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The Lakeland Times | Minocqua, Wisc.

Jim Tait 02/01-02/28/17

home : outdoors : outdoors August 23, 2017

8/11/2017 7:26:00 AM
traveling trails less traveled
My top 10 lakes -Part I

I'm frequently asked if I ever have difficulty coming up with an idea for a column, to which I usually reply, "sometimes." When I do find myself stymied to come up with an idea, all I have to do is begin skimming through my 5,000-plus entries in my fishing and hunting logs and it does not take long to develop a story line.

I also receive suggestions from friends and even strangers who read my weekly drivel, concerning an idea for a column. At the St. Germain flea market in mid-July, a gentleman suggested I should run a series of articles concerning my favorite fishing lakes, which to me sounded like a great idea. So, here's the first of 10 installments concerning information and stories about the 10 lakes I fished most frequently during my "60 years between the oars!"

I've been fortunate to have fished on over 300 different lakes and streams in Northern Wisconsin and Michigan's U.P. and I've kept track of how many outings took place on each body of water. So, I will begin this series with the lake that ended up in 10th place and move upward in each of the next nine columns to number one. Enjoy!

Irving Lake is located in central Vilas County and receives lots of attention from anglers. I fished Irving Lake 141 times during my spring and summer guiding career, plus trapped muskrats and mink and also shot quite a few ducks at that location during the fall seasons. The DNR claims the lake contains 403 surface acres of water and has a maximum depth of eight feet. However, there are several small areas within its basin that contain depths up to 12 feet, if anglers can find them. During those 141 expeditions to Irving Lake, my clients and I landed 1,557 legal sized bass, walleye and musky, plus many more undersized game fish and pan fish.

The lake bottom is predominantly mud and muck, but there is a sandy-gravel shoreline along its north shore. Numerous seepage springs keep the water temperature cool, despite the lake being so shallow. Much of the lake is infested with wild rice and a variety of weeds, which can cause a great deal of frustration for anglers who are not savvy as to how to catch fish from such habitat.

Irving Lake is in the northern portion of Plum Lake township. Access is available on Camp Two Road north off Highway N. There is ample parking and an easy in/easy out ramp with a dock. This public access location also allows anglers to reach Ballard and White Birch lakes, which with Irving, constitute a three-lake chain of lakes.

Major fish species include largemouth bass, musky and walleye, and in more recent years northern pike have worked their way into Irving via the small outlet stream exiting White Birch Lake. Pan fish include jumbo perch, chunky 'gills and slab crappie, if anglers can locate them.

Irving Lake provides an excellent setting for novice musky anglers, as there are numerous members of that species present, although trophy sized muskies are very rare.

Due to the "weed problem" anglers should plan on leaving their ultra-light tackle at home and upgrade to medium action or heavier rods, casting reels and 12 pound, or stronger, test line if you are fishing for game fish. Live bait fishermen should consider using weedless hooks and shun lead-head jigs. Likewise, weedless lures, such as Johnson Silver Minnows, Daredevils, and Texas rigged plastics will catch fish as well as top water lures and rapidly moving bucktails.

In my estimation, late May and June are the best months to fish Irving Lake, especially for those anglers not familiar with catching fish from thick vegetation, as the "weed problem" is not as serious a problem early in the fishing season.

Due to the shallow, muddy structure the lake is known for, plus the ever-active springs, venturing out on the ice during the hard water season is reserved only for the strong of heart or fools who venture where smart folks fear to tread.

The vast majority of my fishing at Irving Lake was for bass, as the lake contains some real lunkers and numerous "good sized units." Latching into a musky while fishing for bass is quite common, and usually results in a spectacular show, which generally ends with the musky winning.

And now for a sampling of memories I've collected while fishing Irving Lake.

Bill and Billie Smith were my clients the day I caught the largest bluegill of my life while casting for bass in a shallow lily pad patch with a large floating Rapala. I unknowingly casted over a cluster of bluegill spawning beds and one of the orange breasted males who was defending the eggs wacked my lure. Thinking I had hooked a nice sized bass, I was wide-eyed when I brought the 11-inch 'gill up to the boat. Neal Long did his normal masterful job with the mount, which I still enjoy looking at on the wall of my man-cave.

Dick Dudek and his son, Bob, were having a ball catching and releasing bass when Bob cast his Rapala over an overhanging alder, which did not hang up but fell into the water. A bass about a foot long immediately smacked the lure and was hooked! As Bob reeled in line he also raised the bass up as far as the limb, which was about six feet above the surface.

I had my video camera on board, so I took footage as Bob lowered and raised the flopping bass several time before I rowed to shore and returned the "flying bass" to its home. We all laughed for several minutes, except probably the bass did not.

Over the years my clients and I did land quite a few muskies, but only Ed Brown Jr. landed a musky committing suicide.

Ed was up north for his annual late fall musky hunt in 1972 and booked me for four days in October. We were fishing Irving Lake on day one, casting lures along the south side of the western most island in search of old Iron Jaw. Ed was using a Cisco Kid stick bait when the musky hit.

Ed, a veteran musky hunter, set the hook expecting the fight to begin, but he momentarily stopped reeling thinking the hooks did not set, as his line was slack. But I noted the above water portion of his line was rapidly moving towards our boat, and I yelled at Ed to "Keep reeling. It's still on!"

Ed quickly picked up the slack about the same time the musky slammed head first into the side of my boat with a resounding "clunk!" I looked over the side just as the musky floated to the surface under my oar, belly up and quivering. It was quite dead and nicely legal. The musky ended up being smoked at Pop Dean's fish cleaning and smoking facility.

Billie Smith and her son, Tom, were enjoying a day with the bass in Irving Lake when Billie hooked a modest sized musky that turned out to be 34 inches. She professionally played the fish out with her old Pfleuger Supreme reel and Browning casting rod. I took the fish by hand, quickly removed the hook and after a quick trip on my measuring board, released it over the port side of my boat. The fish seemed confused and swam slowly towards the stern of the boat just a few inches beneath the surface. Tom, seated in the rear seat, turned and watched the musky swim around the stern and begin swimming along the starboard side towards the bow. Tom verbally gave his mother and I a "play by play account," "Hey, that dumb fish doesn't want to leave."

I thought perhaps the musky had somehow been injured and might not survive, (the size limit at the time was 32 inches so we could have kept the fish) so I netted it as it passed my location in the bow seat. The netting brought the fish back to normal, and as I prepared to release it a second time I noted it was blind in its left eye. Once back in the lake, this time the fish zoomed quickly away!

So there you have it, a stroll down memory lane at Irving Lake.

Next week we'll visit Oberlin Lake.

Buckshot may be reached at: buckshotanderson@yahoo.com.

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