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On the river

GAYS MILLS - Wisconsin is a fisherman’s paradise.  We have more lakes than Minnesota and they have the moxie to brag about their 10,000 lakes, right there on their license plates.  We have over 15,000 lakes (although, truth in tourism advertising) we don’t have a size requirement for lakes and Minnesota does.  To be a lake in our neighboring state, a body of water must be at least 10 acres.  We’re more liberal about lake acreage.

Besides our myriad of lakes, we have many great streams and rivers for fishing.  You may know that the Driftless area is one of the best trout fisheries in the United States.  Something about our ‘rich’ limestone filtered spring water being good for the little critters on which trout thrive.   And of course, we have the mighty Mississippi on our west coast.

It was on a fishing trip on the Mississippi a few years ago that I saw what I will try to describe here. I was with two friends of mine in a nice fishing boat. We caught very few fish on the outing and were heading back to the landing at Lynxville.  Between us and the landing was the most outlandish and least seaworthy ‘craft’ (and I use the term loosely) any of us had ever seen.

This vessel was obviously home-made or maybe there was a store-bought boat under there but it had been heavily improvised on by the crew on board. It was about 20 feet long and looked to be 9 to 12 feet high.  Not a good height-to-length ratio for style or stability, we thought. It was, to put a charitable name on it, a houseboat. A boxy cobbled-together cabin was surrounded by a deck. The top of the cabin was furnished with a few lawn chairs.


We saw four crew members on the boat, all young guys and obviously on an adventure of their own design. There was a barbeque grill in use on the back deck, a guy was playing a guitar on the roof, another was sunning himself on the fore-deck. A bicycle hung from the side of the cabin that we could see. Recorded music came from somewhere. Colorful homemade flags flew from a pole. We were captivated by the sight of this unique watercraft and its laid-back crew. 

This looked to us like a one-way trip down the big river, going with the flow. We hypothesized that this was the result of some long Midwest winter dreaming come to fruition. Who among us hasn’t fantasized about building a raft and “lighting out for the territories,” as Mark Twain described it.  Most of us outgrow such pipe dreams - these guys hadn’t.  We assumed they were headed to New Orleans. 

One thing (among many others) puzzled us rubberneckers: There was a small (five-horse?) outboard motor running at the aft end of the craft. We couldn’t figure out what that was for, it certainly wasn’t doing much to speed them on their way; speed didn’t seem to be a priority on this voyage. We soon discovered its purpose. An expensive ski boat sped by and left quite a wake spreading out towards the intrepid houseboat. One of the guys (the captain?) quickly turned the craft to face into the wake and it rocked and rolled through the waves. The motor was there to maneuver into situations like that and no doubt to help them get through the many locks ahead as they made their way south.

I hope those guys made it to where they wanted to go. The three of us certainly envied them the journey they were taking.