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updated: 6/5/2013 2:42 PM

Unwinding, with a simpler life in the Northwoods

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I know close to a dozen guys who dream -- often while working -- of being someplace else, like the Northwoods.

Schaumburg angler John Plaza, for instance. He retired, sold his suburban home and built a beautiful lakefront home designed by his wife. There are others with similar stories.

And then there is Ben, who doesn't look back with any regret.

Ben cherishes those memories of working in the city, when he would take public transportation into Chicago to his high-paying advertising copywriting job.

He told me he doesn't dwell all that much thinking of those days any longer, ever since he packed his bags and headed to the Northwoods to design a less stressful life.

And he's doing now what he wanted to accomplish years ago: He's guiding anglers to some great fishing.

I used to see Ben's efforts in the form of magazine ads and sometimes a television commercial or two.

But that's all changed.

"I gave it up because of the constant rat race," he said, "and I felt I was giving up pieces of my life when I sat in my office, facing deadline pressure almost every day."

So, like the others I have known over the years, Ben and his family chose the serene life, tucked away in northwest Wisconsin.

"I became a fishing guide after spending several years on a handful of good lakes that had the potential of great angling," he said.

But it wasn't all easy street for the 45-year-old Chicago expatriate.

Ben related how his wife and daughter initially found it difficult fitting in up north. I know from personal experience that some people in the smaller towns as well as in the country are not all that eager to accept newcomers, especially if they're from Chicago. But after a short period of adjustment, Ben and his family settled in for keeps.

"I send emails and letters to friends back in Chicago and asked them to spread the word that I'm ready to guide people," he said. "And before long I started hearing from fishermen from all over the Midwest who wanted some of the great fishing action."

Ben became a muskie devotee as well as a walleye nut.

Many of his guide parties just wanted to catch a few fish for a shore lunch. They told him that they were envious in that he could fish whenever he wants, instead of waiting for weekends to roll around.

What they didn't know was how tough it was to make a living as a guide. He didn't want to compete with other local services, so Ben was careful in promoting his venture. And to help make ends meet, he joined a logging crew so he could collect a paycheck for the rent and food.

"And when I wasn't doing logging work or guiding, I would fish for myself and learn as much as I could," he explained.

Ben told me about his daily routine. He would get up with the sun, make coffee, eat a light breakfast, and then head out to fish on a lake 50 feet from his back door.

His wife told me the family has come to enjoy a freezer full of legally caught fish. She learned how to debone pike and cook them several different ways.

Ben said I could write about his new lifestyle, just as long as I didn't use his last name. He also asked me not to publish his telephone number. Most of his business comes to him through word-of-mouth, and that's fine with him.

See? Simple.

•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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