Nine Great Wisconsin Family Fishing Getaways

Planning a summer vacation is never easy, especially when fishing needs to be part of the equation. This should help you with your game plan.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By Dan Small

Once upon a time, many Wisconsin urban and suburban residents used to load their kids and a mountain of gear into the family station wagon each summer and head north for a week or two of fishing. For many, the destination was a Ma-and-Pa resort on a lake loaded with panfish for the kids and maybe muskies or bass or walleyes for Dad. Mom got to do her housekeeping and kid-watching chores in a more rustic setting, complete with chipmunks outside the cabin and maybe a mouse or two inside.

If you remember those days, you're getting long of tooth because that was the way things were 50 years ago. Today, fewer families follow the traditional vacation pattern, what with kids' soccer leagues, skateboard camps and other time-filling activities. Most of those little rustic resorts have been sold as condos or replaced with fancy second homes.

More families are now likely to take several weekend trips to different locations rather than one longer vacation. Fortunately, there are still plenty of options for both types of trips. Let's take a look at a handful of fishing trips that should get your family on the road to summer fun.


Bayfield County

About 25 years ago, colleague Bruce Goetz and I taught a course in angling at Northland College in Ashland. It was an enjoyable diversion from our regular academic duties, and the best part of the class was the field trips. Among other places, we took our students to the nearby Pike Lake Chain in Bayfield County.

We led a caravan west on Highway 2 to Iron River, then turned south on Highway H to the county park landing on Twin Bear Lake. From here, you can fish a string of gin-clear lakes that cover just over 1,000 acres. The five largest are: Twin Bear and Hart at about 260 acres each; Millicent at 184 acres; Eagle at 170 acres; and Buskey Bay at 100 acres. Our first stop was the center bar on Hart Lake, where our students caught some nice walleyes on fatheads beneath slip-bobbers. They all passed the course, by the way.

Son Jon and I fished the chain for walleyes often when we lived up north, and we always saw families camping at the county park in summer. Many of them fished Eagle Lake for crappies, bluegills and perch. You can also catch panfish right from shore at the campground. To fish Millicent Lake and Buskey Bay, launch at the Hermitage Resort on Buskey Bay, where you can also rent boats and get bait, gas and supplies.

The Pike Lake Chain is close to some good trout streams and a bunch of tiny bass and panfish lakes where you can launch a canoe or small boat for a change of scenery. Nearby Bayfield is the jumping-off point for a cruise in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore or a sea-kayak adventure with Trek & Trail Outfitters.

For lodging information, contact The Hermitage at (715) 372-4580 or Mr. T's Sport & Hardware in Iron River carries bait, tackle and supplies, (715) 372-4356. For other services, contact the Iron River Area Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-345-0716 or


Sawyer County

With 15,000 acres of water in 10 lake basins, 140 islands and over 200 miles of wild shoreline, the Big Chip offers plenty of room to roam. The Chip's 30 resorts and campgrounds provide a wide variety of vacation experiences, from luxury resorts to tent camping.

The main attraction here is the fishing - crappies for the kids, walleyes and muskies for adults. Floating bogs, shallow bays and creek mouths harbor the crappies, while walleyes prefer deeper structure and river channels. Both species, along with the muskies that feed on them, hang out around the flowage's many bars and weedbeds. This is a place where kids can catch a mess of panfish, with the distinct possibility that the next fish that takes a minnow might be a muskie.

You can't leave the area without a visit to the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, where you can stand in the jaws of the world's largest fiberglass muskie. A photo gallery of world-record fish and room after room of antique motors, lures and other paraphernalia are more than enough to keep the kids occupied on a rainy day. Hayward is also home to the World Lumberjack Championship and the Wilderness Walk Zoo & Recreation Center on Highway 27, (715) 634-2893. You can also visit The Hideout, Al Capone's Northwoods Retreat & Museum of the Roaring 20's at 12101 W. Highway CC, Couderay, (715) 945-2746.

For information on resorts, campgrounds and events, call the Hayward Chamber of Commerce at (715) 634-8662 or the Hayward Lakes Resort Association at (715) 634-4801, or log on to Contact the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame at (715) 634-4440 or online at


Barron County

OK, kids. Ten points if you can spell and pronounce both these lakes' names. No peeking, now! While they don't make much of a blip on Wisconsin anglers' radar screens by themselves, mention that they are part of the Chetek Chain and people know what you are talking about. These are panfish lakes, among the best in our state. We've mentioned them before, but they bear a repeat visit because you'd be hard-pressed to find a better panfish destination that knows how to cater to families.

Take the annual Fish-O-Rama, for example. Every year, hundreds of panfish and game fish are tagged and released. Buy an entry button and catch one of these fish, and you could win a cash prize of up to $1,000. Fishing for dollars is not the best reason for wetting a line, but hey, talk about an incentive to keep the kids interested!

Ojaski and Pokegama, along with the three other lakes in this 3,800-acre chain, are loaded with nice panfish. Department of Natural Resources fish biologist Heath Benicke reports there is a good year-class of crappies there now, with oodles of fish topping 9 inches. Bluegills are also abundant, and they range up to 8 inches. Both shorelines of Pokegama have good panfish structure, i.e. weeds. For Dad, both lakes have plenty of pike, a few walleyes and a lot of nice largemouth bass.

You can dock your boat on Pokegama and walk into the city of Chetek for lunch or shopping. There are beaches, ski shows, gift shops, golf courses and even a paintball field nearby, so no one in the family should get bored on this vacation.

You can get information on the contest and buy buttons at the Rod & Gun Shop in Chetek, (715) 924-4181 or 1-800-274-9294. For lodging information on 30 res

orts, try the Chetek Area Resort Owners Association at 1-800-224-3835, or log on to


Vilas/Oneida Counties

The Lac du Flambeau Chippewa Reservation lies 12 miles west of Woodruff on Highway 47.

Over 100 reservation lakes are stocked with fish from the tribal hatchery on Highway 47, and the lakes are open to public fishing. A tribal campground and marina welcomes campers from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Launch a boat or canoe at the campground and explore a 10-lake chain with over 15,000 acres of water. Visitors may also fish for trout in a pond on the hatchery grounds on a pay-as-you-go basis. Walleyes are more abundant on the chain than in most off-reservation lakes, and there is good fishing for perch, crappies, smallmouth bass and muskies as well. A tribal permit is required, available at the tribal office building or at several locations in town.

The tribal campground has 72 paved sites for RVs of all sizes and plenty of tent sites as well. The marina has a concrete ramp, boat, motor and canoe rentals, on-water gas and Indian guide service.

A big draw here is Lake of the Torches Casino, with slots, blackjack, bingo, live entertainment, a full-service restaurant, luxury hotel and convention center, and boat tours. There is even seaplane docking, in case you want to fly in. Powwows, where you can see costumed performers dancing and singing to the beat of tribal drums, are held every week in the summer. Wa-Swa-Goning, the only village of its kind in Wisconsin and reputedly the best Indian village re-creation in the U.S., is located on 20 acres along the shore of Moving Cloud Lake, several miles from the campground. Trails lead to traditional lodges that depict traditional Ojibwe life from season to season.

For information on camping, fishing and other activities, contact the Lac du Flambeau Chamber of Commerce, 1-877-588-3346 or


Marinette County

At 2,400 acres, Noquebay is the largest lake in the state's northeast corner. Just a few miles east of Crivitz, it is easily accessible from Green Bay and the Fox Valley, although folks travel from much farther to enjoy its fishing each year. The lake is quite shallow, with extensive weedbeds and three deep holes. You'll find big bluegills and other panfish species in the weeds, along with northern pike, largemouth bass and walleyes.

Mike Mladenik, who guides on the lake, rates Noquebay as a good lake for a family vacation because its panfish are accessible and abundant, yet it has a good variety of game fish as well.

For information on area services, contact the Marinette Area Chamber of Commerce, (715) 735-6681 or For guide service, contact Mike Mladenik at (715) 854-2055 or


Door County

For a change-of-pace vacation, consider taking the family to Sturgeon Bay. There is good fishing for perch, walleyes and smallmouths in Sturgeon Bay itself and in the bay of Green Bay, and topnotch trout and salmon fishing on Lake Michigan. The area has dozens of novelty and antique shops, some great restaurants, golf courses, museums, and a host of cultural and artistic events.

Start with the fishing. With a small boat, you can reach good perch, smallmouth bass and walleye action in the flats and weedbeds at the west end of Sturgeon Bay, in Sawyer Harbor, Little Sturgeon Bay and Sand Bay. You can also hire a guide to take you out to Larsen's Reef for walleyes or up along the Green Bay shoreline for smallies. And then there is always charter-boat fishing in Lake Michigan for chinook salmon and trout. In August, you can catch chinooks right in the shipping canal.

The Door County Maritime Museum has many fascinating exhibits tracing the history of Sturgeon Bay's shipbuilding industry. Shops in the city of Sturgeon Bay and in the other towns offer antiques and souvenirs, while roadside stands sell locally grown apples and cherries, along with jams, pies and more goodies.

The county has numerous resorts and campgrounds. Five state parks offer camping, trails for hiking and biking and other activities. The observation tower at Potawatomi State Park provides a spectacular view of the bay and surrounding area.

The Door County Chamber of Commerce has information on everything mentioned and more. Call 1-800-527-3529 or log on to For state park information, log on to For guided fishing, try Dale Stroschein at Sand Bay Beach Resort at 1-888-879-5548 or



Waupaca County

Most anglers think of the Wolf River at Fremont as a spring destination. Its legendary walleye run in April and white bass run in May attract anglers from all over the state. Talk to Joel "Doc" Kunz, though, and you'll learn that the Wolf has great walleye and panfish action right through the summer. Kunz, who maintains the area's Web site, is one of the biggest promoters of the river from Fremont to New London.

"The summer fishing here is nothing short of phenomenal," Kunz says. "Walleyes bite all year in the river channel, and you can catch panfish in any shoreline brush you find."

Partridge Lake is a 1,100-acre "bump" on the river right at Fremont. It's a good choice when there is too much boat traffic on the river itself or when you feel like fishing weedbeds. The lake is shallow, with shore-to-shore weeds by midsummer, but it is full of crappies, bluegills, largemouth bass and pike, according to DNR fisheries technician Bob Olynyk, who surveyed the lake in 2002. Olynyk found crappies up to 14 inches, bluegills to 8 inches and pike up to 40 inches, along with a fair number of big largemouths.

Nearby, you can go tubing or canoeing on the Crystal River, fish for trout in area streams or play golf at several public courses. For information on canoeing, call Ding's Dock at (715) 258-2612 or log on to For tackle and information, try Ma's Bait Shop in Fremont, (920) 446-2444. For lodging, try Larry & Jan's Resort in Fremont, (920) 446-3161 or For fishing information, log on to or


Adams & Juneau Counties

One of two large flowages on the Wisconsin River in central Wisconsin, Castle Rock offers a variety of fishing opportunities and much more. Buckhorn State Park, located on the peninsula where the flowage's two arms meet, has a beach, group and backpacking campsites, hiking and nature trails, and summer programs for kids.

The Yellow River arm of the flowage has great fishing for white bass, crappies, bluegills, perch and walleyes. Look for panfish near the fish cribs off the state park shoreline, and walleyes in the river channel and wood structure along both banks. You can also explore the many side channels and inlets by canoe.

Two county parks, numerous boat landings, several marinas, resorts, motels and other services provide everything you might need. For information about Buckhorn State Park, call (608) 565-2789 or log on to For camping reservations, call 1-888-WI-PARKS or log on to For other services, call the Castle Rock-Petenwell Lakes Association at (608) 565-7112 or go to


Lafayette County

Located in Yellowstone Lake State Park, this is the largest of several manmade lakes in the Driftless Area of southwestern Wisconsin. It is not big by any means, but its 450 acres harbor a lot of panfish, along with bass, pike, walleyes and muskies. A dam on the Yellowstone River regulates the lake level. The river below the dam is a good smallmouth stream.

A catch-and-release rule here on all game fish makes this a very interesting fishery. Since they must be immediately released (it's OK to take a quick photo.), game fish are abundant and big. They keep the carp population in check and also eat small panfish, so adult panfish reach good proportions, too. Yellowstone is thus a good place to take kids who want a chance to catch a big fish, along with some eating-sized panfish. The lake is shallow, with the old river channel providing what little deep water there is. Fallen trees and other shoreline structure afford cover for fish.

You can camp right in Yellowstone Lake State Park or in one of two private campgrounds, both of which have bait shops. Nearby Darlington has other services. For information, call the Darlington Main Street Program, 1-888-506-6553. For information on Yellowstone Lake State Park, call (608) 523-4427 or log on to For camping reservations, call 888-WI-PARKS or log on to

(Editor's note: For more great family getaway destinations, contact the Wisconsin Department of Tourism at 1-800-432-TRIP or online at Author Dan Small also has fishing and travel information, along with live links to all the sites mentioned in this article, on his Web site at

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