Traveling Trails Less Traveled. By Buckshot Anderson

For June 18th, 2010 Edition.

Tomorrow, June 19th, marks the final fishing "opening day", which is the first day largemouth and smallmouth bass may legally be kept. The DNR wisely moved the opening to the third Saturday in June about a dozen years ago, which is about where the traditional opening for bass was many years previously.

During my youth bass season opened on June 20th, regardless of which day of the week that date occurred. Then, in the mid-fifties the fishery biologists for the then Wisconsin Conservation Department decided bass produced bass so prolifically that it wouldn't hurt their populations if the season opened earlier. So- despite a very loud howl of protest from knowledgeable anglers the WCD rule makers deemed bass could be legally kept in early May as soon as the open water season began for walleye and pike. In my opinion that decision turned out to be one of the worst of the worst decisions that organization ever made.

The early opening for bass allowed "meat fishermen" to easily harvest bass off their spawning beds before their annual reproduction cycle was completed. Quality bass fishing went into a tailspin, especially on the smaller landlocked lakes where bass populations were low to begin with. This insanity continued for almost three decades before the trend was reversed and the opening for keeping bass was moved back into June.

But even then the reversal was accomplished in steps. First the opening date was set for the first Saturday in June. That helped protect the spawning fish somewhat, but many years when we have a late or cold spring bass are still actively spawning in early June. As more pressure mounted to further protect spawning bass the opening date was shoved forward to the second Saturday in June and finally moved to where it presently is and hopefully will remain!

Today's modern anglers view bass as a sport fish, as few nimrods keep bass for table fare, which was the norm years ago. Back in the good old days many anglers measured the success of their fishing trips by how many pounds of fillets were produced. Thankfully, that mindset has greatly diminished as the years passed and now more and more fisherpersons fish for the sport and the thrill of the catch. "Catch and Release" is now a common occurrence rather than "Fillet and cook."

When I was introduced into the guiding profession in 1951 "limiting out" was the goal of most anglers. Often a guide's tip depended on how many pounds of frozen fish would be trucked to the client's home after their fishing vacation up north was complete. Bragging rights centered more on the poundage and number of fish kept than the memory of the catching. Fortunately, that concept is no longer the prevailing attitude.

Tourists with fishing on their minds began trickling into Northern Wisconsin during the 1880s well before the logging era peaked. Logging camps that were situated on the shores of regional lakes began housing summer anglers and billed the accommodations as "fishing camps." Very little lumbering was conducted during the summer months and some of the penniless lumberjacks began guiding the dudes and city slickers that ventured north to ply the gin clear, pristine northern waters.. Thus began the tourist industry in Northern Wisconsin.

The trickle of tourists eventually increased to a dribble and continued to slowly grow in numbers until World War II. During the war years, 1942 through 1945, tourism dropped off somewhat but resurged with a vengeance during the 1950s. Since then tourist numbers have increased tenfold, as has the pressure and traffic on our lakes.

From the earliest beginnings of tourism up north and well into the middle of the 1900s transporting ones catch from the placid waters of the north country to home base - wherever that was - was difficult. Most all of those early vacationers arrived up north via rail. Anglers kept their uncleaned catch from spoiling by refrigerating it in an icehouse on ice harvested from the lakes during the winter and covered with sawdust for insulation. When it was time to board the train for the return trip to their home the angler's bounty was placed in a wooden box filled with ice and sawdust for the trip south. At the conclusion of the trip it was the responsibility of the anglers to clean their own fish or take it to the local butcher shop and pay to have the butcher do the dirty work.

As a kid it was part of my chore duty to pack our guest's fish as described above. But our resort added one additional item to the refrigerated package. Sphagnum moss harvested from a nearby swamp was dampened and spread in layers between the fish, sawdust and ice to keep the product clean and moist. If I try real hard I can still recall the unmistakable odor of week old fish, wet sawdust and sphagnum moss! And no - that combination of scents wouldn't make a good aftershave!

During the decades of the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s most of my regular clients kept most every fish that was legal to keep within the framework of the daily size and bag limits. The catch was than transported to Pop & Ole's fish cleaning establishment where it was transformed into fillets, wrapped and frozen. When it was time for the vacationing anglers to pack up and head home the accumulated packages of frozen fish were packed in coolers with dry-ice, which was readily available at many local sport shops. (Don't bother trying to locate dry-ice locally in this day and age.) Oh yes, how times have changed!

Currently bragging rights tend to be more about how many fish were caught and released that how many ended up on the cleaning table. And that's a good thing!

What I've suggested does not mean I'm against keeping fish for human consumption. Not by a long shot! The Anderson family dines on fresh fish quite frequently and I believe most everyone knows the stuff is good for the body. I have no problem with anglers who keep a limit catch as long as the finished product ends up as food and not tossed out in the trash after the packages of fillets are freezer burned. I do know this wonton waste did and probably still does occur and that is not a good thing.

Decades ago I annually fished with folks who over the years took countless pounds of fillets home. I also vividly recall hearing about tossing out packages of fish that had resided in their freezers for several years in order to make room for the fresh batch. The good news is I haven't heard a story like that for many years!

So don't be afraid to keep a few fish for the table. Also, keep in mind fresh from the lake fillets are much tastier than frozen ones, and the best of all are those cooked on the shore in the shade of a pine with hot fries, bacon, beans and maybe a can or two of what made Milwaukee famous!

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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