Hidden Treasures in Wisconsin’s Northwoods

By Bob Holzhei

This outdoor adventure had all the elements one might expect in preparing for the harvest! Anticipation of a sighting when least expected was blended with getting in range for the shot; not just an ordinary shot one might take with a high probability of success, but rather a shot with a camera.

This was my first hunt at a marsh in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin. The area totaled 600 acres and my destination was a pristine 186 acre area. The marsh areas began following World War II and the pioneers had a vision – to develop a scenic paradise in Wisconsin’s Northwoods.

“The area surrounds the Northeast 1/3 of Little Trout Lake, a thousand acre, nearly uninhabited lake, which is located along the southern edge of the Manitowish Waters town,” according to the visitors guide, designed to draw potential outdoors families to the area.

During this outdoor experience I appreciated the many opportunities that nature holds, if one is willing to try something new.

My outdoor adventure took me on a hunt at a cranberry marsh.

“Cran-a-Rama is very important to us,” stated Sarah Pischer, Executive Director of the Manitowish Waters Chamber of Commerce. “Folks come from Milwaukee and Chicago to experience our wonderful event. This event includes sampling a variety of foods, prepared by area restaurants, the arts and crafts show, and free activities including bus tours to a cranberry marsh and pontoon rides on our 10 Lake Chain,” added Pischer.

The berries grow in a field, and, prior to harvest, lake water is pumped in which floods the area. The cranberries are loosened from the bottom with a tractor and rake. They float to the top of the water, are moved to the edge of the marsh, and then are pumped into semi-trucks for delivery and processing.

The experience at the marsh was a prelude to fishing for crappies and walleye at Island Lake, part of the 10 Lake Chain in Manitowish Waters.

“I am passionate about fishing and I like teaching people how to fish both adults and kids. I am a second generation guide and my 6 1/2 year old son and 3 year old daughter love fishing; that’s all they talk about,” said Rick McClellan, our guide for the morning. “My dad fished seven days a week and owned a bait shop, yet he always found time for us,” added McClellan.

We fished over a brush pile and crib area and used eighth ounce jigs in green, pink and purple topped with a night crawler. “When you feel a little resistance, lower the rod tip, open the bail, and let the fish mouth the minnow for 20 seconds; then tighten the line and set the hook,” instructed McClellan.

This technique worked, and Shirley, my wife, boated the first large crappie. A number of fish were boated and the many smaller ones including walleye were released.

Our target size for walleye was 12-14 inches, however the crappie were hungry and devoured the bait before the walleye had a chance. An eagle hovered overhead, eyes focused and dove catching a crappie for his lunch. I was in the process of putting my zoom lens on the camera to capture the moment; and the moment vanished.

In addition to his job in construction, McClellan guides about 80 days a year and many folks are returning customers. As our morning fishing adventure ended, an elegant lunch was served at the luxurious Chippewa Retreat Resort, a perfect venue for an outdoor escape. The resort is located on the banks of Lake Manitowish, part of the Chain Of Ten Lakes where 4,000 acres of fresh water await the sportsmen.

In this first trip to Manitowish Waters, not only was a treasure chest of a pristine wilderness opened, the bounty of nature overflowed, more to discover remained, and a transformation occurred. I not only became part of the experience, but I would return.