Greg Koelker


I hope your ears have stopped ringing from all the fireworks you tortured them with over the 4th—or maybe not. When you’re of a certain age, that constant tinnitus is deserved, earned even from too much rock and roll played at maximum arena volume, too much mowing the lawn without ear protection, too much running a chainsaw without ear protection, too much running around on our Kawasaki 500 triple without a helmet, too much riding on a tractor without ear protection, and of course too much—oh, I already said too much rock and roll. No doubt there’s more. Bummer.

Anyway, when we got home from Washburn County on Thursday evening, our rain gauge was overflowing — showing 6 inches of rain. We didn’t get even so much of a sprinkle up north.

Anyway, back to day two on Shell Lake. After another good breakfast, we put in at Shell Lake’s municipal landing. The fee is $5, but it is well worth it. Each time we put in, the attendant came out and helped secure the boat and later helped us take out — if one gets back in. The attendant also had some good tips for lunch later.

Anyway, El and I headed across the big lake at full speed — not really that much with a 25 HP outboard. We were cruising over 34 feet of open water when our engine hit something submerged and nearly bounced into the back of the boat. The engine screamed in pain and killed. It was finished. I was a bit stunned and El and I looked at each other, now what? Well, what was our friend Gordy Heirlmeier who was following us. He trolled around looking for whatever we hit. It sounded like wood, not a rock pile or maybe the Shell Lake version of the Loch Ness monster or maybe a submarine. Anyway, Gordy had the solution. He hooked on to our bow and towed us across the lake to Rolph’s Point and the bluegill beds.

We fished around docks. El and I caught a couple small gills. I hooked an 18-inch smallmouth and a 22-inch northern pike. Still, my mind was somewhere else remembering the $700 it cost to fix the lower unit 20 years ago. We caught a few bluegills and an ambitious smallmouth attacked my absent-minded slip bobber, that is I was absent-minded while minding the bait. The fish fought and I finally got to measure it in the boat — 18-and-a-half inches. We took a picture and I released it. Shortly thereafter, a like-minded 20-some-inches long northern pike hooked itself too; I was able to release it without sliming up the boat. Eventually Gordy towed us back across Shell Lake to public landing.

Anyway, thanks to Gordy, El and I were able to get back in the action and get back in off the lake. Barb and Chuck showed up while we were taking out. We all pulled out of the lake and headed home. We spent some time relaxing by a smokey fire, sipping cocktails and discussing the plan for Wednesday. Chuck wanted to try McKenzie Lake. El and I opted for a couple stops at repair shops and a trip to Hayward.

The highlight of Wednesday for El and I was ice cream in Hayward and a stop at the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway Visitor Center just outside of Trego. It is worth a stop. The docent was pleasant and full of ideas that we might pursue while dismounted. We watched a video on the history of St. Croix national scenic waterway.

Anyway, we had a nice dinner with Barb and Chuck and shared our plans to head out the next morning. They were to stay and fish one more day.

We stopped at the Norske Nook in Osseo for lunch. The place was really busy, but we got in just at the right time. We opted to take our pie home with us. El had a slice of Dutch apple and I had sour cream raisin. We enjoyed our pie in lieu of supper that evening.

The verdict at the River Road Marine on the Queen was a broken drive shaft and bent propeller shaft. We got our boat back already, complete with a new water pump and a new used lower unit that cost a third of what I figured.

Anyway, El and I missed going to Canada this year. We enjoy the trip and love the people and lake. That is a discussion for another time and soon.

Until next time, get out — summer is full upon us. We have seen a lot of deer lately. Many does with spotted twins. Maybe the bright side of this heat wave is that it will get hot enough to kill off the gnats. Finally, I was always reminded never to complain about the rain by my farmer grandfather, but really? Enjoy.

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Greg and his wife Ellen Koelker are retired and live on Grouse Hollow Farm near Stoddard. He is chairman of the Vernon County Chapter of Wisconsin Conservation Congress.

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