Traveling Trails Less Traveled. By Buckshot Anderson
For April 2nd, 2010 Edition.
As I begin this column the date is March 15th - "the ides of March" - and the northwoods is having one of the earliest snowmelts in history! Generally at this time we should be experiencing some of the best ice fishing for panfish but with the much warmer than normal March we've had so far, ice conditions are already getting iffy. But I'm sure Old Ma Nature will toss some traditional March weather at us before the month has ended. It's very likely the old ditty, "When March comes in like a lamb it'll go out like a lion" will turn out to be true. By the time you read this column we'll know one way or the other!
One body of water my pals and I fished frequently years ago is Chequamegon Bay in Lake Superior near Ashland, Wisconsin. We traditionally fished its gin clear waters in September when the Coho salmon began venturing close to shore, again just after ice-out when most every trout and salmon specie were common and several times each winter when the ice was safe.
About twenty-five years ago, in early April, two of my pals and I received an invitation to spend a Saturday jigging for lake trout in the historic bay. The invitation came from a gentleman from the Ashland area who was touted as "the guru of Chequamegon Bay" when it came to ice fishing. How could we refuse?
Hank Maines, Neal "Buckshot" Long and I loaded our gear and met our guide in Ashland. From there we drove to a public access location at the mouth of the Sioux River off highway 13 a few miles north of Washburn, loaded our sleds with gear and headed northeast over the frozen surface on snowmobiles.
The guru took the lead with Neal driving the second sled. I sat behind the driver and Hank sat on top of our gear on the sled, enjoying the exhaust fumes from the noisy, belching beast. Within a few minutes we passed the southern tip of Madeline Island and continued northeast across the bleak, frozen landscape.
Minutes and miles continued to pass and as I squinted over Neal's shoulder I began to detect what looked like blue snow some quarter mile ahead. However, blue snow only exists in Paul Bunyan tales, and what I was viewing was the rippling surface of Lake Superior!
Our guide finally called a halt to our travels some several hundred yards from open water. To put it mildly - I was a bit nervous. The weather was unseasonably warm with a clear blue sky and a southwest wind. The temperature rose into the low 60s and flooded the surface of the ice with water. Tales of ice anglers being stranded on chunks of ice that occasionally break off the main body of ice and begin the long trip to Canada filtered through my mind. But hey, we were with the Guru of Chequamegon Bay! Not to worry!
Well, to make a modest length tale a bit shorter, we drilled holes through a foot of honeycombed ice and jigged for four hours over 110 feet of water. The current below the ice was so strong it was impossible to keep our Swedish pimples near the bottom. Our reward included two modest sized lake trout and large sized sunburns.
A second unforgettable event of a different type took place on the ice-covered surface of Chequamegon Bay about five years later. This time my two companions were Vernon (JR) DeWitt of Sayner and Dr. Thomas Tilkens of Green Bay. The three of us endured the 100-mile plus journey to the fabled winter fishing destination in late March in quest of whatever species happened to accept our offerings.
Tom was the driver and he parked his Suburban in the public parking area at the mouth of the Onion River, which is but a short distance north of where the Sioux River flows into Gitche Gumee. We walked out from shore but a few hundred yards and spent an enjoyable four or five hours inhaling some of Earth's purest air and swapped angling lies with perfect strangers doing exactly what we were doing. No records were set but we did land several modest sized trout and salmon, about enough to stink up the kitchen. We decided to call it a day about 2:30 and Tom left the ice ahead of JR and I in order to turn his vehicle around and let the beast warm up.
I rounded up my equipment and started slowly walking towards Tom's vehicle, as Jr. was still winding up his tip-ups. Near the mouth of the Onion River I discovered several open holes ice fishermen had used earlier in the day. Suspecting the water to be fairly shallow I decided to flop down on the ice, cover my head with my coat's hood, and see if I could spot any denizens of the deep cruising below the ice.
My eyes gradually became accustomed to the shadowy world below me but nary a fish could I see. I continued to lie motionless for perhaps a minute or two and then heard someone running towards me. I tilted my head slightly upward to discover my good friend, the doctor, racing towards me with fear written all over his face.
When he saw me move, he stopped, looked at me and shook his finger at me prior to beginning a long verbal rant chastising my Scandinavian ancestry, my morbid sense of humor and various other insults based purely on bigotry. When Tom saw me lying prostrate on the ice he envisioned I had suffered a heart attack! Even though I hadn't attempted to pull a practical joke, I was pretty proud of the results. I laughed all the while Tom was berating my impromptu accidental stunt! Hell, what are friends for anyway?
He still hasn't forgiven me, even though I remind him of the incident quite regularly.
Memorable incident number three took place about two years later about the same time at the same location. Hank Maines and I were ice fishing the same general area with virtually no luck whatsoever. Hank kept steadily moving further from shore drilling new holes and jigging for a few minutes, then moving again.
By Divine Intervention Hank blundered upon a tiny rock and gravel hump 35 feet below the surface surrounded by much deeper water. The small bar was about a quarter mile from shore and no other anglers were in the vicinity. Hank's efforts located a huge school of jumbo-sized ravenous whitefish! His whistle and "thumbs up" prompted me to quickly join him.
During the next 45 minutes we caught 27 of the silver-sided beauties, several of which hit the scales at five pounds! I use the word "we" loosely - as Hank caught 25 of the 27 fish! His hot lure was a blaze orange Swedish pimple, the only one of its kind in either of our tackle boxes. In desperation I drilled a hole just inches from the one Hank was fishing in, but to no avail. The whitefish wanted blaze orange Swedish pimples and nothing else. Actually, the two I landed were snagged under their jaws.
Wouldn't you think a friend would lend his friend a hot lure to use for a few minutes? The answer is "NO!"
Hell, what are friends for anyway?
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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