Peck caught this largemouth bass on a Rat-L-Trap on Long Lake last weekend.

Wisconsin’s North Country has been part of family DNA for at least a couple generations.

Sadly, many of my favorite venues—like Rock County—have been invaded by undocumented Illynesians.

For decades, tourists have been drawn to destinations like Eagle River and Minocqua to chase Wisconsin’s state fish: the muskie. And Wisconsin’s most sought after fish: the walleye.

Why visit either with Lake Koshkonong one of the best walleye fisheries in the state this year—with the bonus of hooking into an unexpected alpha-toother?

It’s all about the loons. We have plenty of them on Koshkonong, Delavan and the Madison chain.

None sporting feathers. But loons just the same.

Washburn County has been a favorite getaway for more than 40 years. Many lakes have feathered loons sending their primal music across the water on a misty morning.

The loons with bare skin don’t appear until perhaps 10 a.m., mostly on larger lakes.

Washburn and neighboring Burnett counties have dozens of lakes with tough boat access or no access at all. With a couple of exceptions, muskie waters are rare with good walleye fishing not much easier to find.

Finding pike, bass and respectable panfish on many of these lakes is easy—especially when you’re toting a kayak or canoe. Finding fish and figuring out what they want to bite on these often cloistered waters brings satisfaction and peace on several different lakes every trip and several annual escapes every year.

Only a truly dumb loon fouls its own nest by spilling the beans to others. You’ll have to discover the sometimes incredible action on north country paddling ponds on your own.

Long Lake, south of Spooner, is one of the area’s more popular recreational lakes with a well-deserved reputation for producing walleyes in August by simply drifting a leech on a bottom bouncer just beyond the deepwater weedline before those un-feathered loons show up and begin their daily boat parade.

There are many majestic castles along the shoreline of Long Lake. My wife wanted to take an afternoon boat tour of these mansions one truly windy day. Years ago, we reached an agreement that anything less than two hours hard casting is not considered “fishing.”

A half-dozen largemouth bass were eager to eat a Rat-L-Trap in about 40 minutes of probing leeward shoreline with shade over submergent vegetation.

We got off the water in time for some evening fishing on Sliver Lake, about a 25-minute drive north of Long Lake. But the exceptionally high-water table this year closed access at both launches, so we frogged west 10 minutes to Mathew Lake, one of just three lakes in Washburn County to have recognized muskie populations.

This evening trip was my second time on Mathew this weekend. Several hours of casting a bucktail at “prime time” only moved one Esox to take a look at the lure. It was probably only 30 inches long, anyway.

But the tobacco cabbage and long weedbeds next to much deeper water are enough to make any serious muskie chaser drool.

Little Dilly lake, just north of Spooner, is only about 40 acres. This is a place to go “catching” as opposed to “fishing.” It didn’t take long to realize an orange/chartreuse magnum Northland spinnerbait is what the bass and pike here wanted to eat.

In just over an hour my fishing itch was adequately scratched.


A 40-incher that came screaming in like a big, green torpedo before ghosting away caused me to lose sleep that night.

Thunder and flashes of heat lightning at dawn revealed angry clouds. It was time to enact the “three strike” rule. The first lightning bolt cracked into the ground just as I was backing the Lund into the water. With no second bolt in the next five minutes and Dilly Lake right there, it was time to go fishin’.

Fish are often very aggressive with a rapidly falling barometer just ahead of a storm. Dilly gave up a fish on about every third cast.

When a third bolt of lightning came on the heels of that second bolt and raindrops started to fall, it was time to vamoose.

Only a loon would wave a graphite wand standing in an aluminum boat in a thunderstorm.

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