As many readers of his column, “Traveling Trails Less Traveled” know, longtime area fishing guide Leon “Buckshot” Anderson has moved on to retirement.
Anderson looks forward to relaxing in his comfortable St. Germain home with his wife, Peggy (aka Wifee Poo), and his dogs Belle and Buffy. Their home is on property that has long been in the family – property that’s a major part of the life Anderson built.
“My family moved up here in ... ‘38 and we moved onto this part of this parcel in ‘39 and I’ve been here ever since,” Anderson said. “I taught school in Florida for seven years when I just got out of college, but I always came back in the summer – worked around the resort and guided.”
Anderson’s parents ran a resort on Kasomo Lake, and his dad, Roy “Andy” Anderson, guided anglers from 1941-61. That’s how Anderson got started.
“You could say I started guiding when I was old enough to row a boat on our little lake where we had our resort, taking our guests out perch fishing, bluegill fishing, bass fishing, whatever.
“I would just roam around the shoreline and they’d give me a candy bar or a quarter or a bottle of pop or something.”
Sometimes it was grunt work, like cleaning fish or burying guts. Anderson just wanted to be a guide like his dad.
“He started letting me come along with him when he had more than two customers and he couldn’t find another guide that was open,” Anderson recalled. “I’d follow him around and wonder why his boat was catching all the fish and mine wasn’t. That was in ‘51, when I was 14.”
Dad also put young Buckshot to work cutting popple on their property with a Swede saw.
“I wanted to be a lumberjack, too, because Dad’s family [logged],” Anderson said. Anderson’s grandfather had logging camps in the 1890s up through 1919. His dad and uncles worked in those camps and his dad once had his own sawmill.
“It sounded like a romantic life to me – being a lumberjack in the winter and guiding clients in the summer,” Anderson said. “So, Dad put me to work with the Swede saw and an axe cutting pulp in ‘51 and ‘52, with the idea being I’d get my bellyfull of that and say, ‘The hell with this. I want to do something besides being a lumberjack.’ It worked, too. He talked me into going to school and I became a teacher.”
Anderson lost his father suddenly in 1961. Andy Anderson was 52 years old.
In 1953, Anderson was 16 and got his guides license and also his driver’s license, so he was able take the boat and trailer.
“That’s how I got going. Little by little I built up a clientele over the years to where I didn’t really have to advertise.”
Anderson said the old-time guides he knew growing up were quite helpful.
“They liked my dad, he was a friendly guy, they liked him so they said, ‘Well the kid is going to be OK, too, so we’ll help him along.’”
During the years that he was teaching, Anderson said he would guide weekends in May and again in September and was able to guide on a regular basis June through August. He’d get 30-45 days on the water then.
“Through the 70s, 80s, 90s, when I was at my peak, I was putting in 90 to 105 days on the water every year. That doesn’t leave you much time in between.”
Anderson and his wife moved back to the Northwoods in 1966. They bought the resort from his mother after the 1966 season.
“We took over the resort, Peggy and I, in ‘67 – from then on I don’t think I ever went below 80 days a year all the way up to the early 2000s, when I finally started tapering off,” Anderson said.
The guiding life
Anderson keeps pictures from 17 different families that hired him the most days, a kind of clients’ honor roll, on the wall of his “man cave,” a wood-paneled portion of his basement where artifacts and pictures representing a life in the Northwoods are displayed.
“One was over 400 days over the years,” Anderson said.
He recalled some of that time on the water.
“One stretch I went 38 days in a row ... A bit stressful, you know. You’re sitting out there on days when you know they’re not going to bite very good, particlarily if you’ve got a new customer, and you have to put on a happy face and entertain them and at the end of the day hope that they don’t think you’re just a stinky guide because, ‘Hey, we didn’t do too well.’
“There’s a lot of stress and pressure to it, but once you get your base laid down with your regular customers and they get to know, hey, there’s days we get’em and days we don’t.’”
Anderson said most have been good clients.
“A couple of days I had some knot-heads, but not too often. The nice thing with that is you only have to take them once. They call you back you just say, ‘I’m booked.’”
He said it’s probably tougher to become a guide now.
“When I was first starting, right here in St. Germain, there was probably 15, 16 guides that worked fairly steady because we had so many American Plan resorts, where the wealthier people went to stay. They could afford the 15, 20 dollars a day back then for a guide. Between my dad and I we kept pretty busy.
“A new guide starting out today has got a much harder row, because you don’t have so many people looking for you. Plus, back then, nobody came up with a boat and nobody knew much about fishing.
“Now your average Joe that comes up here, he’s got his own rig, the depth finder, the GPS, the maps of the lake – he’s watched the fishing videos all winter. It’s not the same as it used to be.”
Anderson also talked a little about the “technology” he used.
“We took a chalk line and we tied a knot in it about every foot and then at the end of the chalk line we put on one of these chain stringers – we’d open the hooks. So when you’d be drifting along or rowing ... you left it over the side, you’d count the knots.
“You’d say, ‘It’s 14 feet deep here,’ and you’d move and you’d see the thing pull and you could bring it up and say, ‘Oh, cabbage weed,’ or, ‘Pickerel weed,’ or, ‘It’s coontail.’ You could figure out what was on the bottom ... If you were going over rock you could feel that vibration, if there was just a drag you were over sand. You could get a feel for what’s down there.”
He did eventually use electronics, but didn’t rely heavily on them.
“I think the first one I had was called the Fish Hawk ... it was a lot like the Lorans ... but a little notch higher than that. One of my guiding customers bought it and left it up here for me ... I found a lot of things about bars and weed beds that I thought I knew the shape of that I found out I really didn’t know the shape of.
“But I don’t think I put a lot of emphasis on using that because I pretty much had the landmarks in my head.”
Of course, a guide had to learn to cook shore lunch. The American Plan resorts would equip guides with much of what they needed in a box.
“They’d put in some potatoes and lard and some bacon and eggs and flour and beans, coffee, maybe a little fruit. You were expected to catch some fish and fry some potatoes and beans and bacon ... make some coffee.”
Some days coming by the fish was hard.
“Not many when there was absolutely nothing ... There were days when you finally went to a brush pile with a little piece of worm and caught some bluegills or something,” Anderson said.
Not just muskies
Anderson recalled a youthful fondness for the king of the freshwater fish.
“I was starting to get a big head a little bit and started getting the idea that bigger is better – muskie, muskie, muskie. I’d had some success catching a few,” Anderson said.
Pop Dean, a longtime area fishing guide, who also had a cleaning and freezing place, collared Anderson there one day when he brought in a couple of muskies.
“He said, ‘I’m going to tell you something. Don’t be a muskie guide, don’t specialize ... you want to catch other things and learn how to do that shore lunch and you’ll have more damn customers than you know what to do with,’” Anderson recalled.
“He said, ‘Anybody can be a muskie guide.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘When you go out in the morning do you expect to catch one?’”
Anderson admitted it didn’t happen frequently.
“He says, ‘That’s what I’m saying. Anybody can be a muskie guide because you go out in the morning and you aren’t expected to catch anything.’ He got the point across.”
About 3-1⁄2 percent of Anderson’s 5,000-plus times out have been for muskies only. He admires those that pursue them regularily.
“Some of these guys that are muskie specialists, I just take my hat off to them. Like Tony Rizzo and Smity Smith and other guys that spend most of their time doing muskies.”
Anderson said he does enjoy watching someone get their first muskie though.
“I get goosebumps, sometimes, as excited as they get,” he said. “I remember one guy that had been coming up here eight years, not with a guide, but ... he had been up here eight years in July or August and the second day he went out with me ... he caught a 36-incher. He got up and threw his hat. Grabbed his wife – she wasn’t fishing she’d just been watching him – grabbed his wife and gave her a kiss and they almost both fell off the seat and I’m going, ‘Sit down!’”
“Maybe my proudest moment was when I was surprised when I found out I was being inducted into the Hall of Fame,” Anderson said.
His son, Chris, and Tom Hollatz got the paperwork done and surprised Anderson. Anderson was touched by the many letters set in by his customers
“I think 21 of them were sent in to the judges – you know, as I said to them, to lie about how good I was, what a nice person I was. Just reading those letters, I kept thinking, ‘Who are they talking about?’ I had no concept that I meant that much ... I didn’t think about myself as being exceptional or legendary or all that ... That was quite an honor and I’m still flabbergasted by it.”
Anderson was inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in 2001.
On February first, when the announcements are made, he got a call. It was Tom Hollatz.
“He says, ‘You’re in.’ I said, ‘I’m in what? Trouble?’ He said, ‘You’re in the Hall of Fame – congratulations!’ I go, ‘What? What the hell is going on here?’”
Anderson chose to have his induction done in Sayner at the museum at the Old Rowing Guides exhibit.
“When they put that together years ago, I was the last one they allowed to be in that select group of old-timers that row-trolled. That was an honor in itself.”
More than 150 people attended Anderson’s induction. Bob Leff, who had gone around interviewing muskie guides, and had talked to Anderson in 1996 for videos he was making, made a special video. Leff interviewed a family members, friends and clients of Anderson.
“He put together a 30-minute video of highlights, so-to-speak, of my career, which I was forced to sit and watch in front of 150 people that night at my induction. I went through about three boxes of Kleenex, I think, by the time that thing was all over.”
“I’m doing my writing, I like my writing and I kind of like the idea that when I get up in the morning, if I don’t feel like doing something, I don’t have to,” Anderson said about retirement.
There will be some fishing.
“I’m going to continue to do some fishing with friends and family and I told my regular customers if they still come north and they want to go out for a couple of hours, I’ll take them out, no charge. But sitting in the boat for hours on end – the body doesn’t like it.
“A number of the old-timers I grew up with – mentors I call them – little by little quit – said, ‘I’m gonna hang it up, it’s not fun anymore.’ I just couldn’t imagine how going out fishing wouldn’t be fun. I lived long enough to find out.”
Retirement means the fishing will be fun.
“I still enjoy fishing ... but, I’m picking and choosing when I do it and that’s kind of a nice feeling. Unfortunately, my dad never got to the point where he could do that. A lot of people don’t.”
Anderson has years of records in his man-cave. Records that come in handy now as he spins tales for his readers. Anderson credits his dad.
“My dad was a record-keeper,” Anderson said. “When I got my license and started really getting serious at it, he said, ‘Now you keep a daily diary – every day you go out, where you’re going, what you caught, who you were with ...’
“I reluctantly started, but I’m glad I did, because now I’ve got over 5,000 entries.” He also has old fishing diaries of his dad’s and years of hunting and trip-taking stories.
Anderson said he got to do what he wanted to do.
“If I had to do it all over again, I would. It’s just been a great 60 years – 62 years if I count the two years I guided without a license ... following my dad – I met some wonderful people, made friends. I’d do it all over again.”
And the name Buckshot?
It dates back to February 1937, when Anderson was born on his grandparents’ farm.
“The neighboring farmer heard I had been born and walked over to the Jorgensen farmhouse to see the kid ... I was laying in a clothes basket. I only weighed 5 pounds, 2 ounces ... Mom said she pulled the blanket back and he looked in there and said, ‘[Expletive]! He ain’t no bigger than a buckshot!’ One day old. I got a nickname right off the bat,” Anderson said.
That’s the short version.
“I’ve got a much more elaborate story I tell the customers, but they know that’s pure [fallacy] by the time I get halfway through it,” Anderson said with a laugh.
Judging by the many stories he was able to share, Buckshot’s readers should be happy for a while to come.
Craig Turk may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org