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updated: 5/30/2012 1:28 PM

Mike Jackson on life in the northwoods

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FIFIELD, Wis. -- I've invested years wondering if the folks in the north country sleep more soundly just by opening window versus us in Illinois, clicking the air conditioning on and off during sticky, stuffy nights.

Fred greeted me with trepidation and a halfhearted smile as I pulled my rig over to his side of the road. Fred is the kind of chap who doesn't need the warm beaches of Ft. Lauderdale, but rather prefers the nighttime sonatas of the loon and barn owl.

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I noticed Fred once before on my way to Butternut Lake, but because I was in a hurry to get to my destination and unhook the boat from the truck's hitch, I drove by that time. But I wanted to meet the guy in the front yard, so the next time I saw him, I stopped.

It turns out Fred's youthful escapades led him to a Key West shrimping operation, where he worked as a deck hand for a couple years. He decided he had enough of the rough-and-tumble lifestyle and returned to his one room apartment in Metropolis, Ill.

Metropolis is nestled on the banks of the Ohio River, where small-town gossip and one-time river-toughs once ruled the roost, trumping legitimate ways of life. And its modern-day claim to fame is the casino that caters to all "legal ages," with tour buses pulling up to unload another round of patrons.

Fred eventually laid claim to an old family house in Fifield, a place where anything above a whisper is front page news in a Park Falls newspaper.

I was once told there are more mink, beaver, coyotes, wolves, and white tail deer than people in the county. Not hard to believe. Fred likes it that way.

Sitting next to his upgraded home is an old 15-foot fiberglass Shell Lake Guide Boat, circa 1966, a gift from a friend in Red Wing, Minn.

"I don't need nothin' fancy to ride the river," Fred noted, referring to the nearby Flambeau. "I got a 9.8 outboard with a good prop, and it's just enough to get me to the walleye holes," he added.

Fred collects social security, a small pension and a few bucks from locals when he's asked to fell some trees for fire wood. He's more than happy with his reclusive lifestyle.

"My wife is long gone, and my two kids have a life of their own, but they do contact me a couple times a year," he sadly noted.

Fred would not allow me to take pictures of him and his homestead. He claims he likes his privacy. But that doesn't always work.

One time he managed to hook and boat a huge walleye on the river. A close-by boater snapped a photo of Fred lifting the big fish. It supposedly wound up on the desk of some guy working for a Wisconsin newspaper. But it never made its way to the sports page. That fish supposedly weighed 12 pounds.

When I'm traveling around the country I often stop along the road and say hello to people sitting in their old, faded, metal shell chairs plunked down on the porches. They have always been hospitable.

Fred looked at my boat and motor and whistled.

"Quite a rig you got there, friend," he said. "Must have cost some green."

I then told him about the surgery I had last year and the scare that went along with it. I also shared with him I felt I deserved a gift for myself because life is very short. He nodded in agreement.

"That's why I came here," he said softly. "That's why I try and fish the water here every day and thank God he gave it all to me in one lump sum."

•Contact Mike Jackson at angler88@comcast.net, and catch his radio show 6-7 a.m. Sundays on WSBC 1240-AM and live-streamed at www.mikejacksonoutdoors.com.

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