An Outdoorsman’s Journal: Paddling the Wisconsin River/Petenwell Flowage

An Outdoorsman's Journal

Mark Walters, Contributor

Walters canoeing down the Wisconsin River.

Follow along each week on the adventures of Mark Walters, a syndicated outdoor adventure columnist who lives in Necedah, Wisconsin. He began writing his column, An Outdoorsman’s Journal, in 1989. It includes hunting, fishing, lots of canoeing and backpacking. He currently writes for around 60 newspapers on a weekly basis. He hopes you enjoy reading about his adventures!

Hello friends,

The last time that I canoed on the stretch of the Wisconsin River that I am about to write about was back in 1991. That was a big year in my life as I spent the winter camping and training to hike the Appalachian Trail with my golden retriever Ben in the Meadow Valley Wildlife Area. With Ben carrying 12-pounds and me a whole bunch more we hiked 1244 miles of the AT. When I got home I purchased “Star” who was 6-weeks old and would be Ben’s future mate.

The three of us jumped in a canoe and I paddled down the Wisconsin River and when I got home in the early fall, I returned to Meadow Valley.

An ever changing Wisconsin River cost this tree its life.

Tuesday, April 20th
High 48, Low 28

Once again, the north is immersed in a long, cold spell. I knew that would have an effect on the fish catching as I rigged three poles at the boat landing at Nekoosa in preparation for a journey that would be roughly 7-miles on the Wisconsin River and then 17 on the Petenwell Flowage.

I would be paddle trolling and would use three crankbaits which had a Hot n Tot, Flicker Shad, and a blue chrome Husky Jerk, J-12 and to keep them away from my rig I would use left and right planer boards.

My first thoughts as I began paddling were this would be a very nice place to live and you do not have to go far down river and there are no houses, just what appears to be very remote lowlands and highlands. It did not take long, and something hit the Hot n Tot and it turned out to be what walleye fishermen call a “short” which is a walleye under 15-inches.

As I paddled, I kept thinking I wonder if the land on the south shore is public and if it is there sure would be some good deer and waterfowl hunting.

My goal for today was just to paddle to the Petenwell as I figured it might be tough to find a place to camp after that. I caught one more short and then reached the Petenwell and found a great place to build a camp, which I did as well as shore fished with crawlers. I caught one more short, about an 8 pound catfish and a sheephead.

Best of all I drank a beer and watched nature while doing as little as possible

Wednesday, April 21st
High 41, Low 26

I woke up early this morning and watched ducks and geese from my camp and listened to a tom turkey that was gobbling and getting closer. Today was opening day of Wisconsin’s first turkey season and the tom got me pretty excited for my hunt which is only 7-days away.

Mark Walters camp on the Petenwell Flowage.

My paddling day would be one of weather and that would be intense, snow squalls and snags while pulling three lines. Here is a brief description, I am pulling three lines, the wind is out of the west and not a problem, a snow squall hits, and the wind is out of the north and hitting me from the side, I am taking on water and cannot see the shore which is always at least a mile away. During one of these events, I literally figured I was about to meet my Waterloo! The waves were so large and paddling so difficult that I figured I was going down like the Titanic. Several times “at least ten” one of my rigs got snagged and I just wanted to take a knife and cut it, but instead I would kind of backup, while reeling in my two other lines and either end up breaking my line or getting it free.

This all may seem kind of like not much fun to the average person but for me it is all part of the challenge of getting from Point A to Point B.

Fourteen thousand years ago this body of water covered 1,800 square miles and was 150-deep in places which if you look at rock formations like Petenwell Rock by hwy 21 that was actually the top of an island.

Today my two biggest challenges were catching a fish and making it home. As far as catching a fish goes all I caught was one short. I literally saw at least 50 wind direction changes over the course of one very long day and the entire day on the flowage I only saw three boats on the water.

Thirty years after my first trip on this stretch of water, I am still earning a living as an outdoor writer and I am still addicted to life in a canoe.


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