Wisconsin Lakes FAQs

Ranking the Lakes
What makes a lake pristine? Crystal-clear water? Most people think so, and our list of the clearest lakes (below) provides this ranking.
In Wisconsin’s northern glacial lakes, water clarity readings of 30 and 40 feet are common, says Laura Herman of the UW-Extension Lakes Program at UW-Stevens Point. “If we got a 5 foot reading up here, we’d think ‘Holy butt-kiss!' But in the southern part of the state, we’d think that’s OK.”
Northern lakes have an edge because the glaciers dumped most of the topsoil down south. “So there’s less of it left to run into the lakes up north,” says Jeff Thornton, principal environmental planner for the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.
Meanwhile, in the southern part of the state, runoff of nutrient-rich soil and agricultural fertilizers create algae blooms that diminish water clarity.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources considers 32 feet excellent water clarity; 20 is very good; 10 feet, good; 7 feet, fair; 5 feet, poor; and 3 feet, very poor.
But the clearest lakes aren’t necessarily the healthiest, caution Wisconsin's DNR experts. An extremely clear lake may lack the plant life needed to support a robust fishery. Ecologically balanced lakes are more important: those with a healthy mix of native plants, forested shores, minimum runoff coming into them, a good fishery and diverse wildlife. That’s our healthiest lakes list.
At the other extreme are the murkiest lakes. Dodge County’s Fox Lake “is the most challenged lake in the state,” DNR Lakes and Wetlands Section Chief Jeff Bode says, noting its high phosphorus level and poor native plant community. Farms with 400 and 500 dairy cows dot its watershed and “industrial waste is being spread in its backyard,” he says. The lake underwent a restoration that held for a while, but it has relapsed. “The water is pea-soup-green again,” Bode notes.

Wisconsin’s Clearest Lakes
Black Oak Lake, Vilas County (30.8 feet of visibility)
Blue Lake, Oneida County (29 feet)
Bardon (Whitefish) Lake, Douglas County (26.3 feet)
Lee Lake, Oneida County (26.1 feet)
Upper Eau Claire Lake, Bayfield County (25.3 feet)
Fence Lake, Vilas County (25.1 feet)
Pine Lake, Waukesha County (24.3 feet)
Stone Lake, Washburn County (24.0 feet)
Bond Lake, Douglas County (22.8 feet)
Wind Pudding Lake, Oneida County (22.8 feet)
Source: Based on July-August 2008 water clarity data provided by the UW-Extension Lakes Program.

Wisconsin’s Healthiest Lakes
Owen Lake, Bayfield County.
Dorothy Lake, Chippewa County.
East Ellerson Lake, Vilas County
Burnt Wagon Lake, Chippewa County
Bond Lake, Douglas County.
Middle lake of Lauderdale Lakes, Walworth County.
Montgomery Lake, Kenosha County
Lulu Lake, Pleasant Lake and Wandawega Lake in Walworth County
Gilbert Lake and Lowe Lake in Washington County
Little Elkhart Lake in Sheboygan County
Pine Lake, Waukesha County
Max Lake, Stormy Lake, Smokey Lake, Black Oak Lake, North Twin Lake, Aurora Lake, Little John Lake and Vista Lake in Vilas County.
Source: Selected by Wisconsin DNR lake experts.

Wisconsin’s Murkiest Lakes
Tainter Lake, Dunn County (0.6 feet of visibility)
Fox Lake, Dodge County (0.83 feet)
Beaver Dam, Dodge County (1.08 feet)
Round Lake, Chippewa County (1.40 feet)
Mason Lake, Adams County (1.50 feet)
Petenwell Lake, Adams County (1.50 feet)
Park Lake, Columbia County (1.50 feet)
Ludden Lake, Iowa County (1.50 feet)
Lake Tomah, Monroe County (1.50 feet)
Dexter Lake, Wood County (1.50 feet)
Source: Based on July-August 2008 water clarity data provided by the UW-Extension Lakes Program.

Wisconsin’s Biggest Lakes
1. Lake Winnebago, Fond du Lac County, among others, 137,708 acres.
2. Petenwell Lake, Adams/Wood counties, 23,040 acres (The state’s largest man-made lake was created in 1948 by damming the Wisconsin River at Neceda.)
3. Chippewa Lake (part of the Chippewa Flowage), Sawyer County, 15,300 acres.
4. Poygan Lake, Winnebago County, 14,102 acres.
5. Castle Rock Flowage, Juneau County, 13,955 acres.
Source: Wisconsin DNR, 2005 Wisconsin lakes inventory.

Wisconsin’s Deepest Lakes
1.Lake Wazee, the former Jackson County iron mine quarry, 350 feet.
2.Green Lake, Green Lake County, 236 feet.
3.Redgranite Quarry, Waushara County, 163 feet.
4.Lake Geneva, Walworth County, 135 feet.
5. Lohrville Quarry, Waushara County,120 feet.
Source: Wisconsin DNR, 2005 Wisconsin lakes inventory.

Most Popular Lake Names
Mud Lake, 116
Bass Lake, 82
Long Lake, 59
Spring Lake, 45
Lost Lake, 42
Source: Wisconsin DNR

Top Ten Public Enemies
1. Eurasian Water Milfoil, 479 lakes affected
2. Rusty Crawfish, 456 lakes
3. Curly Pondweed, 307 lakes
4. Chinese Mystery Snail, 217 lakes
5. Zebra Mussels, 121 lakes
6. Banded Mystery Snail, 105 lakes
7. Hybrid Milfoil, 28 lakes
8. Rainbow Smelt, 21 lakes
9. Spiny Water flea, 7 lakes
10. Japanese Mystery Snail, 3 lakes
Source: Wisconsin DNR inventory, March 1, 2009.

Wisconsin’s Top Ten Fishing Spots
Wisconsin ranks No. 2 nationally in the number of days of fishing by nonresidents and the number of nonresident anglers – nearly 400,000. Only Florida ranks higher – and it has an ocean! Some 1.4 million licensed anglers fished Wisconsin waters in 2008, catching an estimated 88 million fish. The most frequently caught were: panfish, bass, walleye, northern pike, trout, catfish and muskie. In all, 165 species are found in the state.

1. Chippewa Flowage, Hayward: One of the largest lakes in the state, known for its muskie fishing.
2. Lake Winnebago, Oshkosh: Wisconsin’s largest lake is known nationwide for its tremendous walleye fishery and winter sturgeon spearing season.
3. Lake Poygan, Winneconne Lake and Lake Butte des Morts, Oshkosh: Connected to Lake Winnebago, these lakes have quality walleye and bass.
4. Petenwell Flowage, Wisconsin Rapids: Part of the Wisconsin River system, the area is known for its muskie fishing.
5. Eagle River Chain, Eagle River: Part of the world’s largest chain of lakes (in number of lakes), this popular destination is known for its diverse fishery, which includes muskie and walleye.
6. Mississippi River (all of Wisconsin that borders it): A diverse and robust fishery holding hundreds of species of fish, most notably bass and walleye.
7. Green Bay (part of Lake Michigan), Green Bay: Known nationwide for its trophy-sized walleye and up-and-coming trophy muskie fishery.
8. Chequamegon Bay, Ashland: One of Lake Superior’s premier areas for smallmouth bass, the bay also holds salmon, trout and walleye.
9. Shawano Lake, Shawano: A great lake for bass, walleye and muskie.
10. Three Lakes Chain, Three Lakes: A very diverse fishery featuring walleye, bass and muskie, with numerous trophy fish of all species.
Source: Information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Survey and the American Sportfishing Association. Top ten picks by Steve Swierczynski, research director for Rhinelander- based Fishing Hot Spots Inc.

Wisconsin’s Best Swimming Spots
What makes a great swimming hole? A sandy beach, a hard-bottom lake with clear water and public access. Here are the state’s best (listed geographically):

Southeast
Milwaukee County
: Scout Lake and Upper Kelly Lake
OzaukeeCounty: Hurias Lake, Ozaukee Washington Land Trust access on the north shore.
WaukeshaCounty: Middle Genesee Lake, Pretty Lake, Silver Lake and Ottawa Lake
Waukesha-JeffersonCounty: Golden Lake
Washington County: Eastern bays of Big Cedar Lake, Erler Lake, Little Cedar Lake, Pike Lake and Silver Lake
Racine County: Browns Lake
Kenosha County: Lily Lake, Powers Lake and Silver Lake
WalworthCounty: Rock and Pleasant Lakes and Big Foot Beach on Lake Geneva

North and Northeast
Vilas County: Silver Lake Beach and Park, Little Star Lake Park and Beach, Crystal Lake Park and Beach, and Black Oak Lake Park and Beach
Oneida County: Two Sisters Lake, Clear Lake, Sugar Camp Lake, Lake Minocqua and Buck Lake
Marinette County: Lake Noquebay and Timms Lake
Oconto County: Boot Lake and Bass Lake
Langlade County:Jack Lake and Summit Lake
Lincoln County: Pesobic Lake, Tug Lake, Bass Lake and Seven Island Lake
Door County: ClarkLake

North Central
Waushara County: Little Silver Lake
Waupaca County: Shadow Lake
Portage County: Sunset Lake
Jackson County: Wazee Lake
Wood County: Lake Wazeecha
Adams County: Jordan Lake, Crooked Lake, Wolf Lake, Parker Lake and Deep Lake
Marquette County:
Pleasant Lake
ColumbiaCounty: Silver Lake in Portage

East Central
Sheboygan County: Crystal Lake and Elkhart Lake
Fond du Lac County: Mauthe Lake and Wolf Lake
Winnebago County: Lake Winneconne and Lake Winnebago

Southwest
Bayfield County: Twin Bear Lake and Lake Owen
Douglas County: Lake Nebagamon and Dowling Lake
Burnett County: Devils Lake
Washburn County: Shell Lake
Sawyer County: Round Lake
Barron County: Silver Lake
Polk County: Balsam Lake
Chippewa County: Round Lake in Samson
Price County: Elk Lake and Solberg Lake
Taylor County: Sackett Lake
Source: Based on a survey of Wisconsin DNR lake experts and county officials.

This information was taken from the feature "15,081 Jewels" in MilwaukeeMagazine.com 6/22/2009.