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Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Contiguous Dark Shores of Tichigan Lake 02 05 2009

The Contiguous Dark Shores of Tichigan Lake 02 05 2009

After surveying Southeastern Wisconsin Lake Map books for lakes in a southern direction from Milwaukee that might hold big Muskie’s, I decided to try Tichigan Lake. Tichigan was indicated to hold Muskie’s although the guy at the bait shop didn’t seem to think so. What attracted me to Tichigan was the fact that it was connected to the Fox River and therefore it might offer good scenery as well. To the West of the lake is what they call Tichigan Marsh, a shallow reservoir on the Fox River with very little shoreline development. The lake maps told me the bottom contour of Tichigan Lake was steep not far off from shore. I consider this type of structure to usually be good fishing and lakes with it do not seem to be as common in Southeastern Wisconsin.

The drive through the Southern Wisconsin region was more peaceful than I remembered when I hunted nearby lands as a teenager. A trip into nature is not really about catching fish or taking game, but more about being with nature.

Tichigan Lake was indicated to have three boat launch ramps, two off of Tichigan Road located on a peninsula structure and one accessible from upstream, through Tichigan Marsh, on the Fox River off of Bridge Road. Not able to find the ramps on the peninsula I hollered to some residents that were having a garage sale and asked where they were. It turns out the two Peninsula boat ramps were either closed or sold off per my discussion with them. So I left the peninsula with the boat and trailer attached to my car and headed for the more remote ramp upstream in the Fox River. This day trip was October 10th of 2008. It was one of those days where it’s warm during the day but when the sun drops it gets cold quickly.

The parking lot and the boat ramp were somewhat disjointed. To get to the boat ramp, one car at a time had to back down a single lane road that was lined with marsh on both sides. And to access the lake via this launch you would have to put the boat in tie it to the dock and drive back to park the car. That day the lot was filled but for one empty space.

The man who brought his boat out of the water before I put in had been duck hunting, I asked him if he had any luck and he gruffly said that he didn't.

Once launched the ride downstream on the Fox River was full of twists and turns through the cattail and marsh lined narrow channel of the river. The channel offered little in the way of navigational aids and was a very shallow sandy muck bottom with what sounded like a little gravel too. I say it sounded like because that is what it sounded like when my boat ran onto it. It is never a good sign that no matter how slow you go you are constantly kicking up silt off the lake bottom with the trailing vortex created by your propeller.

I had predetermined that if the day permitted I would fish the section near this boat ramp also. So I was not bothered too much by having to use the Fox River launch at this point of the lake.

The shallow Fox River feeds the left Tichigan Marsh and you travel down southward around a populated peninsula land mass and back up north to the deeper right Tichigan Lake. The lake has houses and cottages on the shoreline the left or west Tichigan Marsh ha

As the river opened up and widened out into the western Tichigan Marsh section. I ran aground of the bottom several times with my 14' Aluminum hulled Grumman.

From a distance I spotted white birds on a marsh Island structure. I approached slowly in water I knew was to shallow while being mindful to keep a safe distance so as not to disturb them or their habitat for they turned out to be a small flock of the rare and beautiful Trumpeter Swans.

I guess I have always had an appreciation of them, maybe I read a book on them in grade school and wrote a report or maybe it was because one of the musical instruments I tried to learn to play was the Coronet a "Trumpet" like instrument and that gave me a vague reference in my memory to research or something.

Viewing them from my boat I saw them as magnificent and austere. They are much larger in size than geese. To me the male’s white feathers symbolize the good protagonist, what I consider another rarity. I could see the feathers on the females as being an intricate mixture of light brown and rabbit fur colors.

I approached them from the north and bottomed out once again a safe distance from them so as not to disturb them. At this point I quietly and slowly reached for my favorite gun ever- my digital camera. And with a high sense of elation started shooting pictures of the swans preening from various angles. As endangered as they are I did disturb them by taking too many pictures or staying too long in that spot.

While taking pictures a boat with four adolescent boy's passed by on my eastern or port side at this time and I don't remember what I said to them, but I took a picture of them also to preserve my memory of the day's story. They had the reserved and suppressed mischievous looks on their faces as most teens do when their up to something, but they weren't.

Frustrated with how shallow this west marsh section was I decided to head for the deeper eastern section of the lake and best utilize my minnows there.

As I was motoring to the east side I caught up with a bigger boat that had launched before me. It had its motor at 35 degree tilt to avoid prop damage as it taxied through the shallows.

I easily overtook them with my shoulder blade tearing 30 year old 4 HP Evinrude Outboard. I was not racing; this was just one occasion where my smaller boat and motor could go faster.

As I calculate it, I had gone two miles from the boat launch when I came to the eastern section of the lake approaching from the south. My route from port could be graphically described as a fish hook hanging on the line with the barb pointing to the right side.

As I headed north into this section of the lake on the westward shore I passed two tight necked bays or pockets. One had what looked like a rope bridge suspended structure that went from one side of the shore of its inlet to its other. Upon a more focused look the bridge appeared to be a menacing looking structure of cables. A sign in the middle read "Private Property No Trespassing"

I thought to myself who is so arrogant and mean that they think they own that bay of water. As I understood it if I wanted to press the issue I am legally entitle to right of way there. But after seeing the Trumpeter Swans just a little while before, I was less in the mood for testing this kind of trouble. Past that the lake started to widen out. After motoring a bit out into the wider section I recognized the island I had planned to fish.

I had the most hits fishing off the gradual sloping bottom off the west side of the island. If I were to ever go back this is where I would fish.

I then proceeded to fish every structure on that eastern side of the Lake.

From the Island I made my way North on the east shore. The drop off was steep close to the shore. I didn't have much luck. From there I cruised up into the shallows farthest north, more to see what it looked like, rather than with the expectation of catching fish in those shallows.

Then I worked back down south along the peninsula shore where there was supposed to be two boat ramps. The bottom contour was more gradual sloping on this side.

Teenagers with spoiled voices were out in a water skiing boat dragging one of their hot-dogging brethren behind them noisily enough to give you an irritating all day headache. As they disrespectfully tore up the serenity of the place, to practice being a good curmudgeon when I get older, I yelled at them a few times. Uncharacteristic of me I have become profane to these types.

Having launched early mid day I figured I was on the water a good eight hours now and as night came the fishing would get better as it always does. I decided to fish a few more spots to use up my live bait.

I marked several fish in deep water on my SONAR as I traveled to the west shore of the Island where I had some prior action.

Starting to get the shivers I mounted aft and fore boat lights and fished in the darkness. I had several strong hits on a good sized sucker minnow suspended below a tennis ball sized bobber. I had purchased two of these 8” long minnows. Their mouth’s opening is orientated like a vacuum cleaner, to be able to suck stuff off the bottom as they swim.

There is a dilemma when fishing with bobbers and minnows and that is whether to choose to set the hook right away when the bobber goes down and risk a missed set or to wait until you think the bait might be far enough in its mouth for a more sure hook set. The risk to the latter is that if you wait too long the fish might sense the hook or line and spit the bait out. The summary of this analysis is that no good sized fish were caught.

I started to get cold enough to know that I had reached my limit and made the decision to head for port where I put in. I secured the boat as best I could. This entails pulling in both anchors, making sure hooks are secured to the rods and that the rods are placed to the side of the boat, out of the way. I then sat down on the stern bench seat and started the gas outboard.

I have always been proud of my capabilities and have strong self reliance. I usually have a general idea of the risks involved in what I do and a corresponding confidence that I can get myself out of just about any predicament.

Being well prepared, I was not apprehensive because I had strong lights, a pocket sized GPS that I had saved waypoints on, the most important waypoint being that of the boat ramp. Saving a waypoint is a way to put a temporary digital mark on the map of the GPS screen location to indicate where you are at certain point. They are usually designated by numbers but can also be symbols.

Anyhow it was pretty much pitch black on the lake now except for the starlight. Learning how to navigate by the stars is not a skill I want to learn.

Booting up my map based GPS I rounded the Peninsula on my way back to port. The GPS had a map of the lake on it and I started to travel to my marked off waypoints that would show my relative position on the lake with regard to its shoreline delineation.

When I took my third reading it indicated that I was square on top of the land mass Peninsula. Of course there is a series of roads on the peninsula and it is pretty much full of cottage sized houses also. All GPS’s come with the warning, “Not to be used as a navigational aid.” Dread is how I describe what I started to feel next as I realized that my GPS has "this" navigational limitation first hand.

As the pass opened into Tichigan Marsh there were no well lit houses on the shores to serve as meaningful landmarks. In effect no matter where you looked or shone the beam of your light all you saw was marsh structure indistinguishable from itself in all directions. The last thing I wanted to do was ground the boat out on that marsh island of Trumpeter Swans I was so awed by what seemed like eons ago. The potential cacophony and danger to both me and them was something no one should tempt to realize. I had no choice but to hug the right shore, using my compass now and what seemed to be unreliable GPS, and head in a northern vector. I would rather bottom out several times on the right than have a chance meeting or rendezvous with the Swans nesting somewhere to my port side. Port is the left side of a boat as it faces forward. It proved to test my nerves very well, a few times I grounded bottom and didn’t think I would get unstuck. In cases like this it's good to have the oars to use as bottom push poles. However a cold and long chaotic day will tend to sap your strength for even this.

Now being cold and tired I was disheartened as I could feel my kidney's start to ache and knew they were just about tapped out of adrenaline for the day. What I have come to sense as the start of exhaustion.

The process of getting back became one of backing the stuck boat off the bottom and vectoring a little to the left in hopes of deeper channel water, the discernment of which was a task even in the daylight.

Anyhow that two mile stretch back wasn't really as bad as I make it out to be. Once I found the channel of the Fox River it was actually deeper than the lake and the reverse course started to look more familiar. The boat launch waypoint on my GPS started to near. Navigating the river was easier because going forward you know the difference from the river in front of you and the cattails along the side as you shine your flashlight from side to side and forward. There was one bright light up on a pole that I had made a mental note of as a landmark when I launched and I navigated to it. Reaching the pier of the boat launch I tied my boat to its bastion. I stepped up on the pier and walked the road that led to the lot. The parking lot was quiet and completely vacant except for my car with boat trailer. Being the last one off the lake is no more a surprise to me than it always is every time I go fishing.


On January 9th 2009 I attended a lecture on Tichigan Lake by Jim Laganowski, a fishing guide. The Wisconsin Fishing Club sponsored the event.

Some things regarding the lake I thought worth mentioning:

1. Tichigan Lake named by the Indians translates into “Lake of the Dead”, and there are Indian mounds on the eastern shore.

2. Aside from being connected to the Fox River Tichigan Lake is also spring fed.

3. West of Tichigan Marsh there are hunting grounds. Arrowheads found there are made of a pliable chip rock not native to the area. It is thought that these Indians here traded with Indians all the way down in Arkansas.

Copyright 2009 Thomas Paul Murphy

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