Leaky Waders

Today was full of ups-and-downs, fishing-wise.

So I’ll admit that I have yet to shake the smallmouth blues… given yet another chance to chase trout or smallies, and I again headed to Lafayettte county to try my luck with a few rumored small creek smallie streams. As far as addictions go, there’s worse I suppose.

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My main goal was to check out two tributaries of the Pecatonica River. Some people might think I’ve already given out too much information as to my whereabouts… but I wasn’t really impressed with either stream, so have at ’em. I accessed Creek #1 at a bridge crossing several miles upstream from its confluence with the Pecatonica. It was fairly tight here, heavily entrenched in the landscape with prairie grasses rising about ten feet above water level in some places. I bushwhacked upstream a ways, trudging through a couple of waist-deep, silty pools (I hate deep silty pools) only to encounter a few undersized smallmouth who couldn’t even get a handle on the larger-sized Vegan streamers I was throwing. (That would become a theme for the morning). I went upstream a bit further, only to encounter long silty stretches and few fish, and decided to cross this one off my list.

Creek #2 was a bit further south and winding through pastures, but otherwise much like the first. Didn’t spend much time here, either.

Don’t get me wrong: both streams definitely hold smallies. The fishing was just a notch below some other offerings in the region. With more time to kill I headed back to the Galena River system, trying a section upstream of where I fished previously.  Here the fishing was more upbeat: I had numerous slashes at the Vegan fly, but my size 1 hook seemed a tad too big to stick (kind of like watching tiny bluegills trying to inhale a #6 hook). (I think a #4 streamer would probably be perfect here). Only one fish porn pic today, from the single 12-inch-ish smallie that hammered the fly just right.

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After working upstream a while I needed to high-tail it back to the car to take a conference call. No worries until I reached the put-in bridge. Along the bridge the local landowner ran a barb-wire fence within a hair’s breath of the concrete foundation. I would guess there was maybe 6″ of clearance between the fence and foundation. I carefully worked my way through this gap to the water unscathed. On my way back, however, I was in a bit of a hurry, thought I cleared the fence, swung my leg wide to clear the foundation, and… riiiippppp!

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Aw, man. I was planning on doing some more fishing after the call, but I guess not. Luckily, I don’t think it’s TOO bad… I think I can patch it up just fine.

This unexpected calamity gave me an opportunity to do a little scouting and sightseeing. Aside from smallie and trout streams, southwestern Wisconsin is a history buff’s nirvana. For me, my interest lies in the Black Hawk War of 1832. It’s difficult to try and summarize this event without oversimplifying decades of cultural, economic, and political conflict that led up to the war, but here goes…

Chief Black Sparrow Hawk was a leader among the Sauk and Meskwaki (Fox), and he was more a little upset over a pair of treaties that the Sauk and Meskwaki signed with the American government in 1804 and 1814, in which the tribe unwittingly gave away large portions of their lands as concessions for their involvement in the murder of frontier settlers and their attacks against American interests during the War of 1812. By the late 1820s the American miltary began forcibly relocating the Sauk and Meskwaki west of the Mississippi  River to make way for a growing population of white farmers and miners along the Rock River.

In 1832 Black Hawk led a group of about 1,000 men, women, and children back east toward their traditional lands to resettle there, against the orders of the Americans. Black Hawk was driven in part by rumors that he would receive support of other Native groups, as well as the British in Canada, if he carried out his plan for resettlement. Support never arrived, however, and Black Hawk soon found himself leading his people away from advancing militia units mobilized to protect the frontier settlements scattered across the territory.

The “war”, if it can truly be called one, is largely forgotten today.  It was relatively short, lasting only a few months, and mostly amounted to lopsided skirmishes or misplaced violence between white settlers and various indigenous groups. Still, it was significant because it was the last major period of conflict in the Indian Wars of the Old Northwest, and it was the proverbial last gasp for native peoples fighting for their sovereignty east of the Mississippi.

The fingerprint of this war is clearly etched into the land of southwestern Wisconsin. Today I stumbled upon the original location of Fort Defiance, one of many frontier forts hastily erected at the outbreak of the war to protect frontier towns against potential attack by Black Hawk’s warriors or other sympathetic tribes. The fort, once large enough to house 40 soldiers and additional settlers, no longer exists but a marker along Highway 23 points to its location.

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Many similar forts were created elsewhere at the same time: in Mineral Point, Blue Mounds, Fort Atkinson (gee, wonder where that name came from?).

The place I definitely wanted to visit was Black Hawk Memorial Park, which preserves the land upon which the Battle of Horseshoe Bend/Pecatonica was fought. It was a really more of a skirmish than an outright battle, and didn’t even involve Black Hawk’s band but rather a group of sympathetic Kickapoo.  Henry Dodge, colonel in the Michigan Territory militia (of which Wisconsin was then a part), engaged the Kickapoo along the edge of Bloody Lake, ordering his men to fight hand-to-hand. The entire group of Kickapoo were killed, and word of this victory was essential in boosting morale of the militia and local settlers following the defeat of American forces earlier at an event known as Stillman’s Run.

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Bloody Lake.
Bloody Lake.
A memorial marker for the Battle of Horseshoe Bend/Pecatonica, along the shores of Bloody Lake.
A memorial marker for the Battle of Horseshoe Bend/Pecatonica, along the shores of Bloody Lake.

The park was beautiful, as well. There were several dozen rustic campsites nestled along the shoreline of Bloody Lake and the Pecatonica River. What’s even more amazing is that the park is neither state nor county run, but instead entirely maintained by volunteers.

Standing at the edge of the lake, I can imagine the events that must have unfolded here. The searching militiamen tearing through thick undergrowth with the sharp cracks of dried twigs underfoot, spotted with sweat on a warm summer day. The report of rifle fire from the ridge above as the Kickapoo set upon them. The frantic orders from Dodge as he had his men fight the enemy hand-to-hand. And the terror that must have unfolded in such intimate, grisly combat.

When I got home I had one surprise waiting for me at the mailbox: some eBay treasure. Behold!

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I didn’t intend to buy anything off eBay. I can’t event remember why I was there in the first place. But I ended up with a pretty nice deal on a classy little Orvis fiberglass rod. The Orvis Fullflex was made in the 1960s-70s (this particular model in 1968), utilizing Phillipson fiberglass blanks outfitted with Orvis components and wrapped by their rod shop. This continued until the later 1970s when Orvis dropped Phillipson and started making their blanks in-house for the FullFlex A line-up of rods.

The rod has a few issues to clean up– two of the wraps are fraying and need to be re-done, and one of the guides is an obvious amateur job that needs to be completely re-wrapped– but it feels pretty nice in hand and is surprisingly lightweight, coming in at just over 3 ounces. At seven foot long and rated for 6-weight line (DT, I believe), it should make for a sweet little streamer rod.

Certainly a nice way to end a day of fishing!

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Author: chesleyfan

I work, I fish, I write.

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