Ed Erikson of Chetek, Wisconsin has been specializing in fishing Alton Lake for more than fifty years.
Alton is a wide, open lake and a strong wind can kick up large waves in just a minute or two. Ed is convinced that this lake is more productive when there are strong winds, but staying on the lake under high wind conditions in a canoe is hazardous.
During his working career, Ed was on the staff of the large Madison Vocational School. He and his fellow instructors designed and built an outrigger for his canoe which allows him to stay on the lake under conditions that would drive a prudent person on to shore.
Ed is a lucky and expert fisherman. He practices catch and release, but does keep a limit to take home.
Years ago, Ed and his wife were fishing on Alton. Ed had the honor of netting a walleye that his wife caught. The official scale at Sawbill Outfitters read fifteen pounds when they brought it in to be weighed.
They took this fish home, had it freeze-dried in a position which simulated a fish striking a lure. Then, they had a Plexiglas box built and had an artist paint an underwater scene on the back wall of the box. The lure used to catch this fish was dangling from the top of the box. The box has interior lighting.
The box is mounted on a wall of their recreation room. When Ed showed me a picture of the installation, I asked him if they had visiting hours and soft music to give proper respect to the fish. A life goal of Ed’s is to catch a walleye in Alton Lake which equal or exceeds his wife’s record fish. So far, no luck.
During his recent visit to Alton, Ed had a totally new experience. A loon attacked the stringer of fish hanging in the water. Ed pulled on the stringer and the loon held on to the stringer. After a brief struggle, Ed was able to get the stringer into the canoe. He wanted to donate that fish to the loon, but his partner objected. There was some statement about teaching loons bad habits.
Luke Opel, a Sawbill Outfitters crew member, was also fishing on Alton Lake. He had another loon experience. A loon swam under his canoe over and over again, for all the world appearing to be planning to strike Luke’s bait. Luke succeeded in avoiding that, but he did get a great underwater photo of the loon emerging from under the canoe. The photo is posted on the Sawbill website.
Le Vong Lo is another Alton specialist. He recently caught a forty-five-inch-long northern pike in Alton. His partner took an amazing picture of this giant fish and then the fish was returned to the lake to continue what must be a long life.
While I was preparing material for a talk at the Cook County Historical Society, I consulted the chapter on Sawbill Lodge in Mary Alice’s book, “Sawbill Tales.” There is a photo in the chapter of the large, wooden sign which greeted guests as they drove into the lodge. I believe that this sign may be the earliest example of texting in history. It read: “U,” capital u, “NO,” capital n and o, that “U,” capital u, “R,” capital r, at “SAWBILL.” How about that.
Busy is upon us. As one resident of Tofte said, “The highway is so busy, I have to look both ways before I run the stop sign.” Only in the West End.
This is Frank Hansen at WTIP with the West End News.