There is something special about the North Woods— the heavy scent of pine and the wail of the loons have a certain mystique that always draws me back. I've also created an association of those sounds and smells with my favorite fish – the ones with teeth. And Mercer, Wisconsin is where you can find all of this, and more. Mercer is more than your typical fishing destination in the Northern Midwest. It has small-town charm, excellent food, quaint shops and some of the friendliest people on the planet. Oh, and they have 214 lakes within a 30-minute drive.
The Turtle-Flambeau Flowage is the biggest body of water in Mercer and holds vast numbers of all the North Woods favorites — walleye, smallmouth bass, musky, northern pike, and the panfish greats like perch, crappie, and bluegill. Boasting 19,000 acres and 212 miles of shoreline, there is no shortage of water to fish. And the structure is incredible. Hundreds of small islands dot the waterscape, giving anglers even more shoreline structure to fish. Huge boulders and rocks are everywhere, and those hold fish. The Turtle-Flambeau Flowage is also home to wood — lot’s of it. Like many dammed lakes, the Turtle-Flambeau is basically a flooded forest. So thousands of trees and logs are at the bottom of the lake, and the fish love it. It’s not hard to find those big wood structure areas, and the fish.
I had the chance to fish with Dale Anderson from Mercer Muskies and More Guide Service and Nathan Sabec from Lake Life Guide Service. I fished a variety of the structure, in rocks as well as the wood . Using a weedless jig tipped with a fathead minnow, I learned how to work the log structure. After a few snags, I got the hang of it and caught crappie, walleye and giant jumbo perch. One key to fishing the logs is to use a sensitive line and rod combo. Using Nanofill with a medium light rod, I could feel the eight-ounce jig as I hopped it on and over the logs, where the fish like to lie. In addition to that technique, a good old fashioned slip-bobber and minnow setup helped us boat a two-man limit of some 12-13-inch jumbo perch. On the Turtle-Flambeau, anglers can keep 3 walleyes of any size, there is no slot limit, and up to 10 panfish.
All the rocks and logs that hold fish also can be hazardous to your boat’s health. Like many northern lakes, you need to use caution and learn the water. The best way to do that is to hire a guide for the first day or two before you drop the boat in. They will not only show you how to safely navigate the waterway, but how and what the fish are biting on.
If big water isn’t your thing, there are hundreds of small lakes that are teeming with fish. With 214 lakes within a half hour of town, Mercer has plenty of great fishing opportunities. Most of these smaller lakes receive very little fishing pressure — and they all hold fish. Some, like Trude Lake, are connected to the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage, which means they hold giant musky. There are a handful of honey holes that the locals like to keep under their hats. But don’t be afraid to ask the bait shops, other fishermen and especially the Mercer Chamber of Commerce for some direction. They are more than happy to help you out and tell you the best lakes to fish for the species you are after.
Another added bonus to my trip was the opportunity to get a sneak peek into how quality American fishing rods are crafted. A tour of the St. Croix factory in Park Falls was a real eye-opener. I was amazed at the engineering and technology that goes into creating a fishing rod. But what impressed me more than the technology was the fact that over 32 sets of hands touch every rod that is produced. That’s over 32 people that specialize in one area of production, doing their part to create a custom product— not mass-produced by fully automated robotic machines. It’s people – American people – creating a quality product right here in our back yard. Think about that when you’re in the fishing rod section of the sporting goods store. Starting in June, the St Croix plant is opening for tours to the public. And if you have ever fished at least once in your life, you should take a tour of this plant and see what goes into creating some of the best fishing rods on earth. Get details on tours on their website at StCroixRods.com.
For me, it’s all the little things that make a fishing trip complete — great food, lodging, and people. Mercer has all that covered. I woke up every morning looking out my window of the Great Northern Hotel to see a mist-covered lake with a pair of nesting loons. I had to privilege to enjoy outstanding food at local eateries like the Cranberry Inn, the Heart of the North Bar, and the Wolfs Den right inside the Great Northern Hotel.
Mercer is not only a fisherman’s paradise, it’s a destination for the entire family. Most lakeside resorts have water for the kids to splash around in and great fishing too. And Mercer is also home to some of the best snowmobile trails in Wisconsin. Lake-effect snow from Lake Superior dumps feet of the powdery white stuff that makes for hundreds of miles of exceptional snowmobiling. Mercer also holds the title as “Loon Capital of the USA”, and for good reason. Chances are very good that visitors can get some spectacular photos of these beautiful birds.
To plan a North Woods experience you won’t forget, contact the Mercer Chamber of Commerce at MercerCC.com.
A huge thank you to these great businesses that showed us what Northern Hospitality is all about, check out their website before you visit...
The Cranberry Inn Lodging, Restaurant and Bar- CranberryInnofMercer.com
The Great Northern Hotel- GreatNorthernMercer.com
The Heart of the North Bar & Grill- HeartoftheNorth.net
Mercer Muskies and More Guide Service- MercerMuskiesandMore.com
Lake Life Guide Service- LakeLifeGuideService.com
Turtle River Trading Post- TurtleRiverTrading.com
Get more Mercer stories, recipes and photos at DanStefOutdoors.com. Check out the PHOTO GALLERY BELOW...