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updated: 10/31/2012 1:01 PM

A smallmouth adventure worth shouting about

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  • Les Mandlestein with a 5-pound smallmouth bass on a recent trip to the Menominee River near Crivitz, Wis., guided by Mike Mladenik.

    Les Mandlestein with a 5-pound smallmouth bass on a recent trip to the Menominee River near Crivitz, Wis., guided by Mike Mladenik.
    Photo by Mike Jackson


CRIVITZ, Wis. -- Today's column will contain numerous quotes and notes from a local angler that even to this day has trouble controlling his adrenaline levels while in pursuit of his quarry.

I have shared a boat with countless anglers that were often excited as the days went on. But I can safely say no one can match the energy exhibited by my latest partner.

"Woweeeee, holy smoke, yikes, for a start," screamed Vernon Hills fisherman Les Mandlestein.

"Unreal, spectacular, phenomenal, and I can't believe this action," Mandlestein kept calling out.

I had returned to the Crivitz area in the fall ritual of finding and catching trophy smallmouth bass.

This time, Les and I rode in Mike Mladenik's boat on another smallie quest on the fabled Menominee River.

We missed the major color transformation of leaves and yet the orange hues from the tamarack trees held on for our arrival, and that in itself was well worth the drive north.

Les and I only spent a day and a half with Mladenik, but that was more than enough time to satiate our quest for trophy smallmouth bass.

His bait well was loaded with jumbo red-tail chubs. Because Les didn't bring any gear with him, I equipped him with a 7-foot, medium-action XLH Grandt spinning rod. I had the exact same setup. The reels were spooled with 8-pound Suffix braid with 6-foot fluorocarbon leaders.

I learned long ago that 1/0 circle hooks go a long way in preventing the inevitable gut-hooking scenario. Those circle hooks wind up in the corner of a fish's mouth and preclude major internal surgery.

But back to Les and his never-ending adrenaline rush.

On the first couple of minutes on the river on day one, Les and I flipped our jumbo minnows near tree stumps. It wasn't more than 30 seconds before both rods jerked down ward signaling we each had big fish inhaling the baits.

Even with 8-pound braid and 10-pound test fluorocarbon, it was important we allow the reels' drags to do what they were supposed to accomplish, allowing some give and take for these battling brutes.

Les brought in the first one, a true trophy weighing more than 5-pounds. My fish seemed to be a clone of his.

This spectacular action lasted for about three hours, with nothing boated under 3 pounds.

Late October weather in northeast Wisconsin can change in seconds. We experienced falling temperatures, rain, and some heavy winds. And we didn't care because we continued to catch jumbo fish. I thought to myself, How are we going to top this action on day two?

I didn't have to worry.

Our second morning was a repeat performance. One minute after we launched the boat we were into huge fish. We had countless "triples" on and more doubles of fish over 4-pounds than I've ever encountered.

I did what angling guru Spence Petros does on his guided trips. He counts every bass he and his customers bring to the boat. Les, Mike, and I caught and released 75 fish on our adventure.

This is what Mladenik does every day when he takes his customers to the hot spots on this river. I was here was in August of this year and Mike and I caught quite a few jumbo smallmouth bass. He suggested I come back in the fall and try the October bite.

What was interesting for me was the way Les reacted to this great angling.

He never ran out of adjectives when he expressed joy and excitement. He never stopped talking about the first and second day's sizes and catch numbers. Even as we headed for our bedrooms and crawled in to our beds I could still hear Les mumbling to himself about his bass trip of a lifetime. Thank goodness he finally fell asleep.

•Contact Mike Jackson at, and catch his radio show 6-7 a.m. Sundays on WSBC 1240-AM and live-streamed at

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