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Eight Great Family Fishing Getaways

Eight Great Family Fishing Getaways

A lot of folks come to the Badger State for their summer vacation, plus there's most of us Wisconsinites needing a place to go. Thankfully, there are numerous destinations where fishing can be on the agenda.

Photo by Tom Berg

It should come as no surprise that Wisconsin sells more non-resident fishing licenses than any other state, given our proximity to two large metropolitan areas to the south and west, not to mention the fabulous natural resources that draw those folks to the Badger State each summer. Those same resources attract Wisconsin residents, too, of course. In fact, there is probably not a corner of our state that doesn't see visitors from nearly every other corner of the state each summer.

For many families, it's not a vacation unless they pack up and go as far as possible. Others are content to drive an hour or less to find their recreation. Whether you head from Kenosha to Superior or just want to get an hour away from home, Wisconsin can accommodate you.

Here's a look at a handful of Wisconsin's favorite vacation getaways. While they differ in location, surroundings and accommodations, they all have two things in common: good fishing and many more options for the non-fishing members of the family.



One nice thing about driving to the Northern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest for a family getaway is that the kids start yelling, "Are we there yet?" just about the time you pull off Highway GGG into the Mauthe Lake campground. In less than an hour from downtown Milwaukee, you'll find nearly 30,000 acres of lakes, forests and rolling hills, with miles of hiking trails, campgrounds and more. Two major recreation areas are located at Mauthe Lake and nearby Long Lake. Both offer fishing, swimming, picnicking, and camping, and both welcome pets. Located between the two are special group camping areas, including one that caters to horseback riders.

Mauthe Lake has a well-defined weed edge around its perimeter that attracts a lot of panfish and bass. Live bait suspended on slip-bobbers will catch both and keep the kids happy. The Milwaukee River flows through the lake, and when the river is high enough, you can canoe from New Prospect a mile down to the lake and spot wildlife along the way. A dam at the outlet maintains the lake level. You can also canoe from the dam downstream to New Fane.


Long Lake near Dundee is the largest of the lakes in the state forest at 427 acres. Bluegills, perch, walleyes and bass are common. Try for panfish along the weed edges or suspended over deep water. Weedbeds on several underwater points and humps hold walleyes and bass, along with some northern pike.

The campground at Mauthe Lake has 137 sites, 49 of them with electricity and some accessible to people with disabilities. You can even rent an authentic Plains Indian tepee. Long Lake's campground has more than 200 campsites, flush toilets and showers, but no electrical hookups. There is a boat launch and accessible fishing pier at the campground. There are two private campgrounds on the west shore and several private boat landings. The contact stations at both lakes are open Memorial Day to Labor Day. The Mauthe Lake station telephone number is (262) 626-4305 and Long Lake's is (920) 533-8612. To reserve campsites at these or any state campgrounds, call 1-888-947-2757 or visit

The Henry S. Reuss Ice Age Visitor Center is a good jumping-off point for a hike in the forest. Naturalists there provide entertaining educational programs throughout the year. For information, log on to and search for "Kettle Moraine."


Located a short drive from Madison, Milwaukee and the Fox Cities, Wolf River Country attracts a lot of visitors every year. There is great variety here, from big lakes like Poygan and Butte des Morts to the river itself, which winds from Shawano down to Lake Winnebago. Each town along the way has its own special charm, from Shawano to Shiocton, New London and Fremont. Numerous resorts and campgrounds offer whatever you could want in the way of a vacation setting.

The Wolf River harbors a lot of bluegills, white bass, crappies and walleyes all summer long. Look for the 'gills wherever you find brush or wood along shore. Crappies travel in schools, mainly in the deeper holes and lakes. White bass frequent the deeper holes and can often be seen chasing schools of minnows near the surface. You'll find walleyes wherever you find gravel or rock in the river.

The lakes offer good fishing for panfish, walleyes and bass. Crappies bite well in June in Lake Poygan along the south shore and near Tustin in the northwest corner. Bluegills hang out in the weedy bays. The riprap on Lake Butte des Morts along Highway 41 always holds crappies, white bass and some walleyes. Don't be surprised if you catch a big catfish in any of the deeper river holes. There are resorts, campgrounds and a lot of boat landings on all the lakes and along the river.

Contacts: Wolf River Sports, Winneconne, (920) 582-0471,; Winneconne Area Chamber of Commerce, (920) 582-4775,; Larry & Jan's Resort, (920) 446-3161;;


Located near Wisconsin Dells, Mirror Lake State Park is a delightful respite from the commercial madness of Waterpark City. Created when the receding glacier blocked a meander of the Wisconsin River, Mirror Lake is a 52-acre teardrop surrounded by high sandstone bluffs. Slow, no-wake rules help keep the lake calm and quiet.

Largemouth bass and panfish are abundant here. Float or wade the shoreline and cast artificials or live bait in lily pads and other weeds. Night-fishing with surface lures works well for bass. When the big 'gills are spawning, you can catch them on a fly rod with little poppers or rubber spiders. Kids will have fun with small bobbers and red worms. There is often good panfish action off the end of the accessible fishing pier near the boat landing.

The park has more than 140 campsites, a log cabin reserved for disabled campers, a large swimming beach and 20 miles of nature trails. You can visit nearby Tower Hill and Devils Lake state parks, and, if the kids insist, spend a day at a waterpark or riding the amphibious Ducks in the Dells.

For reservations, call 1-888-947-2757 or go to


For a quiet camping experience on a small lake, you might enjoy Blackhawk Lake Recreation Area in Iowa County. Created in 1972, the 200-acre lake is one of the few lakes in southwest Wisconsin's Driftless Area. The lake holds plenty of panfish, along with bass and walleyes. An old roadbed and several building foundations provide good fish-holding structure, or you can fish along deep weed edges and dropoffs. Live bait and plastics should work for all species. The 2,000-acre state recreation area features more than 100 campsites, hiking trails, a picnic area, and evening and weekend programs.

To get there, take County Highway BH off Highway 80 between Cobb and Highland. Daily or seasonal admission stickers are required to camp or fish. Get stickers at park headquarters, (608) 623-2707. Pick up bait and tackle at Palen's Outpost on Highway 80, (608) 623-2822. For a free visitor's guide to such area attractions as Cave of the Mounds, House on the Rock, historical sites and other state parks, call 1-800-279-9472. For more fishing information, see the DNR's Web site at


Admit it. Ever since you were a kid, you've wanted to float down the Mississippi on a raft and play Huck Finn for a weekend. Well, guess what? Several outfitters rent houseboats and let you do just that.

I celebrated my birthday last fall with my son Jon and a handful of friends on a houseboat cruise with Huck's Houseboat Vacations, and we had a blast.

Let's get one thing straight right away, this is not your great-grandfather's rickety houseboat, nor is it Huck Finn's ramshackle raft. Huck's boats are state of the art and top of the line. We boarded a 62-foot Presidential model at the La Crosse Marina and stayed overnight in luxury, then motored upriver in the morning, passing barges, anglers and high bluffs decked out in fall splendor. After negotiating the lock at Dresbach, we continued on to Trempealeau, where we had a fish fry at the Historic Trempealeau Hotel. On our way back downriver, we jumped in the hot tub on the upper deck and waved at astonished landlubbers as we passed back down through the locks and under the famous Blue Bridge back to the marina.

You can rent a houseboat for a day, a weekend or a week, if you like. After an on-water training session where you will learn the safe operation of the boat, Huck's staff will turn you loose to enjoy the great river. Motor upriver or downriver to explore the waterway and the towns along its banks: Stoddard, Trempealeau, Fountain City and Winona. You can pull up on a sandbar to fish for bass, walleyes and panfish, or slide down the onboard waterslide into the river for a refreshing dip. Stay there for the night and build a campfire of driftwood and pretend you are Huck and Tom Sawyer, but then sleep in air-conditoned comfort aboard your houseboat.

The Presidential was Huck's biggest boat last year, but this year he has added an even bigger one, the supersized Trump model, which sleeps 14. There's room for the whole family and a couple friends besides, for a vacation you'll never forget.

Contact: Huck's Houseboat Vacations, (920) 625-3142 or


Located in northeastern Barron County, 1,800-acre Red Cedar Lake is the largest of three lakes on the Red Cedar River. Upstream and to the north lies Balsam Lake. To the south lies Hemlock Lake. The smaller lakes cover about 300 acres each. Navigable channels connect them to Red Cedar Lake.

These lakes don't see nearly the number of visitors as Hayward's muskie zone to the north and Chetec's panfish factory to the south, but they offer a more relaxed atmosphere and good fishing for panfish, bass and walleyes. Balsam Lake and the northern two-thirds of Red Cedar are similar in structure, with steep dropoffs and extensive areas of rock and boulders. Walleyes and smallmouths are the main targets here. The southern portion of Red Cedar and all of Hemlock are shallow and weedy. Here, you'll find largemouths, northerns and panfish. Start the kids catching bluegills in the shallows and move them up to finessing walleyes off rocky humps later in the week.

Tagalong Resort, located on the west shore of Red Cedar Lake, features an RV park, restaurant, boat launch and rental, gift shop, an air strip and a golf course patterned after St. Andrew's in Scotland. You won't be bored here.

The Red Cedar River is one of the state's top smallmouth streams. For variety, spend a day floating the river from Rice Lake downstream as far as you care to. Public landings and picnic areas provide access every few miles along the river in Barron and Dunn counties, and instream cover holds smallmouths and walleyes, too.

Contact: Birchwood Area Lakes Association, 1-800-236-2252 or


Located just north of the busy Hayward area, Lake Namekagon offers a nice mix of excellent fishing and boating opportunities surrounded by a big chunk of wild land -- the Chequamegon National Forest. Several forest campgrounds provide secluded camping opportunities, while several lakeshore resorts offer every amenity a family could want.

The lake is home to some huge muskies, but the kids will have fun catching crappies and walleyes in the shallow bays. The Namekagon River is part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. It flows for 100 miles from Lake Namekagon in Bayfield County, through Sawyer County and on to the St. Croix River in Burnett County. Numerous canoe landings and several canoe-access campsites offer a wilderness experience your family will never forget. Fish for smallmouths and walleyes, or just enjoy the paddle while keeping an eye out for eagles, ospreys and other wildlife.

Other attractions nearby include the North Country Trail, which crosses Highway 63 just north of Drummond. You can plan a day-hike or a several-day backpacking trip along the trail, stopping at several smaller lakes to fish along the way. Hayward offers dozens of lakes, all with resorts and good fishing, and the Hayward Musky Festival in late June and the Lumberjack Festival in July. Spooner counters with resorts of its own and by offering the Spooner Rodeo in August.

Contacts: Cable Area Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-533-7454 or; St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, (715) 635-8346 or


The Eagle River Chain consists of 28 lakes, 11 of them on the lower chain below Burnt Rollways Dam, and 17 on the upper, or Three Lakes, chain. All of them harbor panfish, walleyes and muskies. The lower chain has more resorts and visitors. The upper chain is quieter, with a greater variety of fishing opportunities. All told, there are about 100 resorts on the two chains and numerous campgrounds as well.

On the upper chain, try Scattering Rice Lake for crappies and muskies. On the lower chain, Yellow Birch, Voyageur, Catfish and Cranberry are all good panfish, walleye and muskie lakes. The deep weeds on Eagle, the deepest lake on the chain, are a good bet for walleyes and muskies.

Waterskiing, boating and sightseeing are popular pastimes for visitors here, in addition to the great fishing. The hub city of Eagle River is home to the season-long Vilas County Muskie Marathon and many other tournaments. Festivals, parades, sidewalk sales and golf courses round out the fun.

Contacts: Eagle River Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-359-6315 or; Eagle Sports Center, (715) 479-8804 or

Wisconsin has many more choices to offer if your family can't find what it's looking for in these suggestions. For a complete guide to summer fun in the Badger State, contact the Wisconsin Department of Tourism at 1-800-432-TRIP or

(Editor's note: The author's Web site,, offers seasonal tips on fishing and other recreational fun in Wisconsin.)

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