2017 Wisconsin Family Fishing Destinations
May 18, 2017
Wisconsin offers plenty of great fishing waters, and most anglers have their favorite spots to cast for trophies. But with temperatures warming up and the school year winding down, this is the perfect time to focus on a different kind of destination: the best locations for a family fishing trip. The goal this month is to find waters where your kids can actually catch fish, and perhaps enjoy some fun diversions along the way. Here are a few places where you can make some memories.
A generation ago, it was not uncommon for American families to pack everyone into the family station wagon and head off for a weeklong summer vacation. Some folks headed west to visit iconic national parks, such as Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon. Others trekked across the Canadian border to sample the legendary fishing of Ontario or Quebec. For many Wisconsin families, summer vacation meant heading "Up North" to a rustic resort on a quiet lake, where Dad could fish, the kids could swim and explore, and Mom could sunbathe on the dock.
There are more demands on everyone's time these days, but some families still find the time to get away for a week or maybe a couple of long weekends. If such a getaway sounds appealing, read on. We'll look at several venues that offer fishing opportunities and more for the whole family.
MIDDLE EAU CLAIRE LAKE/BUCK N' BASS RESORT
Gordon MacQuarrie was America's first full-time newspaper outdoors editor, writing for the Milwaukee Journal in the 1940s and '50s. His favorite haunts were the woods and waters of far northern Wisconsin's Bayfield County, and in particular, Middle Eau Claire Lake where he and his father built a log cabin.
Part of the Eau Claire Chain, Middle Eau Claire is a deep, clear lake, with excellent fishing for panfish, bass and walleyes. Kids can catch bluegills right off the dock and in the shallow, weedy bays. There is a large mid-lake reef where you'll find perch and walleyes. The Eau Claire River outlet on the west shore connects to 784-acre Lower Eau Claire Lake. Kids love turning the wheel on the hand-operated lock that lifts small boats over a concrete roller dam between the lakes.
One of MacQuarrie's hangouts, a resort just across the bay from his cabin, is still open for business. It has changed owners and names several times since MacQuarrie's day, but Buck N Bass Resort still offers the rustic charm that MacQuarrie loved.
Nestled among tall pines, Buck N Bass Resort is a rare find today, when many small Ma-and-Pa resorts have been sold, their cabins razed, and their lakefront locations turned into private McMansions. The resort offers two-, three- and four-bedroom cabins with names like "Eagles Nest," "Whitetail" and "Big Bass." The cabins have modern amenities, but the décor is right out of the 1950s. Last summer, I stayed in "Wolves Den." When the porch screen door banged shut behind me, I was transported back to childhood visits to my great aunt's lakeshore cottage.
The resort's RV and tent campsites offer full electric hookups, fresh water, showers, holding tank and dump station. Daily and seasonal campsite rentals are available. Cabin rentals include full kitchens with all utensils, pillows and bed linens, a rowboat, charcoal grill and fire pit. Free wifi is available to all cabins and campsites. The resort also rents pontoon boats, canoes and bass boats and sells bait, ice, gas and apparel.
If you want a break from cooking your own meals, the resort's full-service bar and restaurant offers excellent food, including its renowned Friday fish fry and smokehouse specials. Buck N Bass hosts occasional workshops, including a writers' retreat with novelist Jackie Sereno, June 24-27. buckandbassresort.com.
Along The Way
If local history is your thing, be sure to visit the Barnes Area Historical Association museum, where displays include artifacts and photos from the logging era and an entire room dedicated to Gordon MacQuarrie, with some of the writer's decoys and fishing tackle, and even his duck skiff and typewriter. bahamuseum.org/
LOST LAND AND TEAL LAKES
Lost Land and Teal lakes cover 2,500 acres in Sawyer County in northwest Wisconsin. They are known as the "quiet lakes" because of the 10 mph speed limit, which is strictly enforced. The lakes are connected by a thoroughfare, and you can fish anywhere on both lakes without being bothered by high-speed watercraft. Located in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, there is very little development on either lake, which gives them a true northwoods feel.
Lost Land Lake is a favorite fishing spot of another northwoods legend, musician and composer Warren Nelson, whose "12-Pack of Fishing Songs" includes such memorable tunes as "Trolling Home to You," "Tackle Box Waltz" and "Bullhead Polka." Nelson sings of catching his first muskie on Lost Land, but the lake also harbors plenty of panfish, along with northerns, bass and walleyes. Crappie fishing peaks in May and June, but most panfish can be caught all season long.
Located on Lost Land Lake, Northland Lodge is another throwback to a bygone era. This family resort offers 21 two-, three- and four-bedroom cabins, all named for regional birds or trees. With few other buildings in the vicinity, Northland offers a breathtaking view of the night sky, causing one young guest to ask, "Why can't we see stars like this at home?" A fourth-generation guest told us, "Our family discovered Northland Lodge in the CCC days, and we have been coming ever since."
The resort's 147 acres include a glaciated nature trail, marina, beach and playground. Another option is a picnic on Teal Lake's undeveloped Knott Island, where kids can explore an abandoned trapper's cabin. The resort also offers guided fishing, which can include a shore lunch on Knott Island.
The resort's Central Lodge offers a bar and dining room, yoga classes, minnow races and a Wednesday night sing-along and talent show, where guests can join the band with a gut bucket, stump fiddle, drums and crazy hats. You never know whom you'll meet at Northland Lodge. Their Web site includes a photo of me, Warren Nelson with his legendary "fish-tar" fishing rod/guitar combo, and Northland owner Dick Thearin on the Northland dock. northlandlodge.net/
Along The Way
Anyone interested in fishing and fishing history will enjoy a side trip to the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in nearby Hayward. The hall's museum houses a collection of 1,000 classic and antique outboards, and more than 50,000 fishing lures, rods and other artifacts. The 7-acre grounds sport giant fiberglass replicas of fish, and your kids will love having their picture taken standing in the mouth of the four-story muskie. freshwater-fishing.org/
HIGH FALLS RESERVOIR
High Falls is a 1,471-acre flowage on the Peshtigo River, just 3 1/2 hours north of Milwaukee in Marinette County. It is surrounded by Wisconsin's newest state forest, the 9,000-acre Peshtigo River State Forest, established in 2001. This land was previously owned by the Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, so it is largely undeveloped. The rugged shorelines and mature pines give the flowage and forest a wild, remote feel.
High Falls harbors a mix of fish species from panfish to muskies. Perch, bluegills and largemouths are common in the shallow bays, while crappies, smallmouths and walleyes hang out along the rocky reefs. From the same location, the kids can catch panfish while Dad tries for bass or walleyes. Mike Mladenik offers guided fishing trips, and he loves to take kids fishing. His books and annotated maps will help you figure out this dark-water lake. mikemladenik.com/
Eight public boat landings serve the flowage. Camping is available in the state forest at Old Veterans Lake Family Campground (16 sites) and in Twin Bridges County Park on the west shore (62 sites), and there are 10 remote campsites within the state forest. Nearby Governor Thompson State Park also offers camping at 50 sites (16 with electric hookup).
Popp's Resort operates two facilities on the flowage's east shore. The office, bait shop and several rental cottages are on County Highway X next to Boat Landing No. 4. Popp's Marina, docking facility, seasonal RV park, deluxe vacation homes and more cottages are located north of the office on Popp's Lane. Some of the cottages welcome pets. All units have kitchenettes. Rene's bar and restaurant, open nightly at 5 p.m. and Sundays at noon, is located next to Popp's Resort. poppsresort.com/
Along The Way
If you're up for a thrilling, yet safe, adventure, book a trip down the Peshtigo River with Kosir's Rapid Rafts. Kosir's has been introducing folks to whitewater rafting for more than 40 years. Located at the end of the Roaring Rapids section of the Peshtigo, Kosir's spring trips in four-, six- and eight-person rafts from early April to mid-May take guests through Class III and IV rapids. Their summer trips, from mid-May through September when the river has settled down a bit, cater to families, with one-, two-, three- and four-person rafts. Kosir's also offers trips on the nearby Menominee River. kosirs.com/
CLEMENTS FISHING BARGE
Located near Genoa on the Mississippi River in the heart of the 240,000-acre Upper Mississippi River Wildlife Refuge, Clements Fishing Barge offers an experience that rivals Huck and Tom's trip down the Big Muddy in Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." The big difference is that Clements Barge is anchored in a prime fishing spot, just below Lock and Dam No. 8.
This is a tailwater fishery that produces good action for bluegills, crappies, perch and white bass, with opportunities to catch both species of black bass, walleyes, saugers, northerns, catfish and even shovelnose sturgeon. May and June are prime times for all species, especially panfish. Bring an assortment of rods and tackle, including medium and light spinning gear, a stringer, fish basket or cooler, sunscreen, hat and seasonal outerwear.
The barge consists of 12 floating docks cabled together, with a secure railing around the entire system. Unlike Huck and Tom's little raft, the float also has chairs, benches, picnic tables, restrooms, landing nets, lunchroom and tackle shop. Experienced anglers and novices alike can have fun and catch fish.
The barge is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Getting there is easy and fun, too. Raise a flag on the pole on shore in Genoa, and the barge will send a runabout over to pick you up. They make trips every half hour in the morning and every hour in the afternoon.
The barge holds special events throughout the season, with free fishing for women on Mother's Day, a customer-appreciation party and a kids' day, with free fishing, food, prizes, bait and lots of help for young anglers. The Clements Barge Web site posts regular fishing reports and offers helpful information for new anglers. clementsfishing.com/
Live bait is available in Genoa at Captain Hook's Bait & Tackle. For an extended stay, Captain Hook's also has a rental cabin that sleeps up to six. The cabin features satellite TV, a kitchenette, bathroom, shower and outside deck with a barbecue grill. captainhookstackle.com/
Along The Way
Before or after your trip, plan to visit the Genoa National Fish Hatchery, located three miles south of Genoa on both sides of Highway 35. Operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the hatchery produces fish for stocking and focuses on the recovery of endangered species. The hatchery annually provides more than 30 million fish, eggs and mussels of 26 species, including lake sturgeon and coaster brook trout. A 1,000-gallon aquarium displays fish commonly found in the river. The hatchery welcomes visitors daily from 7 a.m. until dusk. fws.gov/midwest/genoa/index.html
Want more options for a family summer vacation? Visit the Wisconsin Department of Tourism online at travelwisconsin.com for information on hundreds more great destinations.