10/6/2017 7:25:00 AM traveling trails less traveled My top ten lakes, #2
"Buckshot" Anderson Columnist
My dad introduced me to Escanaba Lake during the winter of 1948, two years after the lake became part of the Wisconsin Conservation Department's "Five Lakes Project." At that time the present public access road leading to the south bay of the lake did not exist. Anglers had to navigate the steep hill overlooking the south bay off Nebish Lake Road, a gravel town road located between Highways M and K in Vilas County. This was also where the original WCD "checking station" was located.
Back then Escanaba Lake received very little fishing pressure, as boats had to be slid down the steep hill and then dragged back up the hill, which was a gut-wrenching experience, as was navigating the slippery slope during winter ice fishing! At that time the lake's fishery amounted to thousands of perch and smallmouth bass, most of which were rather small due to overpopulation.
After the WCD decided to remove all fishing restrictions on Escanaba Lake in 1946, plus four others lakes in the same area - Nebish, Pallette, Spruce and Mystery - and provided suitable launch facilities at Escanaba, Nebish and Pallette, the fishing pressure on those lakes increased slowly but steadily, especially after the new launch site was created at Escanaba about 1950.
There are few lakes throughout the Northwoods the size of Escanaba that remain as pristine and undisturbed by human intervention as this genuine jewel! At 288 acres and a maximum depth of 25 feet, two majestic islands, two minor islands, and an undisturbed shoreline, it's a poster child of what Northern Wisconsin looked like prior to the arrival of the Europeans! The only blight on the landscape is the DNR complex of buildings and paved roadway/launch site at the southwest corner of the small south bay.
After all normal fishing regulations were removed from all five lakes in the project area, which included; no closed season, no size limits, no bag limits - all anglers needed was a valid fishing license and obtain a free permit to fish. After fishing, anglers had to return the permit to the ranger at the checking station and display their catch, providing they kept any fish. Since then a number of different "experiments" have been introduced, including the current restriction concerning walleye that began in 2002, one walleye per day, 28 inch minimum. Needless to say, few walleyes have been harvested since 2002.
One of my uncles, Bud Jorgensen, operated a boat rental service at the Five Lakes Project from 1951 through 1975. He also worked at the checking station as a part-time employee for a few years. During July and August of 1953, I, as a 16-year-old, was in charge of Bud's boat rental service while my uncle recuperated from a serious operation. Back then a Thompson cedar strip row boat could be rented for $1.50 per day! My salary was one-third of each rental! By summer's end I made almost $200!
As my guiding career gained momentum, I began to spend lots of time on Escanaba, as it evolved into one of the North's top walleye producing lakes. Eventually, I would spend 281 days guiding clients on Escanaba, which resulted in a total bag of "keeper sized walleye" that numbered 2,361, including a few in the 27 to 29-inch range.
I caught my first "trophy sized" walleye at Escanaba in September of 1953 while fishing with my mom and dad. The whopper was 29 inches, nine and a quarter pounds and dad had Neal Long mount it for me. And I still have the memory on the wall of my man-cave.
Escanaba is also home to trophy sized musky, and for a few years during the 1970s, real slab sized crappie. The DNR's experiment to create a population of large northern pike was a failure, as for some reason few ever reached 30 inches.
Escanaba Lake contains structure that is highly favorable for natural walleye reproduction. And for many years the DNR claimed they did not stock walleye in the lake, which was not true, as my uncle and several other individuals told me they were present at the launch site late in the season when DNR trucks arrived and dumped many walleye fingerlings into the lake. But still, it is a great walleye lake with or without stocking.
The main basin of the lake, that portion which lies west of the two major islands, is the area anglers should concentrate on for walleye. The region east of the two major islands is shallow, weedy and contains a mud bottom. If jumbo perch is what anglers seek, that's the area. The weedy area is also a good area to cast for musky and pike, and is normally free of other anglers.
Walleye hunters should search for rock and gravel areas, such as the bar that extends westward off the northwest tip of the northernmost large island, as well as the steep drop off along that island's north shore and the bar that extends northeast off its northeast point. Notice: Beware the huge boulder that has damaged more than one outboard motor, about 75 yards off the island on that northeast bar!
Another walleye mid-summer, early fall hot spot is the tiny rock hump that rises in mid-lake. The top of this tiny bar has a depth of 17 feet with depths of 22-plus feet all around it. My dad accidently discovered this honey hole in September of 1951, and he and his two clients landed 21 walleyes in two hours, the five largest weighed 38 pounds. The lunker was 31 inches, 10 and a half pounds, and that mounted trophy still graces a section of the wall in my man-cave next to my nine-and-a-quarter pound walleye.
Escanaba has produced so many fond memories, I don't know where to start. How about this one for starters.
On the late evening of May 6, 1967, Wes Pavalon accidently dropped his brand new Ambassador reel and Heddon Pal rod into 17 feet of water. Usually, when rods fall overboard, I toss out my spot marker and then drag weighted treble hooks along the bottom, which almost always results in a successful retrieve. On this evening there were several other boat loads of anglers fishing close to us so I opted to avoid drawing attention to what had just happened. I promised Wes I'd retrieve his equipment at a later date, a promise he probably did not believe. So, I "triangulated the position," where Wes' rod and reel fell overboard, stored the coordinates in my head, and we called it a day.
Fast forward 45 days to June 20, which was the next time I fished Escanaba. I had another of my annual clients on board, Herb Peters, (who I guided 94 times between 1955 and 1985), and when we began fishing near where Wes had lost his rod and reel I told Herb the story and we began slowly dragging weighted treble hooks on the rocky bottom of the lake to attempt recovering the lost equipment. On Herb's third try, he hooked the rod and reel and brought the algae covered combination to the surface! I took it home, cleaned it up, and hung Wes's rod and reel back at his summer vacation cottage, where we discovered it later that summer when he returned for some additional time on the water. Promise fulfilled!
Many anglers, who have spent a great deal of time fishing the lakes and streams of Northern Wisconsin, have no doubt experienced having a musky attack a fish they are attempting to land. My clients and I have witnessed that situation numerous times, but only once did we actually land the attacking musky! Herb Peters was on board with me on Escanaba Lake, June 21, 1966, when a 14-pound musky grabbed a hooked walleye at boat side just as I was about to net it! I hit the free spool button on my casting reel and watched as yard after yard of line peeled off the spool.
After the musky stopped its escape with the walleye, Herb and I sat in the boat for over 15 minutes waiting for the musky to swallow its lunch and began moving again. When the musky began to move, I tightened the line and gently played the fish for another 15 minutes until it was tired and then conked it on the head with my wooden Musky Knocker.
After Herb and I returned to my folks resort, I cleaned the musky and retrieved the walleye from its stomach. Herb and I also caught 23 other walleyes that day, so the one the musky ate made an even two dozen!
Hey, anything can happen during a day of fishing!
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