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The Lakeland Times | Minocqua, Wisc.

Jim Tait 02/01-02/28/17

home : outdoors : fishing July 22, 2017

5/19/2017 7:27:00 AM
Traveling trails less traveled
Fun fishing at The Fox

I would guess there are numerous dedicated outdoors enthusiasts like myself who have a fairly long list of favorite "annual events" they truly look forward to attending. For someone like myself, who has recently entered their eighth decade on planet Earth, each of those annual events takes on a more serious and special meaning with each passing year.

Recently I attended one such annual event I have come to simply label, "Catfish John's Outing," which was this past April 22 through 24, was my 17th spring fishing trip with John and friends.

I was introduced to "Catfish" back in 1997 by a mutual friend, JR DeWitt, who worked with John for many years at the Woodruff Fish Hatchery. Among other things, John owns a sizable chunk of pristine river frontage on the Fox River near the community of Princeton in Green Lake County. The property has been in John's family for well over 100 years, and it has remained pretty much unchanged from when his grandfather built the original "fishing and hunting shack" overlooking the river shortly after the beginning of the 20th century.

Since my first fishing trip to John's slice of heaven on earth back in 1997, I have only missed the annual spring event three times, once due to a conflict with my spring turkey dates, and two due to personal reasons, one being the passing of our friend and fishing pal, JR DeWitt.

I'm not sure how many acres of stream-side property John owns on the historic Fox, but it's quite extensive. Beside the original cabin, John's home away from home, there are three additional, well-spaced cabins John leases as seasonal vacation getaways. Most of the property is heavily forested with mainly hardwoods and many of the huge ancient oaks require the arms of two people to reach around their trunks!

Each cabin, which is set over 100 yards from the river, due to the threat of spring flooding, has only a fairly narrow open area allowing viewing of and access to the river. This allows those using each cabin maximum peace, quiet and seclusion.

Each year, as I exit the dead-end town road and enter the highly rustic two-rut driveway leading to John's "Catfish Fishing Camp," as the sign on his cabin states, I feel like I've entered the Twilight Zone of a century past, and I love that feeling!

The rustic driveway is nearly a quarter mile in length, with massive trees on either side, creating a woodland tunnel! At the end of the driveway, the small cabin suddenly leaps into view and usually John is seated on the back steps waving a friendly welcome!

His grandfather's old cabin contains two ground-floor rooms. The larger room serves as a kitchen, dining and living room where the vast majority of the frequent fishing and hunting tales are exchanged over evening cocktails and snacks, and a second, much smaller room is the master bedroom. The second floor loft offers sleeping accommodations for about a half-dozen bodies. A large screened-in porch overlooking the river was added many years ago, and contains a fold-out couch that I claim as my bedroom during my annual visit.

Over the years since John became the owner/caretaker of the property, he has ever so slowly given in to what might just barely pass as "modernization." Electric lights came first, many years ago, followed by propane heat some years later. Cold running water was finally added in 2016 and presently there is a bit of conversation about adding a hot water heater. Prior to that, fresh water was transported to the cabin in large water coolers and utility water was, and still is, available at the outside hand pump next to the fish cleaning table.

The cook stove in the kitchen is definitely an antique, using either wood or propane for the chef's choice, but I have yet to see any wood burned in it, which is why the stove pipe seems to be in excellent condition.

Inside bathroom plumbing is at the moment not an option, but guests have their choice of two outside outhouses, one of which offers a window view of the river and reading material. Mentioning the word "shower" only applies to periods of light rain.

The most modern piece of equipment at John's retreat is a color TV, which when the weather is right receives two or three local channels so visitors can check the weather and receive updates concerning local news. Daily TV watching amounts to less than a half-hour.

During the first eight or 10 trips to John's cabin, JR or I usually brought a boat with us to use while fishing on the river. But it became easily apparent those who simply sat on the bank in comfortable lawn chairs with their fishing poles resting in a "pole holder" caught just as many (usually more) fish than JR and I did from a boat. So, now most of John's guests "bank fish" and both of his boats spend most of their lives tipped upside down on sawhorses.

A typical spring day at the Fox usually begins just as dawn is softening the eastern horizon. Whoever rises first pushes the button on the automatic coffee maker, and by the time the gurgling is completed everyone in attendance has a cup ready to be filled. The morning "coffee hour" in the cabin's "great room," using the term loosely, lasts until the sun is well up. It's then a decision is made to either do a bit of early morning fishing or drive into Princeton for breakfast at Aunt Judy's, the town's most popular eatery. It's been several years since John and his guests did any early morning fishing.

After returning from Aunt Judy's, a "normal" day's schedule contains six phases. "Lawn chair bank fishing" takes place from about 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fish that are caught and kept are kept fresh in John's large wire fish tank to be cleaned during phase four. Phase two generally takes place from 1 to 2:30 p.m., designated as "nap time." Fishing resumes at 3 and usually continues until about 6 p.m., unless the weather is sub-standard, meaning rain, too much wind, or temperatures less than 60. Phase four, from about 6 to 7 p.m., is fish cleaning time.

The fish cleaning production line at the outdoor fish cleaning table requires a minimum of three persons. John professionally removes the fillets with his electric fillet knife. I remove the rib bones and skin with my hand-powered fillet knife. The third person, formally JR DeWitt, and presently Al Swenson, washes the fillets clean and places them in zip-lock bags.

After the finished product is stored in the freezer or fridge, phase five takes place, commonly referred to as "Cocktail Time," where modest consuming of iced internal body stimulants takes place, along with serious amounts of snacks, which often also become substitutes for an actual formal dinner.

Phase six usually begins about 9 p.m. and is best labeled, "Lights Out."

While bank fishing at the Fox River and using mostly night-crawlers, as John and his guest usually do, one never knows what finny species will accept their offerings. I can recall catching catfish, which is the major target fish, as John calls them, plus walleye, pike, largemouth bass, bullheads, sheep head, blue gills, perch, carp, suckers and red horse. John has even landed a gar and a sturgeon.

During our most recent outing, actual time spent fishing amounted to less than 10 hours. During that time we landed over 60 fish and kept 42. Not bad for a trio of lazy bank fishermen!

As I bid my host a heart-felt and sincere thank you prior to heading home, John suggested we plan an another bank fishing outing sometime during the upcoming summer.

Wanna bet what my answer was?

Buckshot may be reached at buckshotanderson4@gmail.com.

Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, May 21, 2017
Article comment by: charles werner

Thanks, what a wonderful article. Am fortunate to have a friend with a place on the Au Sable . We have shared many summer nights after days on the water, eating well, drinking strongly, and lying a lot.

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