Back Country Adventure on the Chippewa

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Lower Chippewa River is a beautiful and wild spot in Western Wisconsin

Being able to have a grand outdoor adventure in your backyard is one of the major benefits of living in Western Wisconsin. The Lower Chippewa River is a great place for a semi-wilderness river camping trip. On the Friday before Labor Day, I loaded up the square stern canoe with camping gear, fishing tackle, an outboard motor, extra gas, and launched the water craft at Ella and headed down stream. I motored downstream a few miles and after a bit of searching found an island with a nice place to land on the downstream end. Just above the landing on higher ground was a level spot perfect for pitching my tent and digging a small fire pit. I was home for the weekend. After my camp was set up, I christened the island “Ben Gunn Island” after the character in Treasure Island. Unfortunately, I did not have a map for hidden treasure or any rations of rum.
I set out to explore the island which I estimated was a quarter mile long and 50 yards wide. It had some silver maple and river birch on it I also found an eagle’s nest at the upstream end of the island and several fox snakes. I also spotted a few very wary squirrels.
With camp established and the island explored, it was time to fish. While traveling down river, I had spotted a promising looking eddy. I slowly motored back to the eddy. It is generally wise to take your time when boating on the Chippewa River. This constantly shifting river is full of trees, sand bars and the occasional rock. Their primary purpose is to remain hidden below the surface of the river in order to bust up props on boats. The motor on the square stern is especially vulnerable since it is mounted on a canoe and rides deeper in the water than the props on john boats which have a taller transom. So, it’s slow I go. Reading the water on the river to avoid obstacles and to follow the deeper channels is as critical when in a motor boat as it is when running white water in a canoe.
I reached the eddy and was soon anchored in the eddy and had a jig working the eddy line. At first there were no strikes. Then I got a snag and lost my jig, so I switched jig colors. I dropped the jig just downstream of where I lost the jig on a snag. My reasoning was that there may be a tree there that would provide structure for the fish to hide in. My reasoning was correct because I soon felt a “tap tap” on the line and after a nice fight I netted a 17-inch walleye. After landing the walleye, the bass started to hit the jig and I caught several nice fish. I decided to vary the diet a bit and keep a bass to go along with the walleye.
With Supper in hand, I headed back to my island. I boiled up some wild rice while I grilled the fish in their scales over the fire. I had a mighty fine meal. After supper, I tended the fire while watching the stars.
The next morning, I ventured downstream all the way to the confluence with the Mississippi. I saw several eagles, deer, seagulls and lots of waterfowl. Being on a river early in the morning is a great way to see wildlife. The bluffs on the west side of the river below Ella proved a scenic backdrop to the river and its wildlife.

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Eagles are abundant along the Chippewa. Seeing a half dozen in a day is not unusual

I stopped to fish many eddies and other promising spots on the river. I caught a variety of fish including walleye, bass, mooneye, and sheepshead. I hooked a northern, but it was smarter than I. It ran down stream and turned sideways in the current and used the current to rid its self of the spoon. I did land one keeper walleye and cooked it up for lunch on a sandbar near the confluence of the Mississippi. I decided to not venture out into the Mississippi due to the heavy volume of holiday boat traffic.
When traveling back upstream to camp, I stowed the fishing gear and looked for critters and navigating hazards. I was happy that I missed all the trees in the river. That night several owls had a hooting contest while I was watching the campfire. I also left the remains of my fish fry on the beach for the eagles and it was quickly consumed by them.
Sunday morning, I ventured back upstream toward Ella to fish. The fishing wasn’t as good this day, so I landed on the east bank of the river and explored some open areas of the Tiffany Bottoms Wildlife Area. The area is a mixture of open meadows, oak savanna and river bottom hard woods. On my short hike, I saw silver maple, oak, river birch, ash, basswood, and maple trees. There was abundant evidence of deer, turkeys and squirrels although the deer and turkeys were shy, and I didn’t see any. I flushed several wood ducks out of a slough. It was a great hike.
After hiking, I motored back to Ben Gunn island and packed up camp and traveled back to the landing at Ella. I had a lot of memories and some fish stories to tell.

Canoeing the Flooded Dunnville Bottoms

I was able to sneak in a canoe trip to the Dunnville Bottoms between rain storms this week. The super wet spring combined with the heavy snows from this winter have kept large portions of the river bottoms under water all spring. The river bottoms are formed by the confluence of the Chippewa and Red Cedar Rivers. Both are extremely high right now. I launched the canoe off of 580th Street into a bottom land lake. Late last summer this lake was mostly a muddy pit as the water level was really low. Now it is flooded. While paddling around the flooded bottoms, I was reminded of the bayou country I visited around Pine Bluff, AR. At least when floating the bottoms up north, I didn’t have to watch for alligators or water moccasins.

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I went around a bend and a goose exploded out of the brush. A closer look at its exit point revealed this goose nest. I snapped a quick photo and got out of there as the two geese were flying over head and angrily honking at me. I expected to be divebombed by the geese. But I guess, I am too hairy and scary, so the geese left me alone. I hope the waters don’t rise even higher and flood the nest.

Once among the trees, navigating the tangled mess of trees and brush was interesting. I used a combination of paddling, poling with the paddle, and pushing and pulling on the trees and brush to crash though the areas where the trees and brush were the thinnest.

I was surprised to see water flowing swiftly in this area. The water creating the current had to come from the Chippewa River which is about a mile away from the launch point. The flooding is indeed mighty.

When you a paddling this summer, I hope the wind is at your back and the skeeters are few.

Fire

Sitting in front of a fire watching in burn is one of the most mesmerizing experience a person can have.  Fire triggers many sensory reactions.  The constantly changing and shifting flames and colors First burn from yellow, to blue to glowing red.  The flames flicker, and dance and constantly shift shapes.  Fires have an auditory sensation also.  The crackling a spitting and hissing of the wood as it burns is music to one’s ears on a cold wet winter night. Experiencing the warmth of a wood fire after being outside on a cold winter day is one of life’s great occurrences.

Sitting in front of a fire is required on any camping trip.  As a child, my family went camping nearly every other weekend.  My dad always built a campfire at night.  He built big camp fires with flames that were five feet tall.

In my neighborhood, campfire sitting is a favorite pastime of many of my neighbors.  We all have fire rings in our yards and it’s a common occurrence for at least one fire to be blazing in the evening while we relax and unwind. In the winter, many of the neighborhood’s residents are fortunate to have a fire place.  We try to keep the dark and cold of long winter nights at bay, with a cheery fire burning in the fireplace.  I like to enhance the auditory effects of a fireplace fire by tossing an occasional piece of cedar in the fire.  Cedar crackles and pops more than most woods lending a nice touch to the fire.  Guests love the sound effects.  Unfortunately, our dog does not so she hangs out on my wife’s bed when the fire is burning in the fireplace.  When we have a fire going in the summer, the mutt lays right on the light where the light of the fire, meets the dark of the night.  If the fire gets to crackly and poppy, she retreats to the darkness.

Of course, the fireplace is only supplemental heat in a modern house.  We have very controlled fire’s burning in our furnaces which enable us to live very comfortably indoors during our long dark and cold winters.

Our dependency on fire was driven home to me during this deer season.  I camped for 10 days in the wilds of northern Wisconsin in  a large canvass tent with a wood stove, a cot, a chair, a table and a few kerosene lanterns. After being in the woods from “can’t see in the morning until almost dark in the evening, having a fire in the wood stove to heat the tent and cook supper was of paramount importance.  I had many useful fire-starting helpers with me to ensure I could get a fire started no matter the weather, or the wetness of the wood.  I had made up fire starters with egg cartons, sawdust and wax.  I gathered birch bark while wandering the woods, and I gathered small starter wood to use to get the fire going before adding the larger pieces that I had cut and split for heating of the tent.  The initial “roar” of the fire as it took off and began to burn as the draft developed was as sweet a music as any song by Muddy Waters.

Today, fire is so commonly used, we often forget it is even there.  The fire that propels our cars and trucks, the fire that heats our homes and the fire that cooks our food is often hidden or so simple to use that we take it for granted.  Long gone are the days where making fire was difficult and verged on the sacred.  The ancient Greeks and Romans had goddesses of the hearth and fire.  The Greeks had Hestia and the Romans had Vesta.  In both instances the fires for these goddesses were tended 24-7 and never allowed to go out.  In the Roman temples for Vesta, Vestal virgins kept the fires burning day and night. Native American Plains tribes carried coals from their fires in a sacred bison horns, so they could start a fire at the end of their days travel.

Many ways of lighting fires were developed over the millennium.  A few include flint and steel, fire bows, striking iron pyrite together, magnifying glasses, fire pistons, matches, lighters, and batteries and steel wool. And for the fire starting challenged we have match light charcoal and easy-light premade fire logs.

Many people find having a fire during the Christmas celebrations a vital tradition.  The fireplace is lit when the presents are opened, or the guests arrive.  If one is not fortunate enough to have a fireplace, its technology to the rescue.  There are dozens of videos of fires burning in fireplaces that can be played on the phone or the big screen tv during the holiday celebrations.  Is a fireplace video not to your liking?  Then play the numerous videos of campfires on the big screen.  All the videos even have sound tracks of crackling fires.

We are totally dependent on fire.   And we are fascinated with fire.  Fire can be a most useful thing or it can kill and destroy.  Watching a fire is a most enjoyable and contemplative activity.  This holiday season spend some time watching a real or virtual fire and think about the amazing impact fire has on our lives.