An Outdoorsman’s Journal: Swamped on the Petenwell

An Outdoorsman's Journal

Mark Walters, Contributor

The Petenwell tried eating Mark Walters for supper!

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,

Back in 1982 I fractured my lower spine in three places and spent two weeks in Madison’s University Hospital with some serious questions about my ability to walk again. I do not know if I have ever written about this subject but long story short, I had an incredible recovery and the one thing that I remember my doctors repeatedly telling me is, “stay active or arthritis will set into your spine and life will not be pleasant.”

Wednesday, April 21st
High 53, Low 29

Yesterday I did a simple paddle and camp building from Nekoosa to where the Wisconsin River enters the Petenwell Flowage. This morning I woke up to a beautiful sunrise, broke camp and began the approximately 17-mile lake paddle on the Petenwell, which is Wisconsin’s second largest lake at 23,000 acres.

I would be pulling crankbaits on three poles behind me with a left and right planer board and one straight back. An hour into my paddling I was hit by a very cool but kind of scary snow squall that created white out conditions, large waves and a where the heck is shore scenario.

The story for the rest of this day would be weather. At least 50 times I saw wind changes that almost always meant a headwind or wind from my side, which meant a solid physical challenge and riding out each and every wave.

I am stubborn and love to fish and so even though one of my lines would become snagged at least once every 20-minutes which meant a total reversal of course and pulling of lines I kept fishing.

All day I was completely into the challenge and fought each and every wave and just kept pulling on my kayak paddle.

At about 3:00 I had been in my canoe 6-hours, was a good mile from shore, and five miles from my goal. The wind at that time would become a solid northwest gale and was kicking my butt. At 4:00 I knew I was in trouble and as each pole would get snagged, I would not put it back out.

By 4:30 I was still in the game but 7.5 hours without a minute of break had me at about 50-percent.

I was two miles from the Petenwell dam and had a real problem, the wind was pushing me to the south shore which would have me east of the dam and my takeout. If I could make my takeout, I would literally have to paddle within 20-yards of where the water exits the flowage through the dam.

The takeout is just steps leading up a rock, wall shoreline that was getting pounded by a northwest wind.

I knew I needed help to literally pull my rig out of the water without smashing it on the rocks as well as my body. One mile before the takeout and 100-yards from shore I called Ross Moll who lives a mile from the dam and is strong like a bull.

The only problem is that it was so windy he could not understand what I was saying. I had to get off the phone and my call cost me dearly.

My canoe was pushed into the rock shoreline east of the dam with incredible force and as it hit the rocks, I jumped into about 3-feet of water and was immediately hit by another wave which caused my canoe to hit me from behind and pushed me underneath of it, slammed me into a rock, and momentarily pinned me between the canoe and rock.

You have to think fast when things go wrong in a canoe.

There was not five seconds to cry for mama. The waves had filled my canoe with water and each new wave was pushing my rig into the rocks and about to destroy it. I had a decision to make as my gear which was a Helix 7 as well as camping and fishing gear was in the water and going bye, bye!

I got in the flowage, flipped my canoe upside down, worked it out of the water and began retrieving gear. My legs were not working with my brain and the rocks were a bear to walk on as they were slippery and kept tumbling.

I was literally gated out from the dam and the road and called my old buddy Ross asap as he was looking for me.

The following day the good folks at Wisconsin River Power Company helped me load my rig on my truck and like the cat with nine lives, I just blew away with way more than my 9th.

Each of those fractures is talking to me and like the doctor told me 39-years ago, “stay active”!


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