What will 2009 bring?_There’s potential for a big summer

Dean Bortz

Wisconsin Editor

It’s amazing how quickly we go from feast to famine in this
wonderful world of Wisconsin outdoors. Wasn’t it just yesterday
when it was September and all of those hunting opportunities joined
our list of fishing wishes that we tried to fit in before the boats
went under cover?

Now it’s January and we’re sitting under 16 to 25 inches of
snow, depending upon where you live. Last week, temperatures hit
rock bottom. For a couple of days last week, the mercury barely
made 5 below zero for daytime highs, not to mention the overnight
lows that ran anywhere from 15 below to 28 below across much of the
north. Suddenly, the list of outdoor opportunities is running no
longer than the mercury is high.

Ice fishing? Forget it. Who wants set tip-ups and keep holes
open when it’s 25 below? Predator hunting? Same thing. The last
time I tried calling coyotes when it was 25 below I only had a
mouth call – still do. Well, after the first series of calls, the
reed froze up. Should’a figured that, but didn’t. Next thing you
know, a lung full of air had my ear drums pushed out past my Stormy
Kromer. Reed froze up, don’t’cha know.

Well, I do now. I always meant to buy an electronic caller for
those cold nights, but never did. It seems to make more sense to
stay inside with some good company, hot chocolate, and a deck of
cards, instead. Gin rummy, anyone?

Before the thermometer hit bottom, I did get out for a couple of
snowshoe stomps. That’s always a good way to explore new country
while getting a little bit of exercise. But, the ‘shoes have been
leaning against the wall since Jan. 8. The forecast late last week
called for a warming trend into the high 20s this week. If that
happens, we’ll get back out on the snowshoes – maybe take along a
predator call and a rifle, too. That’s at least one thing to
do.

OK, so our outdoor options are limited. How else might a person
while away some time? Well, in the past, I’ve always used January
to start making plans for the coming year. The kids and I would sit
down with topo maps and plat books to make a list of new places to
explore in the summer or fall – make up a list of new lakes to hit
or public land to explore for hunting. I can still do that, but the
last nestling flew the coop in August and he’s in California now,
playing missile launcher with the Marine Corps. He used to make
sure we’d get started on the list in January.

I must say that I’ve surprised myself, just a bit, in that I’ve
started my 2009 list already – even in my son’s absence. The list
is rounding out nicely. Now I just have to make it through the rest
of January. Once February and March roll around, we’ll be able to
start looking at summer commitments, then fill in the open dates
from this year’s “wish list.” There’s some good stuff on there,
too. I’d say that a canoe camping and fishing trip to the Sylvania
Wilderness Area just across the border in Michigan’s Upper
Peninsula ranks right at the top of the list. The scouting for that
trip was completed last fall. I really like the prospects for that
trip.

The Sylvania tract isn’t the only place to enjoy a canoe camping
and fishing trip, though. Wisconsin’s Northern Highland-American
Legion State Forest has, I’ll say, dozens of canoe campsites along
canoe trails that follow lakes and rivers. Canoe camping in the
NH-AL isn’t as “structured” as in Sylvania, but it’s not difficult
to make up a route and follow it from Point A to Point B.

We also scouted some campsites in the Boulder Junction area of
the NH-AL last summer. They’ll provide a great jumping-off spot for
a combination of big lake, small lake, and river fishing. Some of
the spots even have great swimming beaches for those days when it’s
hot and the fish just aren’t biting.

The past couple of summers we’ve been working the “mid-section”
of the Manitowish River between Rest Lake (below the dam in town
near the Pea Patch) and the little hamlet of Manitowish (think the
Ding-a-ling Restaurant and you’re there). Now it’s time to make a
run farther down the Manitowish. Maybe from the Bear River into the
lower Manitowish and then into the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage.

The Turtle River drainage area in Iron and northwestern Vilas
County takes in a big swath of wild country filled with
interconnected rivers and lakes. I’ve had this area on my list for
years, but have never spent a lot of time in there, other than for
fishing a lake now and then from a boat.

The light came on in December while I was browsing through maps
in a Minocqua store. The Turtle River system presents any number of
possibilities. You could start a couple of miles east of Cedar Lake
(east of the town of Mercer) and take a route through Cedar,
Catherine, Fisher, Spider, Oxbow, Echo, and Rice before you even
cross Hwy. 51. There you would go from Pike Lake through Lake of
the Falls before hitting the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage at the Iron
County campground which, coincidentally enough, is called Lake of
the Falls County Park. Hey, I have some friends who camp there
every year. I wonder if they’d offer up a cool one to friends in
need? One way to find out, I say.

(Note to self: Also make room for a run on the North Fork of the
Flambeau River – didn’t make that one in 2008.)

Hey, things are stacking up nicely already, and I haven’t even
touched the list of new lakes for 2009. Well, some of those lakes
will be on the canoe routes we hit this summer, but I do want to
get back to Escanaba – that DNR research lake in Vilas County. We
had a good time out there last summer, and that lake – and area in
general – could stand more exploration. I could see another trip
back to Lac Vieux Desert. It’s not a new lake, but I just started
fishing it a little bit in the past year and it has treated me
pretty well. A trip back to Lac Vieux Desert also could serve as a
rallying point for fishing smaller lakes on either side of the
border.

One fishing goal for 2009 is to have someone in my boat catch a
20-inch smallmouth. I’ve never had a 20-incher in the boat, despite
fishing spots like Chequamegon Bay. During the past 15 years, many
northern Wisconsin lakes have seen their smallmouth populations
improve dramatically. It’s not too difficult to find 16- to
19-inchers in most smallie lakes, but 20-inchers still are a
challenge. We’ll see if we can carve that notch in the canoe paddle
this summer.

Hmm. Maybe it helped to take some time to sit down and look
things over – a little time to regroup and focus on what’s ahead.
Forget about January. With all of the possibilities out there for
the coming months, I guess I can bide my time for the rest of the
winter. I’m really looking forward to this summer.

How about you?

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