If you wonder what’s hidden on the bottom of a Madison-area lake, go see Rick Krueger.
The veteran diver who helped write the book on the subject is now spending more time on the surface in his 17-foot Polar Kraft using sonar, a remote-control video camera and a GPS mapping system to chart thousands of underwater objects.
Krueger has already plotted more than 2,500 objects — including boats, fishing shanties, ladders, rock piles, a gas grill, a sailboat rudder and a shopping cart.
A diver inspects an old car in Lake Mendota near Picnic Point.
He has helped authorities recover cars that crashed through the ice — sometimes decades ago — including one that still held the remains of its passengers.
Krueger’s database is the best underwater inventory there is for the lakes, said Tamara Thomsen, state historical society maritime archaeologist. A grant will allow Thomsen and Krueger to work on an official catalog of historically significant sunken watercraft including the excursion boats that carried tourists many years ago.
There are any number of less important wrecks, rotten old boats that appear to have been sunk on purpose by their owners.
“They have some kind of derelict vessels in their back yard rotted beyond belief,” Thomsen said. “You find some with rocks in them, and holes in the bottoms of them.”
Puzzles and secrets
Krueger regularly finds puzzles to solve — like hunks of an old dredging barge strung out in a straight line along miles of Lake Monona’s bottom. He thinks maybe the dredging crew finished deepening a channel and then took their vessel and its big clawed arm apart piece by piece on their way back to shore.
Like many other divers, he remains intrigued by the 1967 plane crash in Lake Monona that killed singer Otis Redding, four bandmates, an assistant and the pilot. There are rumors that a case of Redding’s jewelry is still at the bottom.
For Krueger, a 63-year-old retired police radio technician, history and fishing are inextricably intertwined. In addition to sunken barges and boats, he charts positions of tree stumps and anything else that might suggest a good fishing spot. He speaks at outdoors expos and sells packages of GPS coordinates to fishing enthusiasts. It keeps him in gas money.
There are things under the water that might tempt thieves, like a vintage motorboat with a mahogany dashboard and windshield. Krueger said he keeps those coordinates secret, even though most divers are scrupulously honest.
“There’s just so much stuff out there, it’s just unbelievable,” Krueger said. “It’s fun because you find stuff, and it’s ‘What the heck is this?’”
Krueger posts video online and asks viewers to help him identify mysterious silt-cloaked items like the shopping cart he detected in the middle of Lake Mendota.
In 2003 he used a metal detector to find a $20,000 Rolex that had broken off a boater’s wrist and hidden in weeds 10 feet below the surface of Lake Monona.
Old TVs, swarming fish
Veteran diver Tom Villand describes being swarmed by carp and finding a sturgeon swimming alongside him like a diving buddy.
Divers have found TVs and stereos, a cannon ball, parking meters and stolen cash boxes. About 200 yards north of James Madison Park in Lake Mendota, discarded bottles are piled up, possibly by workers at an old bottling company.
The underwater laboratory Habitat lies off Picnic Point with two cars and a speedboat. Hundreds of anchors can be found, especially off Governor’s Island.
The Habitat was a research vessel deployed by UW-Madison scientists from 1975 to 1986.
The Habitat, a research vessel formerly used by UW-Madison scientists, sits at the bottom of Lake Mendota.
The interior of the research vessel Habitat is shown at the bottom of Lake Mendota.
The structure of this ice shanty remains mostly intact at the bottom of Lake Mendota.
This sunken boat was found near James Madison Park in Lake Mendota.
Red paint is still visible on this boat sitting at the bottom of Lake Mendota near James Madison Park.
A diver inspects this old car in Lake Mendota near Picnic Point.
This overturned vehicle is one of two cars at the bottom of Lake Mendota off Picnic Point.
This is another view of the upside-down car off Picnic Point in Lake Mendota.
Another view of the overturned car off Picnic Point at the bottom of Lake Mendota.
A diver shines a light on a boat abandoned near Picnic Point in about 60 feet of water in Lake Mendota.
The remains of a generator sit at the bottom of Lake Mendota off Shorewood Hills.
Ice shanty debris
Sometimes people let ice shanties fall to the bottom of a lake or fail to remove them before the lake ice melts. Here you can see a generator, tire and other debris from inside a shanty abandoned on Lake Mendota near Shorewood Hills.
The bow of an old excursion boat, perhaps a century old, that provided tours sits on the bottom of Lake Mendota.
Diver explores wreck
A diver inspects a sunken excursion boat at the bottom of Lake Mendota.
Smilin' Bill wreck
The Smilin' Bill rests about 20 feet below the surface at the bottom of University Bay in Lake Mendota.
Silt and mud cover the Smilin' Bill at the bottom of Lake Mendota.
A wagon sits at the bottom of Lake Mendota. Divers haven't figured out the details about what happened to lead it to the bottom.
Monona Terrace supports
Posts help support the concrete poured for Monona Terrace.
Ice diving is popular among scuba enthusiasts in the Madison area. Here divers wait for their turn underwater during the winter. Typically divers wear dry suits or pour warm water down the front of their wet suits to be able to handle the chilly water temperatures.
Part of a dredge is left over in Lake Monona.
An old weed sprayer, with a paddlewheel, sits at the bottom of Lake Monona in about 35 feet of water.
A sunken boat lift was found at the bottom of Lake Waubesa. The lift was used to raise and lower boats into the lake.
An overturned boat with motor sunk into Lake Waubesa.
The overturned boat in Lake Waubesa.
Not many canoes sink to the bottom of a river or lake. This one did in Lake Waubesa.
A fish crib in Lake Waubesa helps shelter fish, allowing them to hide and grow to maturity. The cribs, often made by anglers, also make for excellent fishing habitats.
This is one of several cars at the bottom of Fox Bluff in Lake Mendota.
Sunken antique car
This car from the early 20th century could have entered Lake Mendota near Fox Bluff around 100 years ago.
The remains of a weed cutter sit at the bottom of Lake Mendota.
This is the rear of a car at the bottom of Lake Kegonsa.
A car sits at the bottom of Lake Kegonsa.
A boat, with its steering wheel still in place, sits in Lake Kegonsa.
A boat, with motor intact, was found at the bottom of Lake Kegonsa. It's unclear if the boat was abandoned or sank as the result of an accident.
The "Irish," a sailing scow, was found under about 45 feet of water in Lake Monona where it meets the Yahara River.
These vintage soda bottles are from Tamara Thomsen's collection, gathered from Madison's lakes.
Vintage bottle collection
Tamara Thomsen collected these vintage beer bottles during cleanup dives in Madison lakes.
The water's edge is a popular destination, and public access has been expanding. Kendra Aaroen, 7, left, of Stoughton, and her sister Hannah, 3, roll along Lake Waubesa's Lower Yahara River Trail with their grandmother, Gail Aaroen, of McFarland. The mile-long boardwalk bridge is the longest such structure built in North America for non-motorized transportation.
Kiteboarding on Lake Waubesa
Brett Fish, of Madison, skims his kiteboard across Lake Waubesa near McDaniel Park in McFarland.
Madison's Isthmus: An aerial view
Would the state Capitol or the University of Wisconsin System's flagship campus be located in Madison were its landscape not dominated by lakes?
A speedboat pulls a pair of joyriders on an inner tube across Lake Mendota.
We are drawn to the water, and there is more and more research that helps explain why. Here visitors to the UW-Madison Memorial Union Terrace gather along Lake Mendota -- on this day a greenish hue from nutrient pollution.
Madison's lakes: An aerial view
They are stunningly beautiful, stalwart giants. The lakes of the Yahara River chain spill out through one of Wisconsin's fastest growing regions. We love many things about them. And yet, we take them for granted. Looking south, as the water flows, are Lake Mendota and Lake Monona bracketing Madison's Isthmus. Downstream are Lake Waubesa and Lake Kegonsa.
Goodman Community Center summer campers AJ Miller, front, and Sakir Kone guide their kayak across Monona Bay. They're among the thousands who enjoy the lakes each year.
Loons on Lake Wingra
Common loons skitter across Lake Wingra in April. Loons have used the lake as a temporary home while awaiting more northern lakes in the U.S. and Canada to thaw.
Swans on Lake Mendota
A flock of tundra swans congregate on the dwindling perimeter of Lake Mendota's open water during a migratory stopover.
Heron Rose, 17, left, and Bode Anderson-Brown,16, both of Madison, fish along Wingra Creek in July.
Muskies at dam
Every spring muskellunge jump over the dam on Wingra Creek to reach Lake Wingra. The annual migration draws spectators to watch the large game fish attempt to leap the formidable obstacle.
Lakes Aerial for gallery
The Imagine Madison comprehensive plan will serve as a non-binding guideline for potential development areas and work in conjunction with more local neighborhood plans.
Paddle and Portage for gallery
Samir Idrissi lifts his canoe overhead as he prepares to embark on the portaging leg of the annual Paddle and Portage event. Like many participants, Idrissi is wearing a costume for the event. He said he wanted to raise awareness for declining bee populations.
Shake the Lake fireworks
Fireworks go off over Lake Monona during Shake the Lake in 2017.
Mounds on Edgewood Dr.
A row of conical burial mounds adjoins the Park and Pleasure Drive on the north shore of Lake Wingra (now Edgewood Drive, at the south edge of Edgewood College) in 1915. (WHS #39011)
View across water towards the "Scutanawbequon," owned by Francis (Frank) Barnes, launched on April 17, 1866, with seven people aboard. The boat, known as the "Scut," was made in Whitewater. Barnes purchased Squaw Point, known today as Winnequah Point, on Lake Monona across from the city of Madison. (WHS #120625)
This barge was used in copper sulfate treatments of Lake Monona in the 1930s, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society. An inboard motor boat was used to tow the barge along the lake shoreline during spraying.
Yahara River from Williamson St.
The Yahara River is shown from Williamson Street with Lake Monona in the background in this undated photo. (WHS # 2234)
Madison bird's-eye view
Bird's-eye map of Madison with an inset of the Wisconsin State Capitol. The bird's-eye was done by the Norris, Wellge and Co., as a promotional item for S.L. Sheldon, a large Madison agricultural implement dealer. (WHS #11432)
Mound on the Dividing Ridge
Two men relax among Native American burial mounds on the Dividing Ridge between Lakes Monona and Wingra in Madison. The Dividing Ridge and the mounds were subsequently destroyed by gravel mining. (WHS #38942)
Crest of the Dividing Ridge
A horse grazes near Native American burial mounds on the Dividing Ridge between Lakes Monona and Wingra in Madison. The mounds, and the ridge they stood on, were subsequently quarried away by gravel miners. (WHS #39008)
Woman in sand pit
A woman smiles as she poses while standing in a sand pit near the intersection of Fish Hatchery Road and Park Street. A note on the back of the photograph reads, "Dividing Ridge, Sand Pit, Pieh's Hill/Keyes Hill." (WHS #102503)
Native American map of Lake Mendota
This pictorial map of Lake Mendota shows Native American sites and legends associated with the lake and its surrounding area. Some of those mentioned on the map include Lost Lake, Fox Bluff, Den of Water Spirits, Merrill Wishing Spring, and Eagle Heights. (WHS #96155)
Plan for Madison as a model city
A plan by John Nolen from 1910 shows a vision for Madison as a model city. The plan shows existing and proposed parks, railroads, and marshes in a color coded key. (WHS #100762)
Fish catch from Lake Mendota
In this Sept. 25, 1957 photo, Charlie Bran kneels with his catch of white bass, crappies and bluegills from Lake Mendota. The photo headline reads, "Big Haul for Charlie". (WHS #96299)
A visitor takes in the sight of three linear burial mounds at the Sure-Johnson mound group south of McFarland in 1905. (WHS #2388)
New state park on Lake Kegonsa
Marshland sedges and rushes, foreground, Lake Kegonsa and a tree-lined horizon are shown in 1965. The then-newly acquired area consists of marsh, woodland, Native American mounds and open fields on the northeast corner of Lake Kegonsa. (WHS #118562)
UW varsity crew vs. California
A man looks out over Lake Mendota in 1954, as the UW-Madison varsity crew team beats the California Golden Bears by 10 feet in a late spurt to win in record time.
Ice fishing on Lake Mendota
Mike Wagner, age 77, is shown "loaded down" with ice fishing equipment on Lake Mendota in 1951. (WHS #69248)
Vilas Park beach
A lifeguard observes swimmers at the beach in Vilas Park in 1950. A rowboat used by the lifeguard is on the beach. (WHS #66915)
Shoreline at UW-Madison
A view of the Lake Mendota shoreline, including the Armory and Gymnasium (Red Gym or Old Red) and the Old Boat House from 1900.
Aerial view of Governor's Island
This aerial photograph shows Governor's Island in Lake Mendota, as well as the area surrounding the Mendota Mental Health Hospital, in 1935. (WHS #34750)
Frank Lloyd Wright boathouse
Exterior view from the lake of the Madison City Boathouse at the foot of North Carroll Street on Lake Mendota. It was an early design of Frank Lloyd Wright in 1920. (WHS #34327)
Formal group on steamboat
A large group of well-dressed people stand aboard three small steamboats on Lake Monona in 1875. The boat in the foreground is a barge with a sternwheel. The two behind are sidewheel excursion boats. (WHS #27189)
Lake Mendota near UW varsity boat house
A group of people in a large model launch with an American flag on Lake Mendota near the UW-Madison boathouse in 1915.
Lake Waubesa at Crescent Park
A boy stands on a pier on Lake Waubesa in 1927. There are boats docked at the water's edge and a group of children and adults are on the shoreline in the background. (WHS #119306)
Hundreds of people from all parts of southern Wisconsin descend on Lake Mendota to fish through the ice for perch and other pan fish from a spot about a mile out from Maple Bluff in January 1948. (WHS #34483)
Water skiers on Lake Mendota
Joanna "Josie" Mayer and her water skiing partner, Jimmy Schneiders, water ski side by side on Lake Mendota on July 12, 1955. (WHS #36843)
Lake Monona rowboat
A man rows in a rowboat on Lake Monona in 1894 with a view of the city in the background. (WHS #2123)
Aerial view of isthmus toward Lake Monona
This aerial view of Madison looking southeast over the Isthmus in 1928. Visible at the bottom is the Lake Mendota shoreline. At center, Lake Monona, just above, Lake Waubesa, and in the distance at the top, Lake Kegonsa. (WHS #31148)
Lake Kegonsa log cabins
View of Lake Kegonsa shoreline, with cottages and boathouses along the shore, and farm buildings on a hill behind in 1930. There is a dock with several rowboats in the foreground. The dock is at the bottom of a ramp contraption that runs from the shoreline. (WHS #100585)
Mendota Yacht Club members
Mendota Yacht Club members Rosamond Ross, from left, Ann Hastings, and Gina Johnson take down the sail from their boat, "The Freckles," on the pier behind the James Payton house, 409 N. Blair St., in 1947. (WHS #48369)
Boat houses on Lake Monona
View from Lake Monona of a row of boathouses at East Wilson Street between South Hancock and South Franklin streets in 1934. (WHS #3647)
Tonyawatha Spring Hotel from across Lake Monona
Illustration of the exterior of the tourist resort Tonyawatha Spring Hotel (an earlier version was called Tonyawatha House) from across Lake Monona in 1885. (WHS #11250)
Yahara River painting
The Wisconsin Historical Society collection includes a watercolor painting of the Yahara River at Lake Monona.
Burial mounds on the Edgewood campus
Charles E. Brown poses near a historic tablet marking one of a row of conical burial mounds on the Park and Pleasure drive on the north shore of Lake Wingra in May 1939. These mounds are now incorporated within the Edgewood College campus. (WHS #39012)
Two men pose on a boat docked at the Askew Steamboat Landing on Lake Monona off South Carroll Street. The old Governor Harvey residence is in the background on the far shoreline. (WHS # 3494)
A mill on the Yahara River at the outlet of Lake Mendota is shown in 1890. The mill was built in 1850 by Gov. Leonard J. Farwell.
Eben Peck cabin
The Eben Peck cabin, the first house in Madison, was built in June 1837. (WHS # 2859)