Archive | Land and Lakes

A blog category containing posts on the subject of the lakes in the Northwoods including recreation, research, shoreline, feeder and exit creeks/rivers/streams, flora and fauna, and the land that surrounds them.

Northwoods Lakes, Lakes……and more Lakes

It’s a rainy day here in the Northwoods. So I’m housebound and feel inspired to share something about the 1,000’s of lakes that dot the Northwoods landscape. And I’m going to give you something to download – a complete guide to ALL of the Wisconsin lakes. More on that later.

When the glaciers rolled through here during the ice age, they scraped out thousands of giant potholes which filled with water which ran off when the glaciers melted. These giant potholes became lakes and swamps. The water from the giant glaciers had to go somewhere so 100’s of rivers and creeks were also formed to drain the area of excess water.  The mighty Wisconsin River, which eventually empties into the Mississippi River, is one of those. The Wisconsin River has its origin at Lac Vieux Desert in Vilas County. Other scenic and famous rivers are the Flambeau in Price County, the Namekagon in Bayfield and Sawyer Counties, The Chippewa in Ashland County the Manitowish in Vilas and Iron Counties and so forth. The names of these Rivers come from the Indian tribes who inhabited this area and still do.  Canoeing and camping on any one of these notable rivers will get you back in touch with your life and nature. You won’t want to leave.

Have you ever thought of a place that just draws you there; nags you for years and years? I graduated from an Illinois high school in 1968. I was born in Illinois. But Wisconsin beckoned. So I left Illinois when I was eighteen and never went back.  I’m an outdoor enthusiast and the Northwoods of Wisconsin was always on my mind. I went to college in Wisconsin and married a Wisconsin girl. Since then it seems like we just keep moving north into more wilderness and more fascinating places.

But back to lakes. What county has the most lakes than any other county in the State? I’ve already mentioned it. It’s Vilas County. Take a look at it on a Wisconsin map. You can hardly drive a quarter of a mile without seeing yet another lake. If you want to sample the Northwoods, head to Vilas County. Interstate highway 39 will take you there. When you drive through Manitowish Waters, you’re there. Turn due East to see the core of the county and some pretty amazing scenery.

The lakes in Wisconsin come in two varieties; gin clear and stained. The lakes in Vilas County are all gin clear natural lake basins. Stained waters are typical of flowages. If you don’t know what a flowage is, read my post titled “What is a Flowage”. Some folks first encounter with stained water leaves them thinking it’s dirty; not fit for swimming. Nothing could be further from the truth. Stained water is the color of tea. The color comes from decaying timber left in the water when the flowage was created and the low land was flooded. Tannic acid released by decaying timber produces the tea color. It’s clean.

The Northwoods lakes and wilderness comprise the northernmost counties in the State. Beginning on the east side of the State, Florence, Forest, Vilas, Oneida, Iron, Sawyer, Ashland, Price, Lincoln, and Langlade Counties are where the majority of the State’s lakes reside. Officially, the Wisconsin Northwoods starts at Tomahawk, Wisconsin and consists of all points north.

Back to some tips for visitors and then I’ll tell you what and why I’m giving you the following. If boating, skiing, tubing, and just hanging out on the water is your forte, visit one of the gin clear lakes in Vilas County. Remember, a lake over 300 acres is best. Lac Vieux Desert and Trout Lake in Vilas County are huge. If fishing, wilderness views, solitude with no other boat traffic is your choice for recreation, visit one of the flowages. Fishing is better in stained water since there is more structure to fish and the fish come up shallower because the stained water protects them from the sun.

The majority of the lakes in the Northwoods are considered walleye lakes but also hold pan fish, musky and northern pike. The flowage that I live on, the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage in Iron County, is a “walleye factory” but the smallmouth bass are becoming even more abundant and are much more fun to catch. Additionally, there are perch, rock bass, black crappie, northern pike, pan fish, and a good musky population. Needless to say, this is my favorite body of water for any type of recreation on water.

The Turtle-Flambeau is considered to be the most hazardous body of water in the State. That’s because when they built the dam and flowage in 1926, the water backed up behind the dam and flooded thousands or acres more quickly than they had anticipated. Loggers, who were clearing timber in the flood zone, had to get out of there quickly, due to rapidly rising water, and many stands of trees were left uncut. So standing timber below the water line became a hazard. Stump fields, and rocks as big as a Volkswagen, yet under a couple of inches of water, are also a hazard to navigation. We went out with a fishing guide for ten years and learned how to safely navigate the flowage and now we traverse any portion of it without worry of water hazards.

I could ramble on this subject for pages and pages. But I’ll save those thoughts for another post.

Now here is what I have for you. The following Acrobat .pdf files can be downloaded quickly by clicking on one of them to open it. Then within Acrobat Reader, select the icon that looks like a diskette to save the file to your HDD. Repeat for all seven files. These manuals contain ALL of the lakes in Wisconsin grouped within county and sorted alphabetically by county. The important information that is provided for each lake includes:


(NOTE – use the index file for an explanation of codes used for some of the following)

  1. Area – the size of the lake in acreage
  2. The maximum depth of the lake
  3. The Mean depth – average depth
  4. Whether there is public access to the lake and what type of access that is
  5. Whether there is lake map available
  6. Lake Type
  7. What kind of fish are predominant in the lake


So for whatever recreation that you may have in mind, you should be able to find the perfect lake with this information. Have a great trip!

Wis Lake Guide Index Wis Lake Guide counties A-C Wis Lake Guide counties D-J Wis Lake Guide counties K-M Wis Lake Guide counties O-P Wis Lake Guide counties R-V Wis Lake Guide counties W

Map of the Turtle Flambeau Flowage

Map of the Turtle Flambeau Flowage

Click to enlarge

This is a map of the Turtle Flambeau Flowage located in the southern portion of Iron County Wisconsin. I chose to feature this media because this is where I live. The flowage was formed in 1926 by damming the Flambeau River. The flowage is fed by the Turtle River, the Manitowish River, the Bear River, Beaver Creek and several smaller creeks. The flowage encompasses over 14,000 acres or water and hundreds of islands. It’s the largest body of water in the Northwoods.

If you have a limited understanding of what a flowage is, please see my post titled “What is a Flowage?”

The acreage surrounding the flowage in green is owned by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for the sake of preserving that land as wilderness. The white portions of land in and around the flowage are private property. I live on the peninsula (white) that nearly touches Townline Lake in the southeast portion of the map.

The original lake basins which existed before the flowage was created are noted in a darker blue within the water portion of the map. The original river channels can be seen in darker blue as they snake around the islands. The river channels are still there beneath the water line. These can easily be found using an LCD graph or depth finder and are a good place to fish as fish use the submerged river channels just like we use highways to get around.

What makes this flowage unique are trees which are still standing just below the water line and a large amount of rock; some which can be seen and some under water. When the flowage was created, the dam was shut and the water rose behind the dam faster than the builders had anticipated. Loggers who were clearing the trees in portions of the land that would be flooded had to make a hasty exit. Thus the trees which are still standing.

This makes the flowage a hazardous body of water to navigate. But the underwater structure also makes the flowage an excellent fishery for walleye, smallmouth bass, musky, and panfish. The flowage is a popular “fishing hole” for Mid-West fisherman.

A plus is the fact that, due to State wilderness preservation, the flowage will never look any different than it does today.

I should mention that island camping is popular and far more exciting than camping on the mainland. Island campsites are free on a first come, first served basis. Be aware that the flowage is inhabited by deer, bear, wolves, an occasional moose and other wildlife that are known to swim between islands as they look for shelter and food.


What is a Flowage?

The Willow Flowage, Oneida County, Wisconsin

Typical flowage


Typical western USA dam, stream, and reservoir

Typical Western USA dam & reservoir

Over the years, I’ve discovered that when I speak of a flowage, many folks from outside the Upper Midwest have no idea what I’m talking about. This is especially true for people who live west of the Mississippi River. We can resolve this confusion very simply by first comparing a flowage to a more common term – a reservoir.

Reservoir is the term used to describe a man-made impoundment of water created by damming a river, thus causing a large lake or reservoir to back up behind the dam. The river that was dammed continues to flow at a moderated rate, through and below the dam. The reservoir exists above the dam. Reservoirs are common in the Western and Plain states. They are normally used in mountainous or flat, arid land to control flooding. The bottom content of reservoirs are normally sand, gravel, silt or rock.

A flowage is very similar to a reservoir. A flowage is also man-made and is formed by damming a river, thus causing a water impoundment to back up behind the dam. Several factors make flowages different from reservoirs. Flowages are common in the northern Midwest where woodlands and low terrain have been intentionally flooded, either to control flooding, to generate hydro-power, or to form a recreational area in a remote location, or all of the above. Once flooding is complete, the bottom of flowages often consists of brush, timber, natural lake basins, natural creek, stream, or river beds, rock, sand, or mud (mostly in the lake basins).

Follow the link below to see a detailed map of he Turtle Flambeau Flowage. Note the original lake basins, which are shaded in dark blue. Note the river and channels which connect the lake basins. These were the features of the land before this area was flooded. These features remain today, though they are under water.

Turtle Flambeau Flowage map

Wisconsin has many flowages and few, if any, reservoirs. All of the flowages are popular recreational areas. The larger flowages are the famous Turtle-Flambeau Flowage in Iron County, which is a damming of the Flambeau River. The Rainbow Flowage in Oneida County is a damming of the Wisconsin River. The Willow Flowage in Oneida County is a damming of the Tomahawk River. The Chippewa Flowage in Sawyer County is a damming of the Chippewa River. The Gile Flowage in Iron County is a damming of the Montreal River. There are numerous smaller flowages throughout the northern part of the state.

The most popular recreation on the large flowages is fishing; whether that be on open water or through the ice in winter. My family confines our fishing to flowages. Why? Because flowages offer a wider variety and abundance of fish-holding structure versus lakes.

Think of a lake as a soup bowl. The shoreline gradually drops off and the water level becomes deeper as you move towards the center of the lake. Fish-holding structure may consist of shoreline weeds, occasional rock piles on the bottom, or a point, if there is an island in the lake. The water in Northwood’s lakes are generally gin-clear, allowing for light penetration to depths as much as 20 feet. This could allow for deeper weed bed growth if bottom content is suitable for plants. When compared to the huge flowages, lakes are relatively small with limited structure for holding fish. So they offer less opportunity for finding fish. Additionally, the clarity of the water is a problem.

On the other hand, large flowages are extremely diverse for bottom content. The natural lake basins, streams, creeks, and rivers that were flooded are all under water but easily located with a fish-finder’s LCD display. Flowages are dotted with hundreds of islands. Brush, stumps, and logs are everywhere with most being under water. The Turtle-Flambeau Flowage holds an abundance of rock with some underwater rocks being as big as a small auto.

Another characteristic of a flowage, versus a reservoir, is that the water is “stained”. The water in most reservoirs is clear, blue, or slightly green. The water in flowages is stained due to tannic acid. Tannic acid comes from decaying timber and flowages usually contain an abundance of decaying stumps and timber. Tannic acid is harmless, odorless, and clean. I’ve had guests say that the water is dirty; which it isn’t. Tannic acid in a body of water improves fishing because it decreases light penetration. Fish do not care for sun or light.

Hopefully, you now understand the difference between a flowage and a reservoir. A flowage is flooded low land or timber land. A reservoir is flooded high land or mountainous area. Note the photos of each that are contained within this post.

On my blog calendar, February is flowage month. In March, posts will focus on the topic of Places of Interest in the Northwoods. But before we leave the subject of flowages, you will soon find:

  1. How the Turtle Flambeau Flowage was created in 1926.
  2. Why the Turtle Flambeau Flowage has the reputation for being the most hazardous flowage to navigate in Wisconsin.
  3. Other big flowages in the Northwoods that are popular recreation spots.

Dynamics of Wisconsin’s Turtle Flambeau Flowage

2010 turned out to be a pretty incredible year for water fluctuations on the Turtle Flambeau Flowage (TFF). The quantity and quality of both summer and winter recreation on this 14,000+ acre body of water in Iron County, Wisconsin is entirely dependant on the ever changing water level of this impoundment.

Water levels for the Turtle Flambeau Flowage as tracked by the Wisconsin Department of Natural ResourcesThis part of the State of Wisconsin was classified as a severe drought area from 2005-2009. The TFF depends on rain and the inflows of the Manitowish, the Turtle, and the Flambeau Rivers as well as a number of creeks in order to maintain full pool. Outflows at the Turtle Dam into the downstream Flambeau River vary from 300 cfm in the summer to 600 cfm in the winter. When output exceeds input, as was the case in 2005-2009, water levels are low and the quality of recreation on the Flowage is poor.

This past year changed everything for the TFF. Full-pool was not achieved for the game fishing Opener in early May. The water level was down three feet from full pool. Initially, it looked like 2010 would be another drought year. Then the rains came in late June, and they never stopped. By mid-July, the water level was within inches of full pool, due to frequent, heavy rains and rushing rivers pumping more water into the Flowage. Recreational potential improved dramatically.

Why does this matter? The massive size of the TFF plus the thousands of islands which dot it, are a popular fishing, camping, and vacationing destination. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) maintains hundreds of free camping sites on the islands. The TFF is a virtual walleye factory with a rapidly growing smallmouth bass fishery. Ninety percent of the TFF shoreline is state-owned wilderness. There simply isn’t another body of water like the TFF. So there’s a lot at stake when making decisions on how to manage it.

The TFF is regarded by the DNR as being the most hazardous body of water in the state for navigation. Low water levels make that situation worse. The TFF is notorious for floating timber, thousands of stumps that sit just below the surface where they are out of sight of boaters, and rock bars or single rocks as big as a car lurking just below the surface. It takes years for boaters or fisherman to learn where the “safe lanes” for navigation are located. The learning process can be accelerated by fishing with a guide. When water levels are low, even safe boating lanes can be treacherous.

In a normal season, the water level of the TFF would decline beginning in early July by as much as four feet below full pool by mid-August. Much to everyone’s delight, this did not happen in 2010. Near full pool water levels were maintained all the way through November despite efforts to bring the water level down by increasing the discharge at the dam to as much as 1500 cfm.

The maintenance of full pool throughout the summer months is ideal (but rare) for both tourists and vacationers. The 2010 water level situation was a bonus for everyone. Even though the Flowage was constantly losing water that was being discharged at the dam, the rains continued and filled the impoundment back up. That’s how man-made impoundments are supposed to work. During the drought years, this seemed to be an impossible task.

The Flowage is normally drawn down by as much as eight feet beginning in September. The purpose of the draw down is to accommodate the melting snow and ice in the spring, which normally fills the FlowageOutflow at the Turtle Dam for the Turtle Flambeau Flowage as tracked by the Department of Natural Resources back to full pool; even though this did not happen in 2005-2009. In fall 2010, the DNR and Xcel Energy, who manage the Turtle dam cooperatively, decided to draw the TFF down by only 2.5 feet for the winter. The logic of this decision was not publicized. But those who live on and use the Flowage suspect that the drought years of 2005-2009 had taught everyone a lesson. It’s extremely difficult to fill the Flowage back to full pool in early May when the water level has been eight feet below full pool all winter. Snow and ice runoff, rain, and river inflow could not get the job done. And that hurt property owners, fisherman, boaters, and the local tourist industry in general. Property owners had no idea where to put their docks. Fisherman found their favorite fishing spots exposed. Boaters would often not even attempt to navigate water levels that were four feet lower than normal. And tourists would be absent.

The decision for the less drastic draw down was applauded by everyone. This would make it far easier to bring the water level up 2.5 feet before the early May game fishing Opener. And if there is too much water, the Turtle Dam can be opened further to adjust water levels, as long as there is no risk of flooding property below the dam.

The first real test of this new approach to managing the TFF will be the first Saturday in May 2011. That day is Opening Day for the 2011 open water game fishing season. No one knows what the snows in winter or the rains in spring will bring to the equation. But after experiencing the drought years of 2005-2009, the conclusion is that more water is better than low water. And that benefits everyone. Stay tuned. This approach is an experiment and the weather must assist in making it a successful experiment. We all know that the weather can often be a fickle partner.


Sales of Large Acreage Parcels in the Northwoods – What are Buyers Looking For?


I’ve had a broker’s license for over ten years and during that time, I’ve managed to focus my practice of real estate on large acreage parcels or large acreage parcels with a home, cottage, or cabin on it. All of the property that I list or sell can be found on the Whitetail Trophy Properties (WTP) website ( WTP caters to a national audience of discerning, high-end hunters who patronize hunting websites in search of land versus a local realtor or multiple listing service. My affiliation with WTP enables me to get my client’s property in front of this national audience. Whitetail’s educational programs also serve as a learning experience for me which permits me to better understand my buyers wants and my sellers property.

Why the focus on hunting acreage? Because that’s where you’ll find the demand. I’ve never had a customer ask me to find 200 acres on which they can build a home. The demand for large acreage parcels in Wisconsin originates with hunters. I emphasize this because my clients frequently do not know or understand this. And they understand even less what they can do to make their acreage more marketable to hunters.

There are at least eight factors that potential hunter/buyers consider when they are evaluating hunting acreage. These are listed in order of importance.

Decision Point Explanation Cost to Seller
1. Live deer photos These are usually accomplished using a “trail cam” that is strapped to a tree for several days or weeks. This tells the buyer/hunter what he can expect from the land in the future. The deer are still alive and roaming the property. Nothing. If the seller has not placed a trail cam, the Realtor will.
2. Dead deer photos Again, via a trail cam. This tells the buyer/hunter what the land has been producing in the past. Ideally, 160” deer or better, using the Boone and Crockett grading system. Nothing. Photos after a kill are normal.
3. Management program Does the acreage have an existing management program for managing the land to improve whitetail habitat? Ideally, the State Dpt. Of Natural Resources participated in creating the plan. Nothing. The DNR will do this for free.
4. Existing food plots Has acreage been set aside and planted with desirable grains and browse for deer? Do whitetail eat on the property? Seller must break the ground with a disc. DNR will provide free seed.
5. Existing bedding areas Has acreage been set aside and planted with summer grasses and cedars for bedding areas? Do whitetail bed on the property? same
6. Water Is there water on the acreage? This can be a lake, river, creek, swamp, pond etc. If no water, deer can’t stay there. They have to vacate the acreage in order to find water. Not within seller’s control.
7. Approx. 30% lowland or swamp All high ground is not desirable. Whitetail seek out swamps for heavy cover when they feel threatened. This could also be a secondary source of water. Not within seller’s control.
8. Trail system In the Northwoods, these are usually old logging trails. Trails that remain because of constant motor traffic (ATV) are also acceptable. There has to be some way for a hunter to navigate the wooded acreage. Nothing. If no trails, a logger will clear trails if allowed to keep the cut trees.
9 Locked Steel Gate access Desirable but not a “deal killer”. The discerning hunter will want to be assured that systems have been put in place for keeping unauthorized persons off of the acreage. The acreage is an investment that need protection. The cost of the gate.