The Loon Capital of the USA

Town of Mercer, Iron County, Wisconsin

Mercer, Wisconsin, is the Loon Capital of the world and observing a pair of these beautiful water birds will leave you with indelible composition of chorus and ballad interchange, as if the birds were asking you a question and helping you answer.

No matter how far you have to drive or fly to reach Iron County in Wisconsin, the ride down Highway 51 will allow your mind to embrace nature.  You may also want to keep your camera shutter ready.

Pulling off to the side of the lone north-south road, fresh air, serenity, wildlife and endless wonders of nature share in the peace to be found here.  Whitetail deer, wild turkey, bald eagles, wrens, warblers, porcupines and one of my all-time favorite birds, the rose-breasted grosbeak may offer a view.  The ride to Mercer, Wisconsin, can be a memory-making interval in your life.  It is an unforgettable place to visit.

Above all that, there are Loons in abundance.  There is only one word that seems appropriate for these water birds, that word is “beautiful.”

Just moments after sunrise, the view from my room window at the Great Northern Hotel in Mercer, Wisconsin, is breathtaking. Forrest Fisher Photo

looncapital3Loons are striking in their breeding plumage.  Their iridescent-sheen reflects with the sun, their prominent black and white checkered back, deep red eyes, glossy black bill and the natural philosophical expression of their black head are accentuated by white necklace color pattern that circles their muscular neck.  They are very special and distinct to watch.

When I arrived in Mercer and checked in at the Great Northern Hotel, I only needed to see the waterfront view from my room window to know that I was going to love this place.

There they were, the Loons, two of them, a pair of love birds, swimming neck to neck with each other, constantly looking over to one another and checking in during a ritual of obvious private discussion.  Of course, maybe they were talking with me and I just didn’t know it.  I felt they were discussing my presence near to their nest which had two eggs in it.

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Both male and female Loons have the same appearance in color and marking, except the male is usually larger in a mating pair.  They are both equal in beauty and song tone.  Beautiful sounds of nature and wild freedom that echo in the distance and are especially pronounced in the early morning.  Their song seems to carry farther with a fog slowly rising off the morning sunrise moments, occasionally sounding like an intimate conversation between the birds.

looncapital5There was a dock right outside my room at the hotel, right on the shore of San Domingo  Lake.  I tied on a small snap, added a small lure – a random choice, and headed to the water.  I wasn’t sure if I just wanted to just sit down and listen to more of what the Loons wanted to share, or cast my lure.  The feeling was serene and comforting.  It was peacefully magnificent.

After a few minutes, I instinctively reached down to the bail of the lightweight, open-face reel and flipped it open.  The cast gently sent the lure out about 40 feet from the dock –not anywhere near the Loons who seemed quite interested in my every move.

My polarized sunglasses revealed a weed bed not far down from the surface near the point of my lure entry, so I cranked quickly, rod tip high, and after the lure moved only about five feet, it slammed to a jolting stop.  Then the line started moving quickly to the right.  No, this was not a snag!  About the same time, my drag started singing that happy chirping song when it is being tested to protect the line from breaking.  Then the drag started screaming and wailing in perfect angler sheet music.

A few minutes later, a nice 18-inch largemouth bass slid into my open hand.  So perfect a fish.  So perfect a day.  When I reached down, the water was so cold.  I unhooked the fish and released it to live another day.  I grabbed the pocket thermometer in my jacket found the lake to be 42 degrees!

How was it possible that a fish would even think about swimming to catch a lure at that temperature?  Ours is not to ask why or how when success is our friend, so I quickly followed up with another cast.

In six casts, I hooked and landed two more fish of about the same size.  It was an amazing learning moment!  Water too cold, lure swimming very fast, wobbling, making sonic underwater noise and wham!  OK, writing that down in the frozen chapters of stored fishing secrets.  Maybe that’s why the Loons kept looking in my direction too.  Was it the underwater sound of the lure?  Either way, it seemed we had a conversation going on.

In the next three casts, I hooked three more fish and didn’t try very hard to land them.  They tossed the lure and went free.  Tournament release!  The Loons kept watching.

I rested my rod.  In this unmatchable and unique “Land of the Loons,” a trip to that land of special memories, that place where we never stop sharing fun with time and learning from the mentors we continue to meet, sometimes from the view at the dock.  I smiled again.

On some days, life is extraordinary, especially when Loons become part of the regular day in Mercer, Wisconsin.

Sarah Palermo, proprietor of The Wampum Shop, offers hundreds of various Loon collector replicas from small to large, in a quaint shop located in downtown Mercer.

My Grandma Taught Me to Fish

Early Lessons Pay Big Dividends When Kids Grow Up
By Bernard Williams

Bernard Williams learned early lessons from his grandmother that instilled a lifelong love of fishing in him. He caught this 3.15-pound whopper crappie at Lake Grenada, Mississippi, with his fishing partner, Don Terry, in the fall of 2015.

My paternal grandmother, Alberta Williams, lived with us.  She had to in her early 80’s when I was born; don’t remember her exact age, but I do know she was around 97 when she passed away.  Well, grandmamma loved to fish.  My mom says she started taking me fishing as soon as I could walk.

I was raised on a small farm. We were poor financially, but I didn’t know it.  My parents worked outside the house as well as on the farm.  My dad raised all our food including cattle, hogs, chickens, corn, cotton, and vegetables.  In those days we only had to purchase flour, sugar and a few other small grocery items.  I would have the time of my life exploring the outdoors as a kid.  I grew up with hunting dogs, and cats––that’s right, we had cats that caught everything from birds to snakes, and a rat or two every now and then.

I remember one morning when I was about 5, she called me from the breakfast table and asked if I wanted to accompany her “down to the pond” as she would call it. We had an 8 or 9 acre farm pond behind the house.  My answer was always “yes ma’am.” In those days you never said just “yes” or “no” to an adult.  I gathered up my pole and away we went.  The pond was about 200 yards behind the house and it was off limits to me as a kid unless I had adult supervision.

Grandma had an innate ability to find a bream bed, I thought it was some kind of magic.  Little did I know, she knew the scent.  She would say, “Boy, you smell that watermelon?”  I would say, “Yes ma’am,” knowing I had no idea.  I just wanted to put my pole in the water.  She would bait my hook with night crawlers we had gathered on the way to the pond.  Dad had a worm bed he’d started long ago.  That worm bed stayed full of night crawlers on one side and red worms on the other side.

She would pitch my worm out near an old stump and then bait her hook and do the same.  This particular day, as soon as my hook sank beneath the surface, a huge hand-size bluegill swallowed my bait and the fight was on. The fish gave a tremendous pull. For a small boy, this feeling caused tremendous excitement, almost to the point of wetting my pants (which is what I did!).  She helped me land the fish and get it into the basket.  Again, she baited the hook and instantly the same thing happened––another hand-sized (or better) bluegill.

I can’t remember exactly how many we caught that day, but I do remember my little sister getting extremely mad about being left out of our fishing adventure.  I’ll never forget the look on my mom and dad’s faces when they returned home to a table full of bluegill fried up with green tomatoes.  Oh boy, it’s kinda like Jerry Clower used to say, “It’ll make a puppy pull a freight train.”

My grandma had only two grandsons.  I was the youngest.  The older one, Johnny, was almost my dad’s age.  Grandmamma looked at Johnny like a son, but looked at me like a grandson.  I’ll never forget the fishing lessons she gave me and the whippings she helped me avoid.

Guess its true, that’s what unforgettable grandmothers are supposed to do––spoil the grandkids.