By Naomi Shapiro
EAGLE RIVER, Wis. — The Eagle River area from late September into early October is a dual opportunity for fabulous hunting and some of the finest muskie and walleye angling anywhere” said George Langley of Eagle Sports in Eagle River, Wis.
“With some 1,300 lakes in the immediate Eagle River area, there’s more than ample opportunity to get that lunker of a lifetime,” Langley said. “Add to that literally thousands upon thousands of easily accessible and well maintained hunting acres.”
“In Eagle River, we are an envelope between the Nicolet National Forest to the north and east, the Ottawa National Forest to the north, the Northern Highland State Forest to the northwest, and countless tracts of county land, all of which are public and usable by hunters,” said Langley.
“In addition, immediately west of Eagle River, there are a number of established hiking/grouse hunting trails on county land.”
“Another thing that hunters do is walk the fabulous skein of groomed snowmobile trails in the Eagle River area for grouse.”
Trophy fish and hunting variety attract visitors to the Eagle River Chain.
“Pick a lake, like maybe North Twin — deep, clear,” said Langley.
“Pick another lake, maybe dark-watered, like the 28-lake Eagle River Chain, the largest freshwater chain of lakes in the world. Fish these lakes, or any of the about 450 trophy muskie waters we’ve got in the Eagle River area, and then smile as you light into a 50-plus-incher. It happens every fall.”
“Just remember to immediately release all of these magnificent fish,” said Langley.
“Take a photo, and come in and see us at Eagle Sports. We’ll put you on to a first-class taxidermist who’ll turn out a trophy mount from that photo that is beyond belief.”
You’ll need to know muskie to catch muskie. “First, anglers should know that muskie are almost as somnambulant as bears,” said Langley.
“The muskie, in winter, simply become almost totally inactive.
During the fall, the falling water temps trigger a series of feeding binges to build up their fat supplies, which last them through the winter, when they are almost totally inactive.
Savvy anglers take yearly advantage of this natural fall-feeding binge.”
“There are two really neat fall muskie fishing patterns,” said Langley.
“The first pattern is that muskies will be coming up on the weed flats, and locate in 8 to 11, maybe 12, feet of water.”
“They prefer the patchy muskie cabbage even though these areas will be dying off. The muskies cruise these flats, and are very aggressive as they extend themselves to pork up for winter.”
“You’ll get hard hits from big fish. This is the time of year to use large jerk- and twitchbaits.”
“The second general pattern is what I call an ‘edge pattern,'” said Langley.
“You will get muskie moving up and onto these flats from ‘contact points’ coming up from deep water.
These ‘contact points’ are where the muskie move off and on.
They generally follow a ‘trail’ from deep water and will make contact with the edge of structure, maybe on a little point or at the tip of a weed bed, just before going onto the flats.
This is where knowledgeable muskie hunters intercept these fish.
What you’ll want to do is hook up big, live suckers to quick set rigs, and drag them in depths ranging from 8 to 15 feet of water. Or toss a sucker imitation jerkbait, or a big twitchbait.
This is a super time and super area to get that fish of a lifetime.”
“On the large, deep, lakes, like North Twin, walleye are very aggressively hanging out along structure edges, just a tad deeper than where you’d be fishing muskie,” said Langley.
“Indeed, it is very common to see both muskie hunters and walleye anglers within talking distance of each other — and both hitting the other’s quarry, so to speak. A muskie hunter will sometimes nail a walleye, and a walleye angler might get bit-off by a 50-inch muskie.”
“You’ll want to fish the structure where it starts to come up out of classic deep water and begins to rise to the muskie-fishing weedy flats we previously spoke about,” said Langley.
“Let’s say the deepwater depth is 30 to 40 feet.
The bottom may be muck, but when it begins to rise from 25 up to 15 feet, there will be lots of sand and gravel bottom, and there’ll be structure areas.
At the structure edges is where you’ll find actively feeding loose schools of walleye.
Jigs and large redtail chubs will be the bait of choice.
And if you’re breaking from hunting, don’t worry about fishing walleye at midday this time of year. They’ll be right there and biting heavily.
Langley also urges fly anglers to “definitely come to Eagle River to fish both muskie and walleye. There is absolutely no greater thrill than going for muskie and walleye with a fly rod.”
“The grouse hunting in Eagle River is, hands-down, some of the finest in the world,” said Langley.
“And while grouse populations are cyclical in nature, this past spring and summer I heard a great deal of drumming while out on many treks in the surrounding Eagle River area, which indicates a good grouse hunting season this year.”
“We’re not quite at the top of the cycle yet, but it should be a very good grouse season in 2004.”
“And after another mild winter this past year,” Langley said, “our area deer population is enormous; there are some grand bucks ready to be harvested. The bow deer season, especially in the county land which extends to the Northern Highland State Forest, is just great.”
Langley urges bow deer hunters to scout carefully, and if hunters want to set up a stand, he said to use one of the new, stand-up/sit-down stands.
With the Wisconsin deer herd reaching near uncountable numbers, hunters can get all types of permits to take more than one animal.
Langley suggests that visiting hunters check with him or any Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources regional office about permits and bag limits.
And there’s more
“One of the great sleeper hunts in the Eagle River area is going for snowshoe hares,” said Langley.
“We have a prolific population, and they’re an inexpensive, great hunt, and not physically taxing, either. Look for cutover aspen areas where there are tag alders, as well as swampy, meadowy-type areas.”
“They’re all around, and don’t kid yourself, they’re not that easy to get. Snowshoe hares are generally nocturnal, so it’s best to hunt them early morning or near dusk, or on heavy, cloudy days.”
“They can jump 10 feet, and hit just under 30 mph, while turning on a dime. If you’re real adventurous, try hunting these hares with a bow and arrow rather than a shotgun or .22. It’s a real challenge — and tons of fun.”
By Naomi Shapiro