Local color, and the fishing trip that wasnt
LAKE TOMAHAWK, Wis. — I keep pressing my head up against the side of Wisconsin's aquarium of life.
As much as it beckons me to wade in and anchor my well-traveled bones there, I will probably continue to keep one foot in Chicago reality and the remaining limb in area code 715.
Advice and information does not come easily in these parts.
In fact, when I stopped on a recent journey to Minocqua to whet my whistle, I was given the thrice-over by some folks I would call authentic jack-piners. Local tradition deems that these folks are glued to an ancient bar stool, and will stay there, in place, until the bonding agent wears off.
All I wanted was a tall diet soda over ice (pop, if you will, if you're from my Chicago neighborhood), as well as a smattering of conversation.
One bearded chap looked my way, grunted slightly, and nodded his head in recognition of some sort. He sized me up and down, and I, of course, did the same. But being a stranger in these parts, I didn't want to create a stir.
About 10 minutes late he managed to show up next to my right elbow. He was obviously waiting for me to open the dialogue.
After I told him I was not a local in his land, he fired a half-dozen questions at me, asking the usual repertoire of where I came from, and what I was I planning.
So I bought the inquisitor a brandy.
In case you weren't aware, Wisconsin residents consume more brandy than any state in the nation. Now, that factoid has absolutely nothing to do with this story, except to set the tone. It should also be noted that brandy has certain medicinal applications, such as dislodging troublesome and well-protected pieces of information from the patient.
My loosely assembled schedule had me arriving in Minocqua later in the day, so I had a little time to invest in local chit-chat.
The conversation took the usual route to the topic of fishing — especially big muskies — as well as woodland creatures of the forest.
"Ya know, we got some of da biggest muskies in the state right here," he blurted as he threw a slug of the bar medicine down his gullet.
I didn't say anything.
"We always find dem jumbo monsters eatin' the walleyes and crappies," he added.
I was still quiet, and ready to ask a question.
He finally settled down and said something to the bartender.
I figured I may as well take a shot and ask if there were any trout in the area, so I could fish for them with a fly rod.
"Trout?" he shouted. "We catch 'em and use them for muskie bait. That's all they're good for around here."
I finished my glass of pop and left with everything intact. I don't even think this character was aware I had exited the establishment.
I drove westward for another 5 miles before pulling over to the roadside. I just sat there, taking in the beauty of a nearby stream and colorful trees.
I probably sat there for at least an hour, missing those days when my father and I would discover everything this new territory would offer.
By the time I pulled in to my motel in Minocqua, I realized that two days of fishing in the cold and rain on the Menominee River had created a cold, winter-like scenario. I went to bed as if I had been clubbed and awoke at 2 a.m. the next morning.
I was in no shape to fish with friend Greg Bohn, so I packed my duffle and headed southward. My throat was raw and my coughing became an exercise in pain management.
It was a tough exit, because I didn't see Greg while the ever-growing cold overtook my senses.
It was time to pull my head back from the "aquarium," and leave the fairy tales where they belong, in the land of woods and waters.
•Contact Mike Jackson at email@example.com, 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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