Traveling Trails Less Traveled. By Buckshot Anderson

For May 30th, 2008 Edition.

An old saying states, “most news is bad news”, which currently seems to be correct, was off set by some exceptionally good news in an article by Eric A. Johnson that appeared in the May 9th edition of the Times. I wish to add my congratulations to Ken Weber and Chip Nevoraski in their endeavor to revitalize a very old tried and true method of fishing. “Row trolling” has been in existence since the invention of the paddle and oar, but has all but disappeared from the northwoods except in the memory of a few old timers who practiced the art or similarly ancient anglers who came along for the ride.

Another old saying states, “what goes around comes around” and it is becoming more and more evident the age old method of row trolling is rapidly gaining interest and popularity on the waters of the north. And, -- that’s a good thing, a very good thing!

For generations of anglers who have never experienced a day on the water row trolling, there is now more than a glimmer of hope the opportunity to do so will once again become available. And so, -- I’d like to put in my two cents worth on the subject.

The term, “row trolling” is a very simple label for a much more complicated method of catching fish. The image the term “row trolling congers up is one of a relatively small, narrow, sleek wooden boat being propelled by someone with muscles such as Paul Bunyan had, pulling on a pair of seven foot white spruce oars while one or two anglers hang tightly to rods and reels while their lures trail far behind the boat attempting to entice a fish to strike. But there is much more to row trolling than simply trolling while someone rows!

First of all let’s turn back the clock about a hundred years and explore what some of the really old timers recalled about row trolling. The Froelich Brothers, who lived and fished the waters in and around Sayner and St. Germain during the early 1900s, related many of their experiences while row trolling during that long ago era. Mike, Joe and Bill were three siblings in the Froelich family that owned property on Lost Lake where Ed Gabe’s Lost Lake Condo’s are now located. During the early development of the property for a resort, which was later purchased by Ed Gabe, (who married the brother’s sister, Mary) the threesome often worked at the resort and one of their jobs was to obtain fresh food for the hogs.

Hog food existed in Lost Lake by the tons! Mike claimed he or one of his brothers would row while another brother occupied the rear seat and trolled a large metal spoon plug attached to the end of a very heavy chalk line. No fishing pole was used, and after a musky accepted their offering they “hand over handed” the beast into the boat. A few hours later a wheelbarrow filled with muskies would be presented to the waiting hogs for dinner. At the time muskies were very plentiful and were rated as “unfit for human consumption!” My, my, how times have changed!

Joe Froelich recorded numerous notes concerning his six decades as a guide and dedicated outdoorsman, (a copy of which recently came into my possession) and I’ll be sharing some of Joe’s memories on the subject of fish and fishing in my upcoming columns.

Row trolling guides of yesteryear were often hired by vacationing anglers who wanted to catch a musky, but didn’t want to expend their energy casting heavy lures for six to eight hours. Guides who “specialized” in row trolling for muskies often resembled a miniature Paul Bunyan after a busy summer! But most of the old time row-trolling guides actually fished differently than simply rowing and having their clients drag lines behind the boat.

Row trolling doesn’t restrict the anglers on board the boat from doing a bit of casting while the oarsperson rows. In fact most often fish catching takes place while anglers are casting rather than simply dragging the lines behind the boat.

Let’s spend a day angling for walleye with a legendary row-trolling guide of yesteryear, of which there were many!

Our equipment would consist of rather stiff steel or bamboo rods with casting reels that lacked both level wind free spool and drag mechanisms. Lines would be thick, heavy, black, and manufactured from silk, but after WW II, nylon. Terminal tackle would include a foot long chunk of “cat gut” leader material, a size one or two hook and a 3/8 oz. or larger sinker. Sometimes a “June bug spinner” would be attached to the hook to give the combination more flutter and flair. The hook would most likely be baited with a three to four inch chub, shiner, sucker or mud minnow.

As the veteran guide slowly rowed his Rhinelander, Thompson, Wick, Tomahawk or Manitowish guide model along the edge of a weed line or rock bar, the clients would cast their rigs at right angles from the boat. As the slowly moving boat continued forward the baited hooks would also slowly move backwards in a large arc until the bait was finally behind the boat. Imagine how much more territory is covered using this method rather than simply dragging the bait behind the boat!

This method would be repeated until a school of walleye was located. Then the guide tossed out his “spot marker” and held his boat in position with the oars while the clients cast towards the school of fish and harvested the bounty! Rarely did any of the old time rowing guides use an anchor! There is no method of “boat control” that can out maneuver a skilled oarsperson in one of those sleek “guide models.”

Another person who has and is doing great work in re-awaking the urge in anglers to once again take up row trolling is Eagle River guide Patricia Strutz. Among other things, the slight of build blond single handedly organized what has become a late fall row trolling musky classic. “The Bob Ellis Memorial Classic” honors the memory of a unique person who continued to row troll after the sport had pretty much withered and died. The annual event takes place in October on the lakes Bob loved to fish and has grown in popularity year after year. It’s a “no fee”, “no prize” catch and release event that allows modern day anglers to relive the days of wooden boats, wool, buckskin, plus the peaceful quiet beauty that yesteryears row trolling musky hunters experienced.

So, it looks like row trolling is being re-discovered. It’s kinda like a reminder on an outboard motor advertisement in St. Gemain Sport Shop and Marina; “Remember when your GPS and your fish locator was your grandpa?”

For more information about the Bob Ellis Classic contact “A Blond and Her Boat” on the web or call Patricia at 715-477-2603

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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