Cheeseheads travel well. Throw in a little fishing and a few cold beverages, and all's right with the world. Heck, even your wife and kids will have fun at these getaways. (June 2006)
For most families, the two-week vacation has gone the way of the dodo bird. Few families today can afford to take off two solid weeks in the summer. With both parents working and the kids busy with soccer, swimming, summer camp and other activities, there just doesn't seem to be enough of the time that past generations had to enjoy a leisurely summer vacation.
Factor in the cost of gas these days, and those families who do travel now are more likely to set their sights on several short trips rather than one long out-of-state excursion. This is one reason we should be happy to live in Wisconsin: There are so many family vacation options available within our borders that it would take a couple of lifetimes to explore them all.
Here's a look at a handful of summer vacation getaways right here in Wisconsin where you and your family can enjoy great fishing -- plus plenty of other outdoor fun.
In these times of high gas prices and short vacation windows, Lake Wisconsin on the Sauk County-Columbia County border presents a destination that is easy to reach in a couple of hours from anywhere in southern Wisconsin. Just head west on Interstate 94 from Madison or Milwaukee and you'll arrive before the kids can ask, "Are we there yet?"
This 9,000-acre flowage on the Wisconsin River offers good fishing for bluegills, crappies and white bass, along with opportunities for walleyes, saugers, bass, muskies and catfish. Panfish here run big, so the kids won't be catching runts.
Try the backwaters of Whalen's Grade and several other shallow bays for bluegills, crappies and largemouth bass. The power-plant discharge across from the I-94 bridge is a good spot for white bass, which will hit any small white or silver artificials. If your kids are advanced anglers, you can teach them how to jig the river channel and dropoffs for smallmouths, walleyes and saugers. Blade baits and tube jigs will take all three species.
From Lake Wisconsin, it's a short drive west to Devils Lake State Park, which is a great camping, fishing and hiking destination in its own right. If you go to Devils Lake, take the side trip to Parfrey's Glen. A short hike will take you into a delightful mini-canyon, where you'd almost expect to see a Hobbit at any turn. Another attraction is the Merrimac Ferry, a free car ferry that crosses Lake Wisconsin between Lodi and Merrimac.
For more information, contact the Lake Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce at (608) 635-8070, or online at www.lakewisconsin.org; Sunset Resort at (608) 592-4880, and Bridge Bait and Tackle at (608) 592-4806.
YELLOWSTONE LAKE STATE PARK
One of the few lakes in Wisconsin's Driftless Area, 450-acre Yellowstone Lake in Lafayette County was formed by a dam on the Yellowstone River. The lake is surrounded by a state park, which has campsites, hiking trails, boat launches, picnic sites and more. There are also two private campgrounds nearby.
This is a great place to take kids who want to catch a big fish, because a catch-and-release rule is in effect for all game fish to help control the lake's carp population. You and the youngsters have a good chance of catching largemouth bass, northern pike, walleyes and muskies. Fish from shore, or bring a canoe or small boat to explore Yellowstone.
Most of the lake is shallow, and fallen trees provide plenty of shoreline cover for bass, muskies, pike and panfish. Bluegills and crappies are plentiful, and the kids can keep enough for a meal or two. The deeper holes hold walleyes, where live bait or diving crankbaits should take them. The river above and below the lake is noted for its smallmouth bass fishing. On some stretches of the river, all smallmouths must be released, so there are opportunities to catch some good-sized river bass. Public accesses and no-kill stretches are marked with signs.
For more information, contact the Darlington Main Street Program at 1-888-506-6553 or www.darlingtonwi. org, or Yellowstone Lake State Park at (608) 523-4427. For camping reservations, call 1-888-WI-PARKS, or www.reserveamerica.com/usa/wi.
LOWER BLACK RIVER
The Black River meanders for over 100 miles from Clark County southwest to La Crosse, where it joins the Mississippi River. Much of the river is canoeable, and there is good fishing for smallmouths and muskies on many stretches.
For a family vacation that offers a big-river adventure with small-river safety, the lower Black is hard to beat. From the Onalaska dam downstream for seven miles to the Mississippi, the Black is a mini-version of Old Man River, with plenty of side channels, backwaters and sloughs to explore. Your kids will come home feeling like they've lived the life of Huck Finn.
White bass, crappies, bluegills, northern pike, both bass species and walleyes provide good fishing, while catfish and the ubiquitous sheepshead will keep the kids busy on the rare occasions when nothing else wants to bite. Fish from shore near the dam spillway, or fish the river and its backwaters. White bass action is good in May, while crappies and bluegills bite all summer long in the Lauderdale Lakes backwaters. Below the I-90 bridge, white bass and walleyes hang out in the current, while rock bass and smallies hug the riprapped shorelines.
Several resorts and R&L Riversports Campground offer accommodation options to suit everyone. R&L Riversports on Irvin Street off Highway 53 in Onalaska has 50 sites with electrical hookups, flush toilets, showers, a bait shop, convenience store, boat launch and gasoline. You can even soak up some state history, because La Crosse celebrates its 150th birthday this year, with sesquicentennial events scheduled for all summer. And hey, maybe you'll even have time for a brewery tour!
Contacts: La Crosse Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-800-658-9424 or www.explorelacrosse.com; R&L Riversports, (608) 783-3349.
BIG GREEN LAKE
If you're looking for a summer getaway destination with class, it would be hard to beat Big Green Lake. Generations of summer visitors have made Green Lake their vacation destination of choice. Wisconsin's deepest lake offers excellent fishing and boating, and the area is home to some of the finest restaurants, resorts, golf courses, riding stables and campgrounds our state has to offer.
Big Green harbors fish of all stripes, from panfish to muskies. The shallow bays hold big bluegills and largemouths, while the rockbars and gravel points are smallmouth and walleye hotspots. The lake's pike and muskies favor shallow weeds and wherever th
ey can find other fish to eat, while the lake's deep midsection is home to white bass, lake trout and ciscoes.
For the fishing family, Sturgeon Bay has just about everything. Perch are plentiful in the bay and in Little Sturgeon Bay on the Green Bay side of the peninsula. Walleyes, smallmouths, northerns and
muskies are also common.
Mike Norton of Norton's Guide Service offers year-round fishing adventures. In summer, he caters to families and groups with his pontoon boats, with which he trolls for lake trout and white bass. Norton uses silver spoons on weighted lines for the lakers, and crankbaits and smaller spoons on flatlines for white bass. You may even be able to talk him into preparing a shore lunch or grilling some ciscoes on the boat.
Several free public landings provide access, and Hattie Sherwood Park has a nice campground. There is a public fishing pier at the county-owned landing on County Highway A near Silver Creek. Thrasher Opera House offers live entertainment, and there is an old-fashioned Fourth of July celebration in town.
Contacts: Green Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-253-7354 or
www.greenlakecc.com; North Bay Sport, (920) 295-6462; Norton's Guide Service, (920) 295-3617 or www.nortonsfishing.com.
Door County is one of the Badger State's most popular recreation areas. The entire county is surrounded by the waters of Green Bay and Lake Michigan, so aquatic fun abounds here. Sturgeon Bay is the jumping-off point for most activities throughout the county, although the city itself offers plenty to do.
For the fishing family, Sturgeon Bay has just about everything. Perch are plentiful in the bay and in Little Sturgeon Bay on the Green Bay side of the peninsula. Walleyes, smallmouths, northerns and muskies are also common. Guides will show you how to catch any and all of those species if you don't have your own boat. Good boat launches at Sawyer Park, Potawatomi State Park and next to the DNR office provide access.
You can also hire a charter boat to fish for salmon and trout on the Lake Michigan side of the peninsula. When the bite is on, several dozen charter and private boats work The Bank Reef a couple miles off Sturgeon Bay every morning.
Camp at Potawatomi State Park, where a road and hiking and biking trails lead to a spectacular view from atop the park's observation tower. Four other state parks, excellent golf courses, a riding stable, indoor and outdoor theatres, classy restaurants, first-class resorts and more gift shops than you could visit in a year are all a short drive from town.
Contacts: Door County Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-527-3529 or www.doorcounty.com; Leathem Smith Lodge, 1-800-366-7947 or www.leathemsmithlodge.com; Sand Bay Beach Resort, 1-888-879-5548 or www.sandbaybeachresort.com.
HIGH FALLS FLOWAGE
The largest flowage on the Peshtigo River, High Falls covers 1,700 acres in a near-wilderness setting. If it weren't for the short drive, you'd swear you were deep in Canada.
Wisconsin Public Service Corporation owns most of the shoreline and maintains eight public landings, all of which are listed in their Wild Shores map/brochure. One resort and two campgrounds provide accommodations.
Crappies are the dominant panfish species, and walleyes the main game fish. Smallmouths and muskies spice up the fishery. Inlet mouths, bays and deep water near the dam are the places to try for crappies. Walleye action is best near the bridge, near the dam and in the river channel. You'll find smallmouths on rock and gravel bars, and muskies will be wherever you find the primary fish species.
You can fish on your own or hire a guide to help you figure out this dark-water lake. Mike Mladenik of Crivitz is the best-known guide in the area. Popp's Resort operates the flowage's only on-water bait shop, although there are several in Crivitz.
Contacts: Wisconsin Public Service Commission, 1-800-450-7260 or online at www.wisconsinpublicservice. com; Popp's Resort, (715) 757-3511 or www.popps-resort.com; guide Mike Mladenik, (715) 854-2055 or www.mikemladenik.com.
LAC DU FLAMBEAU
For a vacation the kids will love, consider spending a week on the Lac du Flambeau Indian Reservation.
The tribal-run campground, located on Flambeau Lake, has 72 paved RV sites and plenty of tent sites as well, along with a laundromat, convenience store, firewood, showers, a swimming and picnic area, and 24-hour security. At the marina adjacent to the campground, you can launch a boat or canoe and explore a 10-lake chain with as much water as the entire Chippewa Flowage. Don't have a boat? Not to worry. The marina has boat, motor and canoe rentals, and on-water gas service.
Many of the reservation's 100 lakes are stocked with walleyes, muskies and trout raised in the tribal hatchery, located across the highway from the campground. The hatchery offers guided tours, and the kids can fish in a pay-per-catch pond stocked with big trout. The pond can save a fishless outing, and it's a great place to sharpen angling abilities.
The reservation offers a tribal museum, cultural center and gift shop. There, you can learn more about the Ojibwe through exhibits of traditional clothing and crafts, a French fur-trading post, dioramas, and handmade birch bark and dugout canoes. Within a short drive, you'll find amusement parks, golf courses, movie theatres, shops, hiking and biking trails, flea markets, a wildlife museum, several wildlife parks and awesome restaurants like Mama's on Highway 70 toward Minocqua.
For really upscale accommodations, there is a luxury hotel at the Lake of the Torches Casino, which has a full-service restaurant and convention center. The casino also offers seaplane docking and boat tours of the Lac du Flambeau Chain.
The kids will love the authentic Ojibwe powwows held every Tuesday evening from late June through August. Dancers perform in traditional costumes, and visitors are invited to participate in a "friendship dance." There is also a Voyageurs Rendezvous on Labor Day Weekend, which features historical re-enactments, traditional dancing, music, crafts, art and food.
Many of the reservation's 100 lakes are stocked with walleyes, muskies and trout raised in the tribal hatchery, located across the highway from the campground. The hatchery offers guided tours, and the kids can fish in a pay-per-catch pond stocked with big trout.
If all that is not enough, a traditional recreated village, called Wa-Swa-Goning, is built on 20 acres on Moving Cloud Lake. It has traditional birch bark lodges that depict the Ojibwe lifestyle, complete with handcrafted bows and arrows, canoes, fish traps and more.
Contact: Lac du Flambeau Chamber of Commerce, 1-877-588-3346 or www.lacduflambeauchamber.com.
Dad will remember the Chippewa Flowage as the home of Louie Spray's 1949 world-record muskie, a fish that weighed 69 pounds
, 11 ounces. The "Big Chip" lures thousands of muskie anglers each year, every one of them thinking that the next cast could yield another world record, but this Sawyer County flowage also produces plenty of panfish and walleyes each year, and those are the fish that will have the kids screaming, "Get the net!"
The Chippewa Flowage covers some 15,000 acres in 10 former lake basins. With 233 miles of undeveloped shoreline, this is as wild a setting as you can find in Wisconsin. The Chip's many bays, islands and floating bogs offer such a variety of habitat that you can always find something willing to bite. And the flowage's 30-plus resorts know how to make family vacations fun.
Crappies are the dominant panfish species here, but kids will catch perch and bluegills, too. Try little plastic jigs on slip-bobbers along the edges of the many floating bogs, or minnows on the same rig over the many humps that come up out of deep water. When the kids tire of fishing and head for the beach, Dad can spend a few hours jigging river channels and deep structure for walleyes or casting bucktails for muskies.
The Hayward area features many other attractions, as well. At the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, kids can stand in the jaws of the world's largest fiberglass muskie, or fish for bluegills in a stocked pond. The World Lumberjack Championship competition is held here each summer. You can also visit the Wilderness Walk Zoo & Recreation Center or The Hideout -- Al Capone's retreat and a Roaring 1920s museum -- or explore the area's cultural, natural and geologic history on a Northwoods "Magical History Tour."
Contacts: Hayward Area Chamber of Commerce, (715) 634-8662 or www.haywardareachamber.com; National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, (715) 634-4440 or www.freshwater-fishing.org; Down to Earth Tours, (715) 376-4260 or www.downtoearthtours.com.
(Editor's Note: For more family vacation destinations, call the Wisconsin Department of Tourism at 1-800-432-TRIP, or go online to www. travelwisconsin.com. You can also find information by doing an online search for specific areas or lakes. Visit the author's Web site, www.dansmalloutdoors.com, for tips on seasonal fishing opportunities.)