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Fun, but no fish up north
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STAR LAKE - Winds up to 25 miles per hour, the weather experts predict. It is all of that and more as we set afloat on Irving Lake, just a spinner-bait cast away from son Darin's Northern Oaks "estate."

We built the small cabin last fall during a strenuous three-day hammer and nail party on his plot of land adjoining several thousand acres of state land near Star Lake in Vilas County. In March, we followed up with a weekend of yet more toil - and a plan to return in May for a well-deserved fishing trip.

I meet up with the boys in Oshkosh, head west on Hwy. 10 to Stevens Point and then north toward Minocqua. We have the 40 horsepower Johnson fastened securely to the Booger (so named for its sickly, faded green color), and look forward to some fast fishing action.

Enroute, we talk of hunting for walleyes, bass, or perhaps even a musky. We will "chase meat" (leaches and crawlers attached to various colored jigs) with perhaps some plug action if conditions are right.

As it turns out, we'll take most anything on this weekend as the weather makes a challenge of every cast. Not only are vigorous gusts of wind pushing us around Irving, but a nasty looking squall approaches mid-morning from the west.

We don rain gear well in advance of the approaching storm and head for a small bay for what little protection the thick stands of pine, balsam and aspen bank side might offer.

The combination of frequent spray and bouncing boat drives the need to keep the camera under wraps, so I miss the chance to capture Jason on film as he lands a smallish, but feisty musky.

Over lunch, we discuss what to do in the afternoon, finally deciding on Escanaba Lake, one of five lakes included in the Northern Highland Fishery Research Area.

It's always interesting to learn what the state is doing with the lakes. We camped a few years ago on Pallette Lake, a canoe-only pond of 176 acres. The fishing was excellent there, with solid numbers of smallmouth bass.

The other lakes included in the research effort are Nebish (98 acres, smallmouth bass and yellow perch), Spruce (17 acres containing largemouth bass and perch), and Mystery (16 acres, largemouth bass and perch). Spruce and Mystery lakes are also canoe only while Nebish and Escanaba have good boat landings.

Anglers must obtain a permit at the Escanaba fish checking station in order to fish any of the lakes. On the way out, they must return to file a report with the number and type of fish caught.

The Department of Natural Resources has managed the lakes as experimental waters since 1946. With documentation of every fish caught, the effort represents the longest continuous record of angler harvest in the world, according to Research Technician Gary Kubenik.

Escanaba claims good walleye production with 11 fish per acre, he reports. Other species include smallies, musky, yellow perch and northern pike.

A friendly and informative fellow, Kubenik points out the best spots on a map, including places like Dink Bay and Violet's Bay. His efforts are in vain, however, as the weather does not improve, and the fish refuse to offer at several different baits and varied presentations.

We debate staying out after dark, but decide against it. The narrow inlet to the boat landing is shallow and guarded by jagged rocks on both sides, a testament to the lake's previous name, Rock Lake.

While the fishing is a bust, the quiet beauty of a northern lake and its accompanying wildlife make the trip well worth the effort.

We observe a bald eagle tending its nest high above the shoreline on Escanaba. Swans, blue herons, geese and ducks of all kinds bob up and down on the water and loons raise their mournful cry during the night.

I'm up at dawn Sunday morning, looking for something to do. A stack of oak logs awaits the ripping action of the Husqvarna chain saw, but that might be a big mistake.

Rather than have to deal with a couple of grumpy kids, I set off for Boulder Junction in search of a hot cup of coffee and a couple of diet donuts.

A great choice as it turns out. Coming around a bend not more than a mile from the cabin, I cross paths with a gray wolf. It darts across the road in front of the truck, trots to the top of a wooded knoll and stops to look back.

I brake quickly to a halt. We gaze at each other for a moment before it turns and disappears into the brush. Many thoughts cross the mind during the brief encounter.

The ultimate predator with its numbers on the rise, the wolf offers little comfort to the deer population and the hunters who stalk them in northern Wisconsin.

One wonders what the next few hunting seasons will bring for these folks, including perhaps the opportunity to hunt the big fellow on the knoll.

- Lee Fahrney is the Monroe Times outdoors writer. He can be reached at (608) 967-2208 or