical capability. Guess that was only a myth.

Comments from Jim Dean Prong Lake is one that Petey and I fished many times--Bittersweet only if we had enough energy to drag the canoe we borrowed from Andy (Buckshot). Joe Prombo cast toward shore one time and got hung up on a branch leaning over the lake. He reeled it up slowly to flip it over the branch, and a northern jumped up and grabbed his bait. Our only fish. JIM

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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