Traveling Trails Less Traveled. By Buckshot Anderson
For August 20th, 2010 Edition.
Bibon Bound (Part one of two)
It was shortly after midnight when what would be my three companions for a two or three day river trip rolled into our yard. Tom Tilkens, his son, Mark, and five year old grandson, Grant, had booked a unique canoeing, camping and trout fishing outing with me in January - and tomorrow, August 4th, the adventure would begin.
I allowed the threesome to sleep in late rather than getting started before it was daylight in the swamp as is the usual time to depart for this particular excursion. By nine we were heading north on highway 51 in two heavily laden trucks, canoes secured on top with anxious anticipation. A half hour stop at Michael's in Manitowish Waters for breakfast and another 15 minute stop in Ashland for ice delayed our arrival at the put in point on the White River until eleven-twenty.
Our canoes, supplies and equipment was unloaded where the Sutherland Bridge spans the historic White, then one truck was driven to our takeout location where county highway E crosses the river near the small community of Mason and left there to await our arrival sometime in the next day or two, depending on how rapidly we completed our journey.
The portion of the river we would invade is known as the Bibon Swamp. The gigantic wetlands spans thousands of acres and is without a doubt the most secluded, wild, scenic, remote, wilderness area in Wisconsin, bar none! On a straight line our put-in and take-out locations are only five and a half miles apart. But the meandering White devours roughly 22 miles of switchbacks and wide loops throughout the Bibon. The most interesting thing about this stretch of the river is travelers will see no homes along its banks or encounter any roads crossing the river. It's 22 miles of pure wonderful wilderness!
Tom and I had traveled this stretch three times in previous years, our most recent in 1999. Mark and Grant were first time explorers with little or no inclination of what lay ahead. But they were not to be disappointed!
Personally, this adventure would be my sixth trip through the Bibon, my first in 1988 with Don Capoccia, a long time client and friend and most recently in 2002 with our daughter, Anna, grandson Josh and son-in-law Chris.
It was precisely 12:13 when we pushed our overloaded canoes into the darkly stained waters of the White and headed downstream. The river was considerably higher than normal for August due to the torrential rains the area had recently received. This of course caused the water to flow faster than normal as it pushed its way towards eventually being deposited in Old Gitche Gumme. The temperature was just entering the low 80s, - a brisk and gusty west wind aided us along our generally easterly course and a bright blue sky stretched from horizon to horizon. Who could ask for anything more? But actually we did ask for more! TROUT - for catching excitement and eating pleasure!
Mark and I occupied the lead canoe, Tom and Grant brought up the rear. Mark, in the bow seat, cast relentlessly while I manned a paddle and navigated the twisting course, occasionally setting the paddle aside to flip small spinners at likely looking places that might house a trout. Grandpa Tom used the travel time to our first campsite to begin Grant's lessons in "Casting 101."
Within the first half hour Mark connected with a very plump and feisty fifteen-inch German brown. But our expectations of a possible banner day was short lived as the next three hours only produced four additional trout, only one of which was of legal length.
However, our leisurely advance deeper into the mysterious Bibon was anything but boring. Several deer watched us pass, frightened muskrats hurried to avoid the human invaders, songbirds flitted from bank to bank and the peace and quiet was well beyond the value of the price of admission!
Perhaps the most negative aspect of an extended trip through the Bibon Swamp is the scarcity of even minimal quality camping sites. Due to the low-lying wetlands, coupled with the unusually high water, firm, river side areas containing dry ground required to make a comfortable camp are few and far between. Also, the native vegetation along the bank of the stream is comprised mainly of thick stands of speckled alder, tall grasses, vines, raspberry bushes, and all types of picky and thorny shrubs.
It generally takes about six hours to reach site number one. But on this trip, the hurried current and a brisk following wind allowed us to reach our intended first night stop in three hours and forty-five minutes! However, all four of us agreed a long, relaxing late afternoon and early evening on solid ground in paradise was A-OK with us!
The first campsite is situated on the north bank of the river resulting in a total lack of shade on sunny days. The small grassy area is about the size of a normal living room, just enough space for two tents, two canoes, a batch of equipment and the existing fire pit. Dry wood is as scarce as hen's teeth and requires the wood gatherer to plow through waist high vegetation of the variety mentioned in a previous paragraph. After our tents were erected I donned sweat pants, shouldered my axe and plunged into a tangle of riverside alders to harvest a bundle of dead and very dry firewood. Next I filleted Mark's two fish, which would be the main course at tomorrows breakfast.
Within an hour our camp was ship-shape. Folding canvas lawn chairs, coolers and various containers surrounded the fire pit. Ground pads and sleeping bags were spread in place inside the tents, as were our duffle bags of clothing and etc. The canoes were dragged safely ashore and tipped upside down to be used as additional storage for equipment during the night. Now it was time for a swim!
For those of you who have never taken a dip in a trout stream let me say the initial shock of what feels like ice cold water on sweat covered skin is - well - a shock. Boy is it a shock! But also so refreshing after your body accepts the fact its being soaked in what feels like ice water!
Supper consisted of four huge rib eye steaks, simmered to perfection over the glowing coals of our alder fire supplemented with a liberal amount of charcoal. To compliment the steaks, four huge Idaho spuds wrapped in aluminum slowly turned to baked potatoes within the coals. A stick of melted butter, plus salt and pepper, produced perfectly edible veggies and a mixture of spices added to the steaks made the simple meal - Ohhhhh, its soooooo good."
As we silently and leisurely consumed our gourmet supper we watched thick black clouds rapidly approaching from Lake Superior. We had barely finished our meal and cleaned the dishes when the first raindrops began pelting down upon us. Things that needed to be kept dry were hastily shoved under our canoes or tossed inside our tents and then we took shelter.
Within minutes the rain turned into a downpour and wild wind gusts buffeted out tents! Our sunny day was now but a recent memory!
(Part two and the conclusion next week.)
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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