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Good Fishing, Grand Food & Great Fun on Balsam Lake in Polk County 

by Naomi K. Shapiro

On the first morning of the 2001 Wisconsin's Governor's Fishing Opener,
held on Balsam Lake in Polk County (Wisconsin) this year,  I watched my
fishing guide, Monty Stanton of Milltown pull in three nice largemouth
bass in fairly quick order. 

A moment later, Monty told me to join him on the transom of his
gorgeous Ranger Boat; he pointed at a spot along the shoreline to cast
the spinner bait with a #5 willow blade he had just tied on my line....
And, WHOCK!  A nice bass slammed it the moment it hit the water, and I
hauled in a 15 3/4 inch largemouth.

We were at Wisconsin's 36th Annual Governor's Fishing Opener, held this
year on Balsam Lake, in northwestern central Wisconsin, in Polk County.
Organized by Wisconsin Indian Head Country, Inc. a northwestern
Wisconsin regional tourism organization, the event was attended by a
slew of invited media, elected officials, and others.

Guests included new Wisconsin Governor, Scott McCallum, his new Lt.
Governor Margaret  Farrow, and several Wisconsin department heads and
local legislators. 

The rest of the morning we and the other Governor's Opener
participants fished several places around Balsam Lake.   Called "one of
the most versatile lakes in Wisconsin," Balsam Lake, fed by several
creeks, is a 2,054-acre body of water with 3 main parts -- main basin,
east Balsam, and a finger to the northwest -- plus lots of islands,
inlets and bays.  It has 65 miles of shoreline, and also offers plenty
of space for sailboats, speedboats, canoes and water skiers.    Well
known for largemouth bass, crappie, northern and walleye. 

While Monty and I were busy catching several bass, a couple of
northerns, and some huge crappies in Ratskin Bay, other participants
were filling their live-wells and lifting their spirits with nice
catches of walleyes, northerns, and bass (almost all released after
being weighed or measured) as part of a fun, friendly "competition"
sponsored by Indian Head Country.  More about that later.

Since the weather on Saturday was in the 50's, the sky was overcast,
the wind was big, and it  was very tough to hold your place, Monty and
I decided, almost simultaneously, to fish for panfish that afternoon.

So after a delightful lunch of Wisconsin brats and firehouse beans --
we hit the water again and headed back to Ratskin Bay and began tossing
mini-mites with bobbers for panfish.  We caught all of our panfish on
the mini-mites.  Monty also gave me with an excellent rig to use -- an
ultra-lite Zebco reel (UL 4), and ultralite rod with 4-pound
monofilament line.  (I was so impressed with this little rig that I
stopped and bought one for myself on the way home!) 

All afternoon, we pulled big crappies, sunfish and bluegills from "the
mother lode" -- 14.84 pounds worth, which we registered for the fun
plaques given out to the biggest or most fish caught over the 2-day

Monty guides for muskies and works at Mike's 4 Season Sort & Marine in
Milltown.    He grew up in n.e. Iowa, teaching himself at an early age
to fish in his area's streams and ponds.

On Sunday, a lot of people decided against facing the winds and hard
rains that were present and predicted, but Monty and I raced out to
Ratskin Bay to fulfill our now avowed goal of "the largest stringer of

Not only did the sun come out, we boated our limit of crappies, sunfish
and bluegills, and headed to the noon check-in.  Harlan Smith, Indian
Head's marketing and p.r. director and weigh-in official, smiled as he
said, "23.75 pounds today, for a two-day total of 38 lbs. 12 oz, and a
new record for Governor's Fishing Openers."  (Last year's winners
pulled about  31 lbs. of panfish, fishing over an abandoned beaver

Others who went out on Sunday caught lots of bass, walleyes, northerns,
and panfish, and had a wonderful time, too! 

At the opening dinner on Friday evening at Trollhaugen Ski
Area//Conference Center in Dresser, tourism officials noted the
positive impact of tourism on Wisconsin and its citizens. 

Wisconsin has the highest return visitor rate of any state in the
nation and surveys indicate that the reason is because of Wisconsin's
"hospitality".  In other words, Wisconsinites are warm and welcoming,
and people come back for that feeling. 

The tourism industry in Wisconsin now generates some 10 billion dollars
yearly.  Working with the tourism industry, as I do, I can attest to
the fact that tourism and fishing are wonderful "draws for Wisconsin
and they have a continuing and very positive "domino effect" for all. 

As for the weekend itself:  The food and hospitality were wonderful. 
Lots of laughs.  Lots of camaraderie.  Good to see the Governor and
other state officials; greet old friends like Sam Sanfillippo of
Madison, Father Heitke of Baraboo, and the Indian Head group, and make
new ones.

A lot of fish were caught over the weekend.  "Award-winning catches"
for the Governor's Opener included: 

Largemouth bass:  4 lbs., John Amrhein, Polk County, Wisconsin.

Walleye:  5 lbs. 9 oz.  25 1/2 inches, Brian Meyer, Illinois. 

Northern:  6 lbs. 15 1/2 oz., Ken Piepgrass, Chicago, Illinois.

Panfish:  Heaviest stringer (38 lbs. 12 oz.),  Naomi K. Shapiro, Clam
Lake, Wisconsin and her guide, Monty Stanton from Milltown (Polk
County), Wisconsin.

Indian Head Country spokespeople said the site for the 2001 Wisconsin
Governor's Fishing Opener will be announced soon.

Polk County (Balsam Lake, St. Croix Falls, Osceola, Dresser, Luck,
etc.) is literally on the western border between Wisconsin and
Minnesota, formed by the St. Croix River, some 75 miles northeast of
the Twin Cities.  The area is very beautiful, reflecting the glaciated
topography, rolling hills, and scenic land and waters.  Flowers, forest
and wildlife abound, along with a very up-to-date infrastructure, which
allows visitors the opportunity enjoy the amenities of "civilization"
while relaxing in the serenity of nature. 

As I reflect on The 36th Annual Wisconsin Governor's Fishing Opener, I
realize how lucky I am to enjoy northern Wisconsin on a daily basis;
and how lucky visitors are, who come to enjoy Wisconsin's bounty any
time.  I hope everyone, no matter where they're from, gets many chances
to enjoy them throughout the year!
Naomi K. Shapiro is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of
America (OWAA) and Wisconsin Outdoor Communicators (WOCA).  She is
architect of the award-winning Northern Wisconsin / Northwoods Tourism,
Travel & Outdoor Information Network On-line: www.
northernwisconsin.com. e-mail = cre8vads@cheqnet.net

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