Fish Story: Dispatch from Lake Wisconsin
AS FISH STORIES GO, this one was pretty good.
Rich was standing next to his hand-made felt-covered "Captain, Ship & Crew" gaming table (complete with a new Lazy
Susan feature to allow a bunch of beer-gutted men to spin it toward themselves when it was their turn to roll) and there was a gleam in his eye.
"This acorn was sitting up on a log near one of the fingers over there," he said, referring to an honored spot or
"honey hole" on Lake Wisconsin, "And this squirrel jumps off a branch and goes down there and grabs it." Rich gestured the way a squirrel might at finding such largesse under his nose.
"He's sitting there eating it, " Rich goes on, spinning the imaginary acorn in his finger like an ear of corn on the cob,
"When all of a sudden this huge walleye breaks the surface of the water near the log and WHAM! The son of a gun grabs the squirrel with his mouth and takes him under!" Rich closes his hands together like
they're the jaws of a giant bear trap being sprung and holds them there for a while for effect. He surveys the group.
There's Skinny with his son Brian, Bozo (who goes by "Boze"), the comparatively calm newcomer to the group called "The
Reverend," Bob, Rich's son Mike, and me.
"Wow!" I say.
"Really?" Someone else asks.
"Man!" Another says.
We're all seeing in our mind's eye the brilliant flash of the enormous fish leaping up and stuffing the hapless squirrel into his jaws
with lightning-quick nature-film speed.
But Rich isn't done. He lets it sink in for a while. “A few minutes go by," Rich goes on. "And then . . ." (He can't
stop himself from smiling now) "The walleye pops back out of the water and spits
another acorn out on the log."
He has us and knows it. It's the perfect fish story, turning the fish into the fisherman. It addresses the strangeness of the
sport in its most primal form, coming up with the right food or replica of food to make your catch, the striving for the perfect lure and the newest devices to help ensure success. Earlier in the day, Rich's son
Mike asked someone near the bait shop what the walleye seem to be going after.
"I've had some luck on tiger-stripe Rapalas," the old-timer said. Mike goes in and buys every one of them off the rack,
in all sizes. Later, we're watching a fishing show on cable because the chop of the water prevents us from being on the boat, and an infomercial comes on for a lure that makes a whirring sound and blinks. At this,
Mike is scornful. "Yeah, it's an attempt to make the fish believe he's in Vegas and he lets his guard down," he scoffs. Most of the group has been up here in Poynette all week, fishing
the finger by day, spinning fish stories, sipping whiskey, and rolling dice at night. Rich's gaming table is a thing of beauty, really,
with its smooth felt nap and its effortless glide over small ball bearings in the base. "When you're retired," he says, "You dream up all kinds of weird projects." The spinning board idea came
about when some of the guys complained about having to walk up to the board. The risk of spilling rocks glasses was too great.
But God help you if you complain about anything to Bozo. He's a grizzly bear who can rip you to shreds with insults and swear words
faster than anyone I've ever seen, truly the Don Rickles of the North Woods. Underneath, I suspect he's more like "Gentle Ben," but it's better to keep a reasonable, respectful distance.
Skinny, who is 70 years old, starts in with the story about how he met his new bride, also a 70-something widower. "I pushed my
shopping cart right into hers at the Jewel," he says, "And then I asked her if she wanted to go out to dinner with me."
"Maybe she thought you were a psycho and was afraid to say no," Mike grunts. Skinny objects to being called a psycho in
some colorful language directed at Mike, which jump-starts Bozo from his hibernation, and he lays into both Mike and Skinny. Rich comes in tapping a styrofoam cup, signaling that it's time for a little nipper of
whiskey, which seems like a good idea.
Rich, who has been coming to this place for thirty years, is clearly the host, as he whips up a batch of spam and eggs cooked to order,
with a dash of garlic salt on the peachy domes of yolk. Skinny's manning the toasters, stacking up the buttered slices, and afterwards, we'll drop some of those Rapalas into the water for the walleye to munch on,
acorns be damned.
Before we leave, we have some all right, gorgeous white filets lining the freezer wrapped in plastic, fresh from Skinny's cleaning
knife. Those filets, proof though they may be of success on the lake, could barely live up to the stories told at dinner about how they came to be there, amid the dialogue, the good-natured disputes, and the jokes
from this familiar cast of characters on the annual trip to the lake. Some of the faces are new, like the Reverend, who turns out not to be a Reverend at all.
That was just another fish story.~
©Mark Andel 2001
Back to Table of Contents
Lost Weekend at Poynette
THE ONLY ONE missing was Snow White.
We rented the cabin at Family Time Resort outside of Poynette, Wisconsin (a curiously named resort, since most of the people there were
fiftyish men, with spiky white stubble on their faces that looked like they were sprouting toothbrush bristles). We were no different -- the seven of us: Itchy, Skinny, Richie, Mikey, Bobby, and, by the time it was
over, Pukey and Sleepy. The seven dwarfs of Lake Wisconsin.
The North Woods casts an enchanted spell, especially when the leaves are giving up the ghost on their green and appear to be immolating
in the red evening sky. Only King Lear dies prettier than chlorophyll. As we offloaded the trucks Friday night, it felt as though a congress of fat walleye (Parliament? Gaggle?) were "out there" below the
black moonlit surface, smooth as sheet glass. They'd have to wait till dawn. First things first, and we had dice to roll, country guitar songs to play, cigars to smoke, and sour mash to sample.
Richie had constructed a dice board, covered with Vegas green felt,
and it wasn't long before Skinny was "on a roll." The game itself was an arcane variety that was difficult to track, especially after getting into the paper cups of Early Times. I shook the padded
vinyl-covered dice cup and yelled, "Yahtzee!" Itchy gave me a murderous stare. Richie started thinking up improvements for the board for next year. We concurred that a "Lazy Susan" arrangement
might be just the thing.
Get a bunch of guys together in the North Woods for a while, without a trace of womanly influence around, and they all start inventing
projects that somehow allow them to fully participate in something without ever moving. Mikey, who is something of a cross between Jim Belushi and Andrew "Dice" Clay, suggested a Plexiglas dome to keep the
occasional errant throws of the dice from dropping to the floor. See what I mean? It was a man who invented remote control, and he probably did it on a fishing trip.
Next morning, after a breakfast of chocolate donuts and beer, Bobby
fired up the boat, and had to suffer more than a few "Cap'n Bob" remarks. Itchy had great stacks of fishing lures as high as that enormous Muskie statue outside the Fishing Hall of Fame -- fuzzy grubs,
willow-leaf spinners, spoons, Rapalas, every variety of crank bait, and some rather anemic nightcrawlers and sluggish minnows in a bucket. I jabbed a live minnow through the head with a hook, and watched as it
skimmed and slapped along the water, absolutely keelhauled, as the boat took off.
Of course after the night of Early Times, I could feel its pain -- and it seemed to me the minnow was getting off easy. I cast a
glance back at Jeff, whose line went unattended while he dropped his head onto his chest. Pukey and Sleepy.
How does the tale end? We got skunked. Zero fish. Not even a lovelorn frog in the bunch. But it was a good chance to get together with
some good guys I've known for nearly twenty years. And in the hubbub and buzz of everyday life, that's enough of a fairy tale ending for me.~
©Mark Andel 2001
Back to Table of Contents
The $100,000 Seafood Appetizer
If fish knew what trouble and expense we go through to catch them, they’d laugh their gills off.
Mid-spring, the crew makes its annual trek to the Family Time Resort on Lake Wisconsin in Poynette, in search of the elusive walleye
– or whatever else the murky lake will yield up. There’s retired Rich and his hilariously outgoing (and occasionally profane) son Mike, retired Skinny, with his neatly parted head of Johnny Carson hair, Bozo,
with his irascible hard shell covering a sweet center, like a piece of hard candy that cusses, the Preacher, who gives the impression he knows where the fish are and he’s not telling, Bob, with a salt and pepper
beard that makes him look more like Hemingway every year (and therefore a more fearsome fisherman as the years go by), and some new additions this year, including Mike’s former boss and my former college roommate
Before we left, John muttered something about a “transducer,” which translated into having to purchase a new fish finder, a
sonar-type device that clearly shows fish swimming under the boat and stacked logs on the bottom of the lake, like a Nintendo Play Station version of “Master Fisherman.” If World War II ships had these things
installed, there would have been a lot more Japanese subs sunk. Somebody in the crew claimed that they now make fish finders with full-color graphics and cameras mounted underwater.
“What’s next?” Bozo grunted. “They gonna start renting out Navy Seals to attach the fish to your line?” The cost of John’s
fish finder? $200.00.
John’s boat, which he split expenses on with another friend, is the type guides use, with live wells for fish and bait, multiple
compartments, swiveling seats, a big 125-horsepower outboard motor, and another trolling motor up-front. Cost: $17,000.
And then there’s the need for something to haul the boat to the lake. For that, there’s a shiny red truck with a trailer hitch and
a padded transport trailer: Cost? 27,000. Rich has a boat, trailer, and truck too. Ditto all the above.
Since each member of the crew is a semi-serious fisherman (Rich has been visiting this lake for twenty-plus years, and knows the
location of every weed bed and floating stump “deadheads” even without a fish finder) their tackle boxes are something to behold. There are compartments within compartments holding jigs, Rapalas, spoons,
spinners, split-shot sinkers, feathery flies, rubber grasshoppers, bobbers that have little lights on them for night fishing, plastic shiners and minnows with hooks attached to their underbellies: in short, the
works. John was horrified to find that at the bottom of my tackle box were a dozen or so golf balls that I had inexplicably put there. Add in the rods, reels, the bottles of Gentleman Jack whiskey (I owe someone for
a few of these, but my memory is hazy for some reason and I forgot who it was) and all the other stuff purchased over the years by the crew and the figure would surely astonish
The donuts consumed on fishing trips would also add up to a pretty good buck. Bozo offered some to John and me when we got to the lake,
and when we accepted them, he sent out the general warning to all within earshot: “Bolt your cupboards! The horde of locusts has descended! The scourge has arrived!” He reeled us in pretty good
Meals out would be another category of expense, I suppose. On the way back, John and I went to a place called “Swan’s Dive” in
DeForest, Wisconsin, a gem of a place with a logo of a swan paddling happily through a martini glass. We had perfect cheese omelets and Dive potatoes, with green peppers and onions mixed with golden hash browns. We
got a table right away. Try doing that at a Richard Walker pancake house late on a Sunday morning when church lets out. Best deal in town.
Which leads me to a true consideration of the real bottom line. When the fish you catch are rolled in batter, deep fried, and cut up on
a plate and passed around as an appetizer among these guys who you see every year for a few days in the spring, money doesn’t even enter into the equation. Not the boat, nor the truck, nor the tackle, nor the
donuts. It ultimately boils down to something quite apart from that.
It’s getting up here and feeling the wind on your face when you head out toward the fingers of Lake Wisconsin, and getting that
strange tug on your line when you’ve hooked onto something, and listening to the adventures and misadventures of the guys in the crew in years past over a Styrofoam cup of bourbon, and hanging out, and laughing at
Mike until your jaws hurt.
©Mark Andel 2001
Back to Table of Contents
The Theory of Drifting
“When the wind is from the South,
it blows bait into a fish’s mouth.”
- Isaak Walton, The Compleat Angler
On the annual weekend fishing trip at Lake Wisconsin Resort with the gang over the weekend, I improved upon my theory of drifting.
Drifting involves not fighting against the current or trying too hard to stay where you are or struggling to get somewhere else. If you
battle the natural drift in a boat, you’ll end up tangling your line in the propellers of the outboard motor. Better to let the wind take your line out there and if a fish drifting along likes the looks of your
bait, it may decide to make it a meal. You pull the fish into the boat for a quick look and maybe a picture (provided it’s not a sheepshead), and throw it back. The simplicity of the theory would satisfy Chance
Drifting is about enjoying what’s out there to enjoy, getting away from the stranglehold of bills and chores and bosses, and
taking a weekend to eat junk and drink whiskey and bounce good-natured insults off of old friends. And after years of coming up here to this resort hard by the shores of Lake Wisconsin with lavender cottages to rent
and all the comforts of home, including pots, pans, appliances, coffeemakers, and cable t.v., you realize that your friends have sharpened their ribbing tools to an edge finer than their scaling knives.
Bozo’s there, slicing cheese for burger patties that are roughly the size of sofa cushions, and the first insult out of his mouth
when I walk in turns the room blue. Hillbilly Hank just nods and grins – he’s been at the receiving end of Bozo’s pointed barbs for years. Skinny will come in and blast Bozo with a withering remark of his own,
and Itchy will be over there fiddling with some lures. John will get into a discussion about transducers for fish-finders and his own theories about live bait over lures, then Rich will pour Seagram’s V.O. into a
Styrofoam coffee cup to about the halfway mark, and we start drifting.
We drift toward the spots out there on LakeWisconsin in our conversation, about bringing in a twenty-four pound drowsy carp last year
near the trestle, about finding a honey hole boiling with slab crappies after putting in at a favored place called “the fingers,” and about a good sauger caught earlier that afternoon near Whalen Grade.
Dave Lowery, the owner of Lake Wisconsin Resort (formerly Lowery‘s Family Time Resort), will join in as one of the gang, and makes
sure that everyone has what they need for a nice weekend (or week, if you’re retired like Rich) of nothing but drifting. The resort is a laid-back gem, with a full bait-and-tackle shop, a private boat launch,
skiff and pontoon rentals, a fish house for cleaning the catch of the day, and a nearby bar and grill that serves great steaks and seafood and big, meaty ribs – perfect fare for these guys. Dave’s wife Christine
is a charming lady who feeds squirrels that sit comfortably on her shoulder. She makes sure the cottages are kept in ship-shape, and will fill up your minnow bucket and get down a couple dozen nightcrawlers for you.
You come here, you don’t have to do much.
You should do plenty of that.
(For more information, you can visit the LakeWisconsin Resort web site at www.lowerysfamilytimeresort.com or call 608-635-7291 for reservations.)
©Mark Andel 2002
Back to Table of Contents