I HAVE LONG been of the opinion that California is home to 95% of the crazy people in this country, but Sunday, after driving Interstate 39/94 from Portage to Madison and later in the day back again, I am convinced that at least 10% have either moved to Madison or, at the least, are California visitors who have decided that stretch of Wisconsin road is theirs to call their personal crazy racetrack.

It was not a pleasant drive in either direction. Normally, I would expect most of the tourists leaving the North Woods Sunday would be on the road and gone by noon, but this Sunday, the late afternoon traffic was still heavy southbound at us all the way to Minocqua.

Give me north Wisconsin any day. I’ll take having to wait at the Highway M and 51 intersection for two cars to clear every day of the year as opposed to being in the midst of the legions of idiots on the aforementioned Portage to Madison freeway for even one day. 

With a mental picture of cars weaving from lane to lane and back again, all at 80 mph, I felt mighty good about life a day later while lazily drifting across and around a 50-acre lake which, luckily for me, is filled with beautiful bluegills and largemouth bass, both of which proved to be anxious to snap at the lure of my choice.

It was quite a distinction, one place and another, and one driving style as opposed to another, just as it was Saturday when I fished for about six hours with my good friend, Ed. On that day, we hopped from one lake that requires a 1-mile hike to reach it, to another that has a rustic narrow sand lane allowing the launching of a square stern Old Town canoe like mine.

On Windfall Lake, which by the way had its official name on the map changed some 80 years ago, we found lots of largemouth eager to give spirited battle to a pair of happy anglers.

Whether it was a floating jig tipped with a half-beavertail or a rubber minnow cast and retrieved at a steady clip, the bass liked what we offered. Beginning with a beavertail, I caught a bass on each of my first three casts, all of them fat and healthy fish between 13 and 14 inches.

They weren’t giants by any means, but they put up a spirited battle before being boated and subsequently released. Ed got in the action a few casts later. Though we had a few short dry spells during our outing, we figured we had boated 25 or 30 bass by the time we quit. Two came home with us. Ed, I should mention, likes to eat bass as much as he likes catching them.

Aside from the fish keeping us busy most of the time, there was a beautiful shoreline to look at in every direction. Ringed mostly by balsam, birch and oak, there are a handful of other species tightly hugging the shore including maple, popple and tamarack.

Best of all, there was not a sight or sound of another person. Downed logs, the remnants of a severe wind storm from long-ago days that prompted the original name “Windfall,” fairly litter most of the shoreline.

Bass by the score take refuge among those old sunken ramparts as well as hiding out in the bare, gnarled branches of other trees brought down in more recent years. Without a road allowing the access of a single motor vehicle, ATV or UTV, Windfall is a place any seeker of peace, quiet and solitude would be thrilled to visit.

Filled up on catching bass, our next stop was a slightly larger lake where we intended to put about a dozen slab bluegills in the fish basket. It was still and quiet on that lake as well.

The lake is one I had never fished in my life until this spring, though I had driven right by it literally hundreds of times on my way to other greener pastures. I had always thought it to be little more than a holding tank for thousands of stunted perch and bluegills. I was wrong.

On a hunch, actually a tip from a loose-lipped young gaffer who told me about the great fishing he had there on a mid-May excursion, I checked the lake for myself. Though I could have kept dozens more quality bluegills, I kept just 12 that time, enough for two meals for my lovely wife and I.

This time, the mission was to keep that same number for Ed and his wife to put in the fry pan. Flipping Mini Mites suspended from very small bobbers under overhanging pine and fir trees, dropping our jigs at the edge of lily pad beds and drifting through weed beds, we caught bluegill after bluegill. None less than 8 inches went in the fish basket.

As a bonus, several largemouth bass, none quite of keeper size, bent our ultralight rods from time to time as well. Just like Windfall, this little lake offered us all the peace and quiet we could ask for, along with the fish.

Not a single car passed by on the rough dirt road that winds past the lake. An eagle, probably looking for a handout, whirled lazily overhead for a little while before landing in a lakeside pine where it could watch for any fish we might toss its way. He flew away disappointed when we threw nothing in his direction.

After six hours on the water, my iced tea gave out, as well as a soda I had packed away, and with both of us happy and tired, we decided to call it quits for the day. It might not have ranked up there as a red-letter day for a dedicated muskie or walleye fisherman who might look down his nose at bass and bluegills, but for us it was all a person could ask for. 

Those small lakes, only two of many such that I frequent, can, in the middle of tourist season, take you away from the hubbub of large outboard motors, jet skis, waterskiers shrieking and all the rest of the noisemakers society can throw at you. 

Small, hidden lakes are the perfect tonic for people like Ed and me who prefer the whisper of a breeze through pine boughs, the chirping of sparrows along brush-lined shores and the hum of bumblebees collecting nectar from vibrantly-colored wildflowers.

I rather think I will stick with them for years to come.