Memories: Muskie Fishing the Eagle River with Dad

Eagle River, Wisconsin is one of the most famous recreational fishing spots in the United States. My dad loved it there. Photo: Young Berliner Boys / Eagle River, WI

EAGLE RIVER, WI, June 16, 2013  - My father, Orval Berliner, loved Eagle River. Wisconsin, one of the most famous recreational fishing spots in the United States. 

A chain of 28 lakes set in the far northern reaches of Wisconsin, it is widely known as the nirvana of fishing for the highly prized and extremely elusive Muskie. Muskie season begins on Memorial Day and lasts well into the fall, when some of the largest trophy fish are caught.

Orval Berliner, stands in the middle of my brothers (from left) Jim, Douglas, and Stephen,Eagle River Wisconsin 1996.

Orval Berliner, stands in the middle of my brothers (from left) Jim, Douglas, and Stephen,Eagle River Wisconsin 1996.

 

Anglers search for this prehistoric fish that is the stuff of legend, and a summer mainstay of the local economy. Eagle River itself is a small town of 1,398 people, located near the Canadian border, but its fishing is world class. During the non-fishing months, Eagle River becomes a snowmobilers Mecca with 500 miles of groomed snowmobile trails

Dad was from Chicago and almost every time he took a vacation he went fishing for Muskie on Eagle River. His mother had a cottage there. In 1965 as an 8-year-old I remember visiting Grandma Berliner with my whole family for a week.

Dad would take my three older brothers out fishing. I was too young, apparently. They caught Walleye and Northern Pike but never any Muskie. In over 45 years of fishing Eagle River Dad, never once caught the grand elusive Muskie.

Eagle River, Wisconsin, 1965. My brother Gary holds a string of Northern Pike in the middle of (from left) my brothers Stephen, Douglas, and myself

Eagle River, Wisconsin, 1965. My brother Gary holds a string of Northern Pike in the middle of (from left) my brothers Stephen, Douglas, and myself

 

So it was that 31 years later, in 1996, four of the five Berliner boys went with my then 78-year-old father to Eagle River to fish for Muskie. We had an advantage that paid huge dividends this time. We hired an experienced fishing guide.

On an amazing day of fishing with my father that I will never forget, Dad finally caught his Muskie, and so did I. For the record, we used a fishing lure called a Rapala.

The next day he and my brother Jim both caught Muskie.  Those trophies now hang proudly in our homes.

Traveling to Eagle River

We visit Eagle River with the confidence of natives, however in this small town enviornment it takes some know-how, like our guide who was able to help us find, and catch, those prehistoric fish, to plan a trip.

Eagle River connects to two deep water lakes. Yellow Birch Lake leads to Duck Lake and Otter Lake and then to much larger Eagle and Scattering Rice Lake. Beyond Eagle Lake and past the Highway 70 Bridge lays the even larger Catfish and Cranberry Lakes.

One thing to be very aware of is the temperature.  It runs cool that far north.  Some like to joke there are two seasons, winter and Fourth of July.  It’s not that cold, but evening temperature can be cool on the far ends of the summer season.  Check your weather source before you pack. 

While there are numerous hotels in the area, it is highly recommended to stay at some of the wonderful rustic waterfront lodges along the different lakes.

The Chanticleer Inn is located on the shores between Eagle and Voyager Lake with a private beach on Dollar Lake. Built in 1922, it offers accommodations ranging from motel rooms to private villas to the famous Hudson House

The Wild Eagle Lodge  is located on a beautiful peninsula of land between Duck and Otter Lakes. It features one, two and three bedroom lodges, as well as premium lakeside cottages. Pefect for a group, or family.

Other prominent places to stay include Boetchers Country Lakehouses, Eagle Waters Resort   beautifully situated between Eagle Lake and Scattering Rice Lake, and Wildwood Resort  featuring five two bedroom cottages with spectacular views of Duck Lake.

It is highly recommended that you hire a fishing guide like Eagle River Fishing Guides. They provide boats, bait and the invaluable expertise of knowing where to fish for Muskie. Guides will cost between $200 and $400 a day, but are well worth the experience.  An extensive list of qualified fishing guides can be found at  www.eagleriverguides.com .

Once you have caught your prize Muskie, most fishermen will want their trophy mounted by an experienced taxidermist.  Trophy Muskie must by law be of sufficient size, usually at least 40 inches, depending on which lake it is caught in.

Some of the very best taxidermists in the Eagle River area are Wildlife Expressions , and Mac’s Taxidermy  Taxidermy is not cheap. A 40 inch mounted Muskie will run between $500 and $600 these days, but for the committed angler it is lifelong proof of a vacation well spent.

Food in Wisconsin is hearty fare perfect for the areas cooler climate and outdoors activities.  Super Clubs were once a mainstay of Wisconsin dining.  Large dining areas where the town would come together for Canadian Club and 7-UP, beer, friends and, usually a piano player and singer or small quartet providing entertainment in the ‘bar’.

Large buffet salad bars, soups, cheese, always Wisconsin cheese, and liver pate. And the prime rib - locally sourced, grass fed beef.  Not done better anywhere else on earth. Real food for real people.   

The Blue Heron Supper Club and Lounge looks worth stopping by. Scrolling the menu they offer a dish I thought long gone, Chicken Vesuvio served “Chicago Style” which means moist white chicken in a fragant sauce of roasted garlic and white wine with peas and roasted potatoes.  

If you go, let me know how it is. 

How to get there: Traveling to Eagle River is mostly by car, though they do have a private aircraft airport.  Your closest commercial airports are Milwaukee, WI or Minneapolis, MI, each a four to five trip by car, or Milwaukee.


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Joel Berliner

Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles who has written for The Washington Times, Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Chicago Tribune, Honolulu Advertiser, El Paso Times, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, among many other publications.  He is excited to be back where his travel writing career began, at The Washington Times, where along with his wife, photographer extraordinaire Alison Reynolds, they will travel the globe in order to bring you The Good Life.

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