Photo by Brent Frazee
Guide Bill Shumway (left) and client Dave Perkins displayed part of a day’s catch at Grindstone Lake in Northwest Wisconsin. The fish were later released.
By Brent Frazee
Little Hayward, Wisconsin is muskie-crazy.
Everywhere you turn in this town in the northwest part of the state, you are reminded of its strong ties to the king of freshwater fish.
Walk into the Moccasin Bar and you’ll see a mount of the near world-record muskie caught near town. You’ll also see locals wearing sweatshirts that proclaim, “Muskie Capital.” Even the headquarters of the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward is housed in a huge likeness of a muskie.
But hidden beneath all that obsession over Hayward’s most-famous resident, a healthy population of smallmouth bass swims in relative obscurity.
While many fishermen toil for “the fish of 10,000 casts,” others drop down to relatively light tackle and pursue the area’s big smallmouth.
That’s what Bill “Fuzzy” Shumway, a longtime guide, did on a brilliant June afternoon. Though he spends much of his time guiding for muskies, he also is well-aware of what the Hayward area has to offer in the way of smallmouth bass.
“We have a lot of rocky lakes that have big crayfish populations in them,” said Shumway. “That’s what smallmouth bass like. You get a combination of rocks and wood (logs, stumps, etc.), and you’re going to have smallmouths.
“We have lakes that will produce cookie-cutter smallies that measure 16 to 17 inches. You won’t find that everywhere.”
Shumway was visiting one of those lakes on this day. He launched his boat at Grindstone Lake, a 3,176-acre lake just six miles south of Hayward, and didn’t have to travel far to reach one of his favorite spots.
He dropped his trolling motor off a point and keyed on an underwater ridge, then began casting a plastic tube bait. On his first cast, he got a jolting strike.
The fish pulled hard and it wasn’t long before Shumway could peer into the clear water and see what he had.
“That’s a huge smallie,” Shumway said as he watched the bronze fish arch and twist in an attempt to get free.
Shumway fought the fish for a while, then guided it into a landing net. Lifting his catch, he said, “That one could go over 5 pounds.”
Shumway didn’t wait to find out. He plunked the bronze giant back into the clear water, then cast for more.
There were plenty more. Before long, Shumway’s two guide clients, Dave Perkins and I, began to catch fish regularly. Many came on Z-Man’s plastic TRD baits on a light jighead, retrieved slowly over the rocky bottom in 15 feet of water.
By the end of the afternoon, we caught and released 34 smallmouth bass, many of them 15 to 17 inches long.
And all of this on a day when there wasn’t another fishing boat in sight.
“We have a lot of options in this area,” Shumway said. “There are so many lakes that it spreads the pressure out.”
Indeed, Sawyer County, in which Hayward is located, has 269 lakes, ranging in size from 1 to 14,593 acres. Many are open to the public and can contain healthy fish populations, everything from muskies to smallmouth bass to walleyes.
“With so much water, it’s still possible to have a few little hidden spots,” Shumway said with a smile.
His favorite smallmouth bass spots are Grindstone, Round, Lac Courte Oreilles, and Owen lakes. He also fishes the Chippewa Flowage and the Namekagon River that flows right through Hayward.
If he is feeling adventurous, he will drive about an hour and a half north of Hayward to Chequamegon Bay on Lake Superior, known nationally for its big smallmouths.
Shumway casts everything from tube baits to small topwater lures to crankbaits to appeal to the smallmouths.
The bass he and his customers catch don’t make the same splash of news that the muskies do. But they, too, play a part in Hayward’s reputation as a fishing capital.
“We don’t go a season without catching a few smallies over 20 inches,” Shumway said. “This area always has been known for its big smallmouth, and I think it’s as good now as it ever has been.”