Fishing in Madison's lakes is a serious business, as detailed in the Isthmus cover story published June 7, 2013. Even a president enjoyed the angling in Lake Mendota.
President Grover Cleveland came to Madison for a fishing trip in 1887. His guide was the city's greatest fisherman, Billy Dunn.
On Oct. 8 the president and a few friends set out in a small steamboat for a day of fishing at Maple Bluff. The group split up into small boats. Cleveland's sole companion was Dunn.
Dunn apparently was a Madison native. For 13 years he contracted to provide fish for what's now the Mendota Mental Health Institute. Pickerel, or "pike," were his favorite, and he once caught five, each of them more than 20 pounds, on five successive casts. His house still stands at 321 N. Brearly St.
President Cleveland "deftly guided his line as the fish began to bite," reportedThe New York Times, "and his patience was soon rewarded by the safe landing of a magnificent specimen of yellow bass."
Cleveland caught eight. Dunn caught more, but he was impressed. "If the wind hadn't been so strong he'd have had better success," said Dunn. "He'd give me a good tussle."
Cleveland was pleased, and afterward, when Dunn got out his flask, Cleveland gave it a good pull and said, "Anything that's good enough for Billy is good enough for me."
Cleveland was so grateful that he personally made Dunn a Madison letter carrier.
But Dunn's most famous fishing trip came four years earlier, when he and his wife were boating just off North Brearly. The couple reported that they encountered a serpent "with a body as large as a man's." They fought it off with an oar and ax handle.
Though he was mocked, Dunn was never shy about recounting the adventure. He died in 1925.