Being able to have a grand outdoor adventure in your backyard is one of the major benefits of living in Western Wisconsin.
The Lower Chippewa River is a great place for a semi-wilderness river camping trip. The Friday before Labor Day, I loaded up the square stern canoe with camping gear, fishing tackle, an outboard motor, extra gas, and launched the water craft at Ella and headed down stream.
I motored downstream a few miles, and after a bit of searching, found an island with a nice spot to land on the downstream end. Just above the landing on higher ground was a level spot perfect for pitching my tent and digging a small fire pit. I was home for the weekend.
Ben Gunn Island
After my camp was set up, I dubbed the island “Ben Gunn Island” after the character in ‘Treasure Island’. Unfortunately, I did not have a map for hidden treasure or any rations of rum.
I set out to explore the island which I estimated was a quarter-mile long and 50 yards wide. It had some silver maple and river birch on it I also found an eagle’s nest at the upstream end of the island and several fox snakes. I also spotted a few very wary squirrels.
With camp established and the island explored, it was time to fish. While traveling down river, I had spotted a promising looking eddy. Now, it is generally wise to take your time when boating on the Chippewa River. This constantly shifting river is full of trees, sand bars and the occasional rock.
Their primary purpose is to remain hidden below the surface of the river in order to bust up props on boats. The motor on the square stern is especially vulnerable since it is mounted on a canoe and rides deeper in the water than the props on john boats which have a taller transom. So, it’s slow I go. Reading the water on the river to avoid obstacles and to follow the deeper channels is as critical when in a motor boat as it is when running white water in a canoe.
I reached the eddy and was soon anchored in and had a jig working the eddy line. At first there were no strikes. Then I got a snag and lost my jig, so I switched jig colors. I dropped the jig just downstream of where I lost the jig on a snag.
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My reasoning was that there may be a tree there that would provide structure for the fish to hide in. That reasoning was correct because I soon felt a “tap tap” on the line and after a nice fight I netted a 17-inch walleye. After landing the walleye, the bass started to hit the jig and I caught several nice fish. I decided to vary the diet a bit and keep a bass to go along with the walleye.
With supper in hand, I headed back to my island. I boiled up some wild rice while I grilled the fish in their scales over the fire. I had a mighty fine meal. After supper, I tended the fire while watching the stars.
Early morning advantages
The next morning, I ventured downstream all the way to the confluence with the Mississippi. I saw several eagles, deer, seagulls and lots of waterfowl. Being on a river early in the morning is a great way to see wildlife. The bluffs on the west side of the river below Ella proved a scenic backdrop to the river and its wildlife.
I stopped to fish many eddies and other promising spots on the river. I caught a variety of fish including walleye, bass, mooneye, and sheepshead. I hooked a northern, but it was smarter than I. I ran down stream and turned sideways in the current and used the current to rid its self of the spoon.
I did land one keeper walleye and cooked it up for lunch on a sandbar near the confluence of the Mississippi. I decided to not venture out into the Mississippi due to the heavy volume of holiday boat traffic.
When traveling back upstream to camp, I stowed the fishing gear and looked for critters and navigating hazards. I was happy that I missed all the trees in the river. That night several owls had a hooting contest while I was watching the campfire. I also left the remains of my fish fry on the beach for the eagles, which they quickly consumed.
Sunday morning, I ventured back upstream toward Ella to fish. The fishing wasn’t as good this day, so I landed on the east bank of the river and explored some open areas of the Tiffany Bottoms Wildlife Area. The area is a mixture of open meadows, oak savanna and river bottom hard woods.
On my short hike, I saw silver maple, oak, river birch, ash, basswood, and maple trees. There was abundant evidence of deer, turkeys and squirrels although the deer and turkeys were shy, and I didn’t see any. I flushed several wood ducks out of a slough. It was a great hike.
After hiking, I motored back to Ben Gunn Island, packed up camp, and traveled back to the landing at Ella. I had a lot of memories and some fish stories to tell.
Jim Swanson is a Menomonie resident. He can be reached at email@example.com.