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Benny Petrus, left, and guide Josh Teigen show off crappies recently caught on Pike Lake chain.

Last week seemed like the perfect opportunity to make an almost-monthly foray to Wisconsin’s north country, fishing 10 lakes in a four-day marathon.

The biggest surprises were universally high water and mediocre fishing, with the distinct hunch that both these epiphanies are closely related.

Bass were on the spawning beds on Lake Owen and the Eau Claire chain. They should be in the procreation mode this week on the Pike Lake chain south of Iron River, with location and activity a mystery wrapped in enigma on Spooner Lake.

Muskies weren’t overly interested on any of these lakes, but having two come cruising in behind a bucktail on the same cast on the Pike Lake chain and hanging on to watch a “figure 8” maneuver before sulking away certainly validated our reverence for the official state fish.

Perpetual wind made it difficult to sight-fish for bass.

Crappies were the best option for reinforcing the angler’s unspoken motto: The tug is the drug.

Finding fish relating to pencil weeds and fallen trees in shallow water was pie-easy in lakes with visibility of almost 10 feet. But when fish can be seen, they can also see you. A stealthy approach was necessary, even with cavalier crappies.

The best tactic was using an eight-foot St. Croix ultralight rod, spinning reel spooled with 2-pound test fluorocarbon and small pencil float pegged about 18 inches above small white plastics or a blond Bimbo Skunk.

Most crappie spawning nests were in 3-6 feet of water. Crappies’ eye placement near the top of the head makes attacking from below the most efficient way for crappies to feed. The blond Bimbo Skunk weighs just 1/80th of an ounce, resulting in a slow fall through the water column, which proved irresistible to these “papermouth” panfish.

Water clarity made it necessary to back off a long cast away from the plate-sized spawning nests fanned on the bottom of Eagle Lake. A crappie bite has a negative pressure effect when using a float to present the bait, causing the bobber to suddenly go horizontal on the surface or skittering across the surface when a slab slurps in your hook.

The best recipe for consistent fishing success is time on the water, followed by securing the services of a competent guide or compatriot who shares your passion for angling on the water you want to fish.

Josh Teigen has become perhaps the best multi-species guide within either side of an hour’s drive down Highway 2 between Duluth and Ashland. This expertise puts his services in high demand. But decades of fishing experience on these waters only required some general information to find and catch crappies ‘til the loons came home.

It didn’t take long for our on-the-water parlay to address muskie fishing. Josh said “Eau Claire chain.” I countered, “Bony Lake.”

Josh just grinned. The first ‘skie I ever tussled with on Bony engaged before this wise-beyond-his-years guide was born.

Getting to these lakes from the southern vector of Lake Owen the following day was a two-hour ordeal of flooded and closed roads with considerable boat trailer backing from the miscalculation that road closed signs don’t apply to me.

Returning to base camp at Lumbermen’s Inn in Iron River was just a 20-minute hop from County N back up County A to contemplate the following day’s fishing itinerary—and the impact 1,000 beyond-belly-full lakes will have on lower elevation drainage routes on the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers that will almost certainly result in extremely high-water conditions for at least the rest of this summer.

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Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at tedpeck@acegroup.cc

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