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No bag limits, no size limits, no closed season for any species

by Naomi K. Shapiro

Boulder Junction, Wisconsin -- If I tell you there are five lakes in northern Wisconsin where you can fish for walleye, northern pike, muskellunge, smallmouth bass, lake trout, cisco, rock bass, and yellow perch -- and there's no bag limit, no size limits, and no closed season for any species, you'd have the State Institution prepare a place for me, right?

But it's the truth.

They are the Lakes of the Northern Highland Fishery Research Area, located just south of Boulder Junction, in northeastern Wisconsin.

That's right.  Five little-known, public, lakes where you can catch a variety of prized game fish 12-months-a-year, without any size or catch limits.   A place where there are very few people, where you are surrounded by the quiet and beauty of the Boulder Junction area -- and, you're not dreaming!

Itself nestled amidst 240,000 acres of forest, with over 200 pristine, glacial lakes, Boulder Junction has been one of northeastern Wisconsin's premier visitor and fishing destinations for almost 100 years.

Called "The Musky Capital of the World," Boulder Junction offers year-round access to trophy musky, as well as lunker walleye, northern, trout, bass, crappie, perch and bluegill.

But, the Boulder Junction area also harbors this added "fishing secret" for those who love to fish Wisconsin's northern lakes.

Lakes Escanaba, Nebish, Mystery, Spruce and Pallette lakes -- located just southeast of Boulder Junction are designated research stations for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The Northern Highland Fishery Research Project, begun in 1946, provides
critical information about the various fish species, their eating habits, reproductive cycles, and numbers.  Although species include walleye, northern, musky, rock bass, perch, smallmouth bass, lake  trout, and cisco, not all species are available in all lakes.

Here's all you need to do to fish these lakes almost any day of the year (check ahead on some major holidays to be sure that the lakes are open):

*You need a valid Wisconsin fishing license.

*When you arrive at any one of these lakes, you must register at the DNR station at that particular lake, and give your name and address. You will be issued a special permit, which is free.  You will also be given information about any size or number limits on a particular species, if any such limits are in effect for that lake in that particular year.

*After you finish fishing, you must return to the DNR station, register the number, sizes and kinds of fish caught, the number of people in your party, the number of hours fished, where you caught the fish, and the type of bait or method used.

That's it.

All the lakes are surrounded by the wilderness of Wisconsin State Forest, which means the only 'noise' you'll hear is the cry of  loons, screams of eagles, and music of numerous songbirds.

Escanaba Lake, comprising 293 pristine acres, is the largest of the five lakes.   Escanaba Lake's resident Fish Biologist, Steve Newman, told us that one year Escanaba Lake was so popular, the DNR staff was too busy to gather sufficient research information.

Many area guides use the research lakes with a fairly high level of assurance of catching something.   Both the guides and Newman note that walleye in the research lakes are ALL naturally reproduced, and are continually found in sufficient numbers for year-round sport fishing; and in spite of musky feeding pressure too.

To give you an idea of how many people fish these  lakes, the DNR indicates that last year, some 6,400 people fished all of the five research lakes combined, with 3,683 of those fishing Escanaba.

Escanaba has walleye, northern, musky, and yellow perch.  Most people fish the lake for walleye, which 95% of Wisconsin anglers say is their favorite game fish.  Walleye size varies, but mainly you'll get 12- to 18-inch fish (the "normal" legal minimum size for walleye, without other posted slot or size limits, in most Wisconsin waters is 15 inches).

Of course, you may well light into a musky (which according to DNR biologist Newman can grow to 20 pounds-plus in Escanaba), or northern, and there are some nice-sized perch.

Regardless, few go away without catching something, although there are no guarantees. (And that's why it's called 'fishing' and not 'catching'.

Caution:  Escanaba Lake was once called Rock Lake, and with good reason.

Many nick their boat propellers or skegs (I speak from first-hand experience) in the lake's shallow, rocky access channel.

Check with the DNR representative on duty to make sure which part of the channel to use to get out into the lake.  And once out in the lake, be extremely careful about where and how you navigate -- especially near the island, which also has rocks and shallows.  There are also "deadhead" logs throughout the lake, particularly in the northwest corner.

Boating caution, however, is a small price to pay for the classic "structure" of the lake, which makes it such a great walleye fishery.

What's even better is that you'll see few other boats on the lake. And, although the law allows you to keep any size fish caught on these lakes, many people get their sporting pleasure out of practicing catch-and-release.

Depending on the year and the lake, the DNR has and can institute size and bag limits, but if there are any such limits in effect, you'll be given that information when you arrive and before you go out to fish.

The research lakes can be accessed to the east and south of Boulder Junction.  Large road signs on County Highways M south of Boulder Junction and on County K east of Boulder Junction provide directions to the research station, which will be a couple of miles down well-groomed gravel roads.

A free brochure, available from the DNR, tells about the Research
Lakes.  For more information, contact Steve Newman at the Woodruff Area
DNR Station and Fish Hatchery (located on County Highway J, near
Woodruff).  Telephone 715-356-5211.  FAX:  715-358-2352.

Boulder Junction, proud owner of the trademark as 'Musky Capital of the
World'® is an exquisite year-round northeastern Wisconsin destination,
with excellent fishing that includes trophy musky (naturally) and other
top species. (In 1998, David Malm of Fox Point, Wisconsin caught a 53
inch, 45 1/2 pound musky on a Boulder Junction area lake).

But that's not all.  Boulder Junction is also known as 'The Friendliest
Small Town in Wisconsin', boasting extensive biking and hiking trails,
boating, canoeing and nature opportunities, excellent restaurants,
services, accommodations and specialty gift shops, in a friendly,
unique northwoods atmosphere.

Boulder Junction is located off of Wisconsin State Highway 51 on County
Highway M, just 350 miles from Chicago; 260 miles from Milwaukee; 265
miles from Minneapolis; 220 miles from Madison; 360 miles from Des
Moines; 170 miles from Wisconsin's Fox Cities area; 475 miles from
Indianapolis; 225 from LaCrosse, Wisconsin; and 305 miles from
Rockford, Ill.

For more information, contact the Boulder Junction Chamber of Commerce,
PO Box 286, Dept. CB, Boulder Junction, WI  54512-0286; phone
800-GO-MUSKY (800-466-8759); e-mail:  boulderjct@boulderjct.org.  Visit the Boulder Junction website at www.boulderjct.org

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