October 2022 – We rolled into Hayward late on Sunday afternoon. The world’s largest Muskie (a 143-foot-long sculpture) on the edge of town was just visible from the road in last light. Check-in at the Holiday Inn Express was quick and easy. My wingman Larry Carlson was hungry. Our guide for Monday’s float had suggested we try The Steakhouse & Lodge which seemed to be one of the only supper clubs in Hayward that operates on Sunday evenings in October. I’d been looking for a classic Wisconsin supper club to celebrate our last night dining in the Northwoods. Supper clubs operate from the barstool in. As a rule guests start their dining experience with an “Old Fashioned” cocktail at the bar, generally made (in those parts) on the rocks with brandy, bitters, a pinch of sugar and possibly a splash of sour mix after stirring. Every barkeep has a proprietary twist but the basics apply, including waiting until the customer requests a second drink prior to discussing the menu. The order is generally placed at the bar in a Wisconsin supper club, followed by a leisurely walk to the table a few minutes later only to find a relish tray and perhaps a salad in place, unless there’s a salad bar which would be the case in almost half of the establishments in the “Dairy State.
We ordered once seated at our table. Two Caesar salads and two 16oz Ribeye steaks with onion rings. Dinner was served quickly and prepared as ordered. I can’t speak to what it might be like on a Sunday in July but if you judge a restaurant on its slow nights, which is often when they falter, this Steakhouse in October was on the money. Service at The Steakhouse was wonderful, no need to stop at the bar here, no need for the relish tray and no need for dessert. Crisp salad, tender delicious steak garnished with piping hot onion rings. The large bar was full while the larger dining room adorned with antler heavy deer and elk mounts was almost deserted. We enjoyed everything and returned to the Holiday Inn full and happy.
Fishing the Namekogan on Monday with Erik Thue involved an hour-long drive north through Spooner and on down a few dirt roads to a parking area just beyond a bridge off the Namekogan Trail. As usual in this new age of independently operated guide trips put-in starts with a shuttle involving meeting up at the starting point, then following the guides’ truck to the takeout, leaving the truck and trailer then returning to the parking lot where the drift boat awaits. After another 45 minutes of shuttling, we were ready to get on the copper-stained river.
Erik and I fished the Chippewa flowage on my last trip to the area in 2017. See our video here. This time he chose the Namekogan specifically because it requires a permit to float it, which keeps traffic to a minimum. Fishing the Hayward area in October with a guide is a wise move if you’re not a local as there are often muskie tournaments that can add pressure to the fishery and make an adventure into the wild less appealing.
Floating the Namekogan provided isolation and room to cast on lonely water. We saw one guided drift boat all day, 2 kayakers bird watching, a few muskellunge moving out of the deeper cuts as we floated (posting up in the shallows to work the areas was exciting but none had results). I did land a short northern from the bow on a large black & orange fly. Larry was shut out spin casting big rubber swimbaits and plugs from the stern. Just as we pulled over into a campsite for lunch a four foot sturgeon glided upriver almost bumping into Erik’s Sawyer oar and he explained the origin of this rivers name, “River at the place of big sturgeons” an Ojibwe term, likely from the local Chippewa tribe.
As we ended our day, Larry and I had the unique experience of watching a master of the drift boat trailer pull his Cortland craft from the water. Backing his black Toyota 4×4 down a steep 20 foot embankment literally hanging the trailer on the edge of the paved take out, it looked like an impossibly hairy situation, just another day on the water for him. The experience reminded us that booking a local guide like Erik provides not only a well-trained fishing expert with river sense, but a man with all of the gear, tricks and knowledge for a perfect day on the river, and he cooked us brats for lunch at the river’s edge for an added bonus.