Welcome to Discovering the Northwoods from the Manitowish Waters Historical Society. We will take you on a journey through our local history with the help of primary source documentation. To learn more about this rich history or about the historical society – check out our website at mwhistory.org for blog posts, show notes, our YouTube Channel, and a full transcription of this episode!
As with many historical works from this era, there are phrases, terms, and descriptions that are inappropriate to our modern sensibilities. The Manitowish Waters Historical Society in no way condones these offensive remarks or passages but chooses to read this publication in its entirety for educational purposes and accurate historic context.
We would like to introduce The Fishing Grounds of Rest Lake by E.C. Potter. The original source was published in the Outers Recreation Special Fishing Number in April of 1918. This episode is read by me, Brenna Reilley.
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a very valuable series of articles describing Northern Wisconsin lakes in such detail as to furnish fishermen an accurate guide to the fishing grounds on the lakes covered. The series has been a long time in preparation, but we are now able to make a beginning and the articles will appear month after month for an indefinite period. We hope, before the series ends, to cover a very considerable part of the Wisconsin Wonderland. The utmost care has been exercised in gathering the data and we believe the information contained in these articles will be found absolutely reliable. Mr. Potter who is writing the series, is a very thorough investigator, who has visited the lakes personally, and is making no statement that he has not verified. The maps are being made by Rand, McNally & Co., the big Chicago map publishers, which is a guarantee of their accuracy.
Every time I go fishing to a new place I want to take a pot-shot at the resort keeper because he doesn’t furnish me a map of the fishing grounds in his “gosh durned” lake. I do not hate fishing or anything—On the contrary, it’s easy for me to go fishing any old time, but I can’t see the joke in going on a week-end trip to a new lake, and spending the biggest part of it exploring the lake to find out where to fish. There is no getting away from the fact, though, that if you want to catch fish you have got to have some idea what part of the lake to fish in. We all know how to catch smallmouths on sand bars and bigmouths around logs and stumps, and pike and muskies around weed beds, and a lot of things like that, and most of us know enough to blame the poor fishing of a glassy day in August on the weather instead of on the resort keeper of his lake, but what we do not know oftentimes at a strange lake is to tell, from where you sit, just where the weed beds and stumps and other things are.
And I’ve found a lot of other fellows that feel the same way. Now, I’ve fished Rest Lake in the Manitowish chain quite a bit and caught some fish, and I’m going to give you boys a description of the shore lines, and what you can expect, so if you go up there any time this summer you’ll have a little idea of what you’re up against when you start to try out that new bait. I’m not afraid of you catching all my fish, for I don’t get up more than two or three times a summer, and then the Manitowish chain is big, there’s nine good lakes in it: Rest, Island, Spider, Stone, Mud, Clear, Manitowish, Alder and Rice, all connected by the Manitowish River, and there’s lots of fish in all of them, so if any of you fellows think you can catch ’em all, go to it and see if I care.
One of the things I especially like about the Manitowish country is that it’s primitive. It’s wild; as wild and primal as any country I ever saw, less thickly settled than the territory a little further south, and if you can gaze across its broad expanse of lake and timber line and see any vestige of stone walls and cobblestones, you’ve got an imagination that’s beyond mine. To my mind one of the most delightful trips in the great North Woods is a journey through the entire chain. It’s all wild, but each lake is a different vista of charming primal beauty. The channel is deep enough to take most any power boat and there’s about a dozen resorts on the chain, but none of them are the electric-light, boardwalk variety—they are primitive, many of them log cottages as in the days of the early settlers, in an environment genuinely wild.
The best way, in fact the only convenient way to get to Rest Lake is on the Chicago & North Western, getting off at their Manitowish station. They have a train leaving Chicago and Milwaukee in the evening that gets up to Manitowish about daylight, and as the liverymen always meet it with their autos you get out to the resorts just in time to get a good breakfast and an early start on your fishing.
When I go to Rest Lake I usually go to Mitchell’s. It’s a good resort about twelve miles from the town of Manitowish and I’ve always found the eats and sleeps excellent. They set a good table and lots of it, and their beds are nice and dean. Buck & Son run the livery at Manitowish and make trips anywhere you want to go very reasonable. In fact, the average charge from Manitowish to Mitchell is only $1.50, as they usually have at least three people for each car going out to the resorts. Of course a special trip for one or two people would raise the ante a little; and, be the way, that auto trip from Manitowish to Mitchell is in the early morning is one of the most delightful in the whole north country. The road is mostly a woodsy trail along the bank of the Manitowish River, and it is a beauty although the timber is more cut now than it used to be.
Now, I’ve made a sketch of the fishing grounds in the lake and sent it to the editor, and if he sees fit to spend a few dollars and have a map made from it, I’ll vote him a good sport, and I know you will, too. Anyway, this is the way we found the fishing grounds last September, and I haven’t heard of any earthquake or anything up there last winter, although the guides say the big muskies and the ice push the stumps around some occasionally, but it’s not probable they change it enough to make much difference.
The good grounds commence right in front of Mitchell’s boat landing. In fact, there were a couple of women there last year—their husbands had gone out fishing and wouldn’t take them along, so they got in a boat and went out by themselves and after fishing about a half an hour they hooked a twenty-five-pound musky that dragged them most all over the lake before some men came along and shot it for them.
Leaving Mitchell’s boat landing and starting down the west shore ef the lake first you strike a bay that is a jungle of dead tree, logs, and stumps with a weed bed in front of it. There’s bell’s as many big fish caught around this weed bed as any one place in the lake. You can’t fish back in this bay to any advantage because there isn’t one chance in a hundred you’d ever land a fish you hooked—he would take a half-hitch of the line around a stump and then come up and stand on his tail and laugh at you, and if you went to hit him with an oar he’d shake out the hook and hike back in the jungle, but if you’ll fish out around the weed bed you’ll pretty quick snag onto one of those investigative old fellows that has come out of the jungle and is prowling around looking for a chance to turn some other smaller fish into a musky. There’s quite a clear channel here in front of the weed bed, and you shouldn’t have any occasion to tell how you “just about got him up to the boat and then,” etc. On still evenings when the fish are feeding, this bay, back among the stumps, is a constant ripple and splash which shows where the fish are all right.
From this bay, all the way north, down the west side of the lake, the shore line is sand, coarse gravel and rocks, and the deep water runs close to the shore. There are many small bays, however, and in most of them are quite a few stumps and fallen trees, make in a good place to cast for bass and pike. This same character of hoer line continues well down to the dam. Just before you reach the dam is a good place to camp. There is a clear, bubbling spring there and the shore is level and clean. Going on past the dam you will find some very good grounds, several weed beds on a sand bottom and some stumps and fallen trees. Soon you will come to another dead jungle like the one in the bay across from Mitchell is, but just before you come to it, right on the point, marked by a few snags and deadheads, starts a sand bar that runs clear across the lake to the island just east of Mitchell’s.
Now, while we are here I will tell you about this bar, as you know bars in the middle of lakes are usually the places you catch the most fish. On a car day if the surface of the water is still you can see this bar under your boat all the way across the lake, and that is the time to get lined up in your memory with shore landmarks so you will not lose it when you go out on a cloudy, reply day. The bar zigzags and in some places, runs down deep, but there are weeds on the bottom all along that make excellent cover from which the big ones will come out with a rush as your bait goes over them. Along this bar is an excellent place to troll or still fish with live bait on a warm. day, and when the fish will not bite along the shore you are always pretty sure of a nice catch if you will work along this bar.
As you go on around the shore from the starting point of this bar you come to the north shore of the lake, where you will have to turn southeast. This is a big jungle of dead trees, stumps and fallen logs and you cannot get a boat around through it, hut out in front of it, the same as at the one across from Mitchell is, there are many weed beds all the way around to the point and all of this is good casting grounds for bass, pike, and muskies. What killed this timber was the building or the dam years ago by the lumbermen to float their logs down from the lakes above, this having hacked the water up onto the low timer land. This jungle extends on around orthoclase into a bay on the east side of the lake, and the hay is particularly good pike and Muskie grounds. There is a good growth of weeds on the bottom and quite a few fallen tortes and a lot of good-sized muskies have been caught here. The weeds don’t get high enough to snag your hook till pretty late in the fall.
Coming out of the bay you come to a point or sort of peninsula which is an excellent place to cast or still-fish for small-mouths. The best place for smallmouths is always around a rock or gravel bar, as these fish seem more partial to that kind of a feeding ground than anyother. This point extends quite a way out into the lake and shelf rest the bays on both sides, providing a splendid place to fish on wind days when other parts of the lake get too rough.
As this peninsula has quite a bend to it and a bay on each side you hardly ever find the wind in such a quarter that one of these bays is not quiet water. Continuing around the shore you find more bays nearby with vegetable growth on the bottom, which are all excellent spots for pike and musky, then you come to a clear water sand and gravel shore which continues on around to the island close to Mitchell’s. This is a lowland shore, but it is not swampy and makes an excellent bathing beach and camping ground. This is a good place to rest your casting arm and troll a while. Following the shore line, you come to a narrow channel between the island and the main land. While we did not take any soundings, it looks as though when the water is low there would not be enough water at the extreme south end of this channel to let you through, but it is a good speculation, always, to fish around the island—it is good for trolling—as some big ones have been caught there. This island is the other end of the sand rock-weed bar that runs clear across almost the whole length of the lake.
Just after you pass the island you come to the mouth of the Manitowish River where it enters Rest Lake and along here and up to Mitchell’s boat landing is good grounds. This is a sand shore, but with high banks and an abrupt drop of bottom with deep water close to shore, so you will want to keep close to shore. There is an occasional stump or fallen tree sticking up that makes good cover for these old pirates that like to lay around under something and watch for some unfortunate young one to come along, so your bait is likely to be taken for something good to eat most any minute.
This south end of the lake has several reasons for being pretty good grounds. Being at the mouth of the river, there is a tendency for feed to be washed into the lake here; the jungle bay over west with its weed bed in front is excellent cover, spawning ground, etc., and the bars and sand and gravel shores offer another variation of loafing place for some of the particularly prosperous fish that do not find it takes all their time to make a living. Never having been the kind of fish that spends all his time in the water, I am naturally not thoroughly conversant with their habits, but it would seem perfectly logical that a fish should enjoy the diversion of occupation of roaming around for a while on a nice, clean, sunshiny sand bar and then going over and prowling through a weed bed, the same as man, bird, and beast like to do, one thing for a while and then go do something else—anyways, we know we catch ’em part of the time on a sand bar and at other times around the stumps and weed beds.
While there are lots of bass and pike in Rest Lake, it, as the rest of the Manitowish chain, is ordinarily considered more of a musky lake than a field for the other varieties. There are lots of muskies in the entire chain. There is been a lot caught that weighed 30 to 40 lbs., the red is a lot of 20 pounders: they are really the best fish both to catch and to eat, and even a 10-pounder is nothing to get disgusted about. There is an occasional perch, and the pike are the wall-eye. or pike-perch; at least I have not seen any of the Great Northern variety caught there, and there are no pickerel in their waters.
While the Great Northern pike will be found quite plentiful in certain Wisconsin lakes that are tributary to the Mississippi, they seem to be more’ abundant over east of the divide in the Ontonagon, Presque Isle, Turtle and other tributary waters of Lake Superior. How do you account for it? Never mind, now; I cannot conceive of any subject on which more diversified and positive opinions can instantly burst upon one like a rain of shrapnel than are launched when one begins to comment upon the why of a fish, but wouldn’t it be nice to know for sure just why, when and where a fish does this and that and the other?