Pre-July 4th Trip on the Deserted Namekagon

In a normal year, the week before July 4th the traffic
starts to build here in Wisconsin’s Washburn County
. I did not canvass area
resorts and motels this week to see if their business is down this year, but if you were judging from the boat traffic today on the Namekagon River you’d have to say the North Country is deserted.

We’re betting that the dearth of canoe, kayak and tube traffic on this popular river today was due to the weather. This morning, the air temperature was about 50º and the water a chilly 58º when we launched our flotilla at Earl Park Landing a few miles north of Trego.

Wendy Williamson, of The Hayward Fly Fishing Company and one of her guides, Mike Sergeant, were in Wendy’s driftboat – a boat designed for salmon fishing on Western rivers that she and her husband, Larry Mann, brought

here from Colorado. With its flat bottom, a driftboat glides easily over rocks and gravel bars. The guide controls the drift with a pair of oars, while one angler fishes from the bow and another from the stern.

Today, Mike was Wendy’s solo angler, which left room in her boat for our camera crew.

Our crew, videographer Michael Garvin and audio engineer Gail Grzbowski, split their time between Wendy’s Boulder Boatworks driftboat and a canoe paddled by National Park Service employee John Rogowski. Park Service interpretive ranger Branda Thwaits and I slid into 10-foot kayaks.

Focusing alternately on Wendy, then Branda, our crew taped these two gals at work on the river. Branda patrols the river, speaking to visitors, answering questions, picking up trash and generally serving as the interface between the National Scenic Riverway and its visitors. Wendy, who grew up on the river in nearby Hayward, guides fishermen on the Nmaekagon and other area rivers when she is not in her tackle shop in downtown Hayward.

It took all morning, but Mike finally caught a couple decent smallmouths when the water warmed up a bit. The best fish came just below the northernmost of two bridges on Highway 63 between Trego and Earl. That is the same spot, BTW, where I used to fish in the evening for walleyes going on 35 years ago!

When you’re taping a show on a wild river, the last thing you need is vehicle traffic noise, but once we crossed Highway 63, the north wind blew the sounds of semis, logging trucks and motorcycles right to us, regardless of where on the river we went. We tucked into shore at a canoe campsite a bit more than halfway to Trego and shot interviews with Wendy and Branda, then shoved off again for the last leg of the trip.

This time, Michael and Gail rode in Wendy’s boat, and Mike paddled with John, which freed me up to grab Wendy’s Sage Smallmouth fly rod and try my luck with the little popper Mike had been using. I caught one tiny smallmouth, then hooked a good fish along a grassy bank where a riffle dropped into a deep hole. I thought at first it was a muskie, but soon saw it was a nice largemouth.

By the time I had taken a couple photos and released the fish, Michael was calling me on the two-way radio to say they were finished shooting and about to take out at the Trego Visitor Center landing. I secured Wendy’s rod and paddled down to the landing, only to realize I had lost my Cocoons sunglasses somewhere along the way – no doubt when I was photographing the bass.

Such are the hazards of this business!

After a well-earned night of rest, we head to Solon Springs in the morning to hike the North Country Trail. More on that tomorrow night.

We’ll stop back along the Namekagon Friday morning on our way home to grab some shots of other river users – the wimps who were scared off by April temperatures in July. I’m betting the weekend traffic will be more like in a normal year, when 1,000 or more tubers float that same stretch in one afternoon.

Glad we were there today!


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