Muckraking Mendota

In the summer of 2013, UW-Madison undergrad, Emily Hilts, explored Lake Mendota and the other Yahara lakes and wrote a running diary detailing what she found. Here are here posts about the history and ecology of the lake, as well as closer looks at the animals and plants that call it home.

Learning to Love a Lake

Taking the kayak out on Trout Lake for the afternoon was against my better judgment. I hurt my ribs a couple of days prior when I took a tumble in the woods (log: one, Emily: zero), and paddling probably wasn’t the best idea. Yet there was no way I could stay off the water any longer, and after a few strokes I smiled with contentment at the sight of the clear rippling waves.
Even with an injury... who could resist this?
Even with an injury… who could resist this?
How I love this place – and the whole Northwoods! The frogs singing, the lichens growing on spruce in the bogs, the blue herons silently stalking prey, the mussels burrowing in the sand… if you’ve been here and paid attention, you know how all of these elements unify a wonderfully diverse landscape. During my last two summers working at Trout Lake Station, there were few evenings and weekends I didn’t spend on a hiking trail or in a canoe. After taking it all in, I can honestly say that there is no place on earth I love more. Keep reading here.

Breaking the Surface Barrier

While walking along the lakeshore to my first day of work, I spotted a smallmouth bass hanging out in the rocky shallows of Lake Mendota. After watching for a minute, it finally struck me … the water was clear. I could see the bottom! So much for the scummy cesspool I’d imagined. Why was it so transparent? (The investigation is still underway… stay tuned next week for the full report!)
Whatever the cause, this was an opportunity to get underwater and take a look around.

Not exactly the cesspool I'd imagined...Lake Mendota in the clear water phase. Photo: A. Hinterthuer
Not exactly the cesspool I’d imagined… Photo: A. Hinterthuer

The surfaces of lakes, as beautiful as they can be, act as a shield that prevent us landlubbers from seeing aquatic ecosystems. Can you imagine studying a forest from its border, taking all the data from instruments and pulling out animals in traps? It would be difficult to “know” the woods without ever hiking in them. That’s essentially what limnologists have to do with lakes. We often don’t actually go in the water, and, for the most part, neither do people who enjoy lakes recreationally. There’s a whole hidden landscape right underneath our docks and boats. If we could see what is going on down there, those images alone could help us understand these ecosystems – in a way that scientific facts just can’t. For great underwater pics and video, keep reading…

2 thoughts on “Muckraking Mendota”

  1. One of the highlights at the lab in ’62-’68 was white bass fishing on Mendota..Enormous schools were surface feeding on Daphnia. We used cane poles with two lures and often caught two at a time. Hundreds on a single trip. Another was Doc. Hasler’s church buying a boxcar load of ham and lima bean C-rations. Oscar Meyer used dried instead of fresh limas and Army rejected them. Too much for to handle. Doc sold to grad students for $1.00/case of 24 cans. Lab was permeated for months with smell of them being heated for lunch. There was also the Fish Wive’s Club organized for student wives by Doc’s wife, Hannah. I must mention Mrs. Marion Villberg, the lab secretary. She was known as Mother Vilberg by the grads.
    You may publish my email. I’m still in contact with Wissing, Bruins, and Voightlander. Would love to hear from others of that era.

  2. In the 60’s we had several schools of white bass on the North shore of Mendota. ..Fox Bluff. My dad taught us how to cane pole fish for them with night crawlers….jointed minnows etc. My sister was the fisherman….
    The weedcutters came by monthly…..and you had to clear the weeds off the propellers when water skiing. Lots of dragon flies and some kind of shistisomE in the lime green smelly floating weeds…..
    we patrolled the pier and shoreline daily and pitchef weeds up onto shoe to dry daily.

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