CRIVITZ, Wis. -- After decades of ignoring this wonderful territory, it was very comforting to realize that not everything in my world has changed.
There are numerous resorts, lodges, and inns in the Crivitz area, but I chose to return to Popp's for sentimental reasons.The last time I was here was well over 50 years ago. Leon Poppstill runs a super establishment.
Even though this is still wild country, Crivitz it's no longer a hokum-pokem, sleepy hamlet. One can remember the times when the Crivitz area used to be a getaway for mobsters and bootleggers.
Tall cell-phone towers are now surrounded by massive pine and spruce trees. Supper clubs here have thriving spring and summer business much of the year.
This is where my late Father, Irv, came to leave the stress by the side of the road. This was where Irv's big-trunked Buick would schlep everything imaginable for a 1950s fishing adventure. I learned the basics of becoming a man here, and tucked those lessons away for later use.
Crivitz is no longer a bump on the map. But in those early days it would be sidestepped for places that were just as woodsy and perhaps had better fishing.
And then Mike Mladenik showed up and made smallmouth bass fishing a household word back home and up here on his river turf.
Mladenik devotes most of his energy working on the Menominee River. And that means finding and catching big smallmouth bass.
In fact, this former Lyons, Ill., carpenter is so happy with his guide service he would never consider living anyplace else. Mike's repertoire includes a lot of topwater popping and chugging. He alternates between surface baits and whacky worming.
I, on the other hand, stuck with with Little Action Mac pre-rigged worms. In fact, most of the smallies we caught came from 1½-3 feet of water. Every hit I had came on the Mac.
My father loved fishing the Menominee River with live bait, like nightcrawlers and shiner minnows.
I watched him catch and boat a dozen smallmouth while I just churned the water with small spinners. I was a slow learner back then.
The Menominee River forms the boundary between northeast Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. You can fish the river with either a Wisconsin or Michigan license.
While we were batting the breeze in between strikes, river sturgeon occasionally jumped out of the water. Nice diversion.
Mike decided to move the boat to a 6-foot depth. We subsequently made long casts to shoreline areas. It wasn't more than a minute or two before we both had strikes.
I purposely left the ultra-light rods at home and was using a Grandt medium action XLH-70 spinning rod. It was spooled with 8-pound mono.
I was talking and simultaneously casting when my Little Action Mac started going sideways. A huge smallie stripped line off my reel, even with the drag screwed all the way down. And then it broke the surface in a typical smallmouth jump. We both gasped and declared together that it was a 6-pound fish. It unhooked itself and swam off.
Gloom hit us like a hammer.
And then I made another cast to an ultra-shallow stretch and a repeat performance ensued. A five minute battle yielded a legitimate 5-pound fish, and everything was just absolutely peachy again because the brute saved the day for this column.
I could go on and on about Mike's expertise on the Menominee River but I only have a certain amount of print space.
I'm going back in October for the fall bite as well -- and bringing a load of Little Action Macs along.
If you go
Where: Crivitz/High Falls, Wis.
Phone: (715) 757-3511)
Guide services: Mike Meladenik, www.bigsmallmouthbass.com