Beginning in July 2020, I became a regular contributor to Wisconsin Outdoor News (WON) in "From The Little Cabin In The Woods" column.
This article was published in the WON October 30, 2020, issue.
“Mom, just because we cannot go to Chicago this fall for our annual mother/daughter weekend, does not mean that we cannot do the weekend,” offered Shannon in a July conversation influenced by Covid events.
“What shall we do?”, I inquired.
“Let’s rent a VRBO up north and take the dogs along.”
We started searching the internet and texting links for pet-friendly vacation rentals. I stumbled onto a lovely home on Hewitt Lake in Iron County, owned by Tammy Waterhouse. It was EXPENSIVE.
“Not as much as The Drake, theater tickets, dinner at Joe’s, and SHOPPING in Chicago,” retorted Shannon.
The place was lovely. Tammy welcomes respectful dogs. So, when we discovered that the “cabin” was available during a week that Shannon and Dan needed to come home for a wedding, Shannon offered to book it. Done and done!
We invited the guys (Stan and Dan) to join us for the mother/daughter outing, as we sometimes do even for Chicago. They accepted and we started planning our fall adventure to a place that has indoor plumbing and lots of it (as opposed to the little cabin in the woods).
There would be so many options that time of year. The last week in September is often peak color in the Northwoods. Fresh bluegills sounded good. Grouse season would be open. There was a trap range nearby also. We talked about hauling our Ranger up for some trail riding, something we had not done before.
In the end, we decided to narrow down to fishing and hunting. We would only be there three full days. I had new line put on our reels. Dan, whose aunt and uncle, Sandie and Jerry Honl, owned Silvercryst Resort in Wautoma, grew up with boats and fishing in Canada and Wisconsin. He organized our fishing gear and lined up bait. I really appreciated that, as the life of a dean leaves little time for fishing. Both my skills and knowledge are more than a bit rusty. Now retired, maybe I can renew that interest. We threw in our shotguns, shells, blaze orange and dog gear. Thankfully, I packed some rain gear as well.
We planned to eat our meals in. This was an unfortunate result of the Covid situation. One of the great things about Wisconsin is our supper clubs. Part of the fun of a trip is finding your favorite dining places. We would be missing this part this year. So, we planned for eleven meals. Part of it came from my freezer. Chili and veggie beef soup for lunches and pasta sauce for one supper would make camp cooking a little less of a task. We stopped at Ski’s on the way out of town for rib eye steaks. It was raining when we left Point.
When we got to Minocqua, we shopped at Trig’s for the rest of the groceries. At the check-out, we ran into former Wisconsin Natural Resources Board member, Jim Tiefenthaler. He was buying some sort of coating for blue gills that he said he can only get at Trig’s. I thought that was a good sign. I was wrong.
Our first evening in Mercer, we spent unpacking and settling in. We marveled at the magnificent views, the spectacular fall color, and the over-the-top amenities of our cabin. I could be spoiled in a place like this. We sat on the dock and toasted our good fortune even though it was raining.
Tuesday morning, after breakfast, we decided to rent the pontoon boat that was docked out front, so we could try our luck at blue gills. Gills were one of our supper plans. Dan loaded up our gear. He had done a lot of research on the lake and on fall gill fishing. We had a plan. With bait, tackle and two Airedales in tow, we set off. It was raining.
We covered most of the 80-acre lake twice, once in the morning and again in the late afternoon. The lake is 88 feet deep, clean, clear, and nearly weedless. The fish were hanging in the 13-foot range and apparently not hungry. At some point, I mentioned to Shannon that we should have gotten the name of that blue gill coating that Jim Tiefenthaler was buying when we saw him at Trig’s.
“I do not think that fish breading is the weak spot here. But, if you think it would help, maybe you should text Jim and ask,” Shannon said with a twinkle in her eye.
We had pasta for supper.
A Wednesday afternoon hike in the Lake Emily State Natural Area resulted in our dogs flushing two grouse. That prompted us to plan a hunt for Thursday. But where to go? I suggested that we look for some Managed Forest Law (MFL) open land. This is private land that is open to public access because the landowner has opted to pay a lower property tax rate. The citizens of Wisconsin benefit by this in many ways, one of which is access. Another benefit is a reliable wood supply for our economically important forest products industry. The grouse benefit from this as well.
As luck would have it, our cabin was just a few miles from a good-sized parcel of MFL land. If I had this to do over again, and I likely will, I would purchase an updated Northern Wisconsin Gazetteer and a plat map for Iron County. With those tools and a link to the MFL Open Lands list on the Wisconsin DNR website, you could confidently locate many places where you would be welcome to hunt or hike.
When we located the parcel we were looking for, it was a great find. It had a well-maintained trail through the land. No one had recently been there. We parked the truck, loaded our shotguns, and took the dogs up the trail. The rain came and went. No one got a shot, due to the heavy leaf cover, but the dogs flushed two birds. Next week, when the leaves are fewer, there is going to be some good grouse hunting in that area.
You will remember that I said gills were one of our supper plans. Not to be swayed from a good plan, by lack of catching fish, Stan and Dan went to Manitowish Waters and purchased gills, perch, and walleyes at the market. All those years of fishing with his dad, Tom Honl, and the rest of the Honl clan had taught Dan to execute a perfectly delicious fish fry. He breaded and fried the perch and gills. The walleye he baked with lemon butter and fresh herbs from the cabin deck. There was not a crumb left.
It was the best mother/daughter trip to Chicago ever. No fins or feathers, but a great fun and family trip. Just to put the literal icing on the cake, when we loaded up to come home on October 2, it was snowing.