Angling in Tomahawk
Fishing trip turns up walleyes, smallmouth bass
By Greg Seubert
A hook, a split shot sinker and a lively leech.
It sounds simple, but it’s an effective way to catch fish – and lots of them – in the Tomahawk area.
That’s how 1995 Clintonville High School graduate Jed Buelow and I caught more than two dozen walleyes and smallmouth bass on a recent fishing trip. We spent more than five hours on Lake Mohawksin, the Jersey City Flowage and the Wisconsin and Tomahawk rivers while putting fewer than 20 miles on his truck.
“That’s the neat thing about Tomahawk,” Buelow said. “If one thing isn’t working or one bite isn’t happening, you can just say, ‘We’re not fishing for walleyes anymore, let’s go out and get some smallmouth bass and have a blast doing that.’”
Buelow cut his angling teeth in the Clintonville area and at the family cottage on Lake Metonga near Crandon.
“It was probably on the Clintonville pond when I was a kid with my dad taking me out fishing and catching bluegills,” he said when asked about his earlier fishing memories. “When my parents got the cabin up by Crandon, it kind of kept growing.”
Buelow recalled fishing on the Wolf River near the State Highway 156 bridge just east of Clintonville, as well as on the Embarrass River, a tributary of the Wolf.
“We would go out there and catch walleyes and catfish,” he said.
After attending the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and working at weekly newspapers in the Plymouth and Sheboygan Falls area, Buelow jumped at the chance to take a job 12 years ago at the Tomahawk Leader. After stints as a reporter and city editor, he has spent the past year as the weekly newspaper’s sports and outdoors editor.
Besides covering sports at Tomahawk High School, he provides regular fishing updates on the newspaper’s website – www.tomahawkleader.com – in the Message Board under Fishing with Jed.
“It was pretty nice being reunited with the Wisconsin River after living in Stevens Point for a decade,” Buelow said. “It was an opportunity to come up here and check out some new water, but yet know the water a little, too.”
It didn’t take him long to figure out the fishing opportunities in the Tomahawk area.
“I’m definitely still learning, but I’ve come to know quite a few of them pretty well inside and out,” he said.
They include a series of flowages on the Wisconsin River, including lakes Mohawksin and Alice.
A dam just south of town forms Mohawksin, a 1,900-acre lake in Tomahawk. Two other rivers – the Tomahawk and Somo – flow into the lake, known for its musky, walleye and smallmouth bass fishing.
Although parts of the lake are heavily developed with homes or businesses, much of the flowage is undeveloped.
Lake Alice, a 1,400-acre impoundment on the Wisconsin River just east of Tomahawk, also has a quality fishery, according to Buelow.
“I wouldn’t recommend just going out there,” he said. “You really need to know the lake because there is a lot of wood. There are hazards you have to keep in mind.”
Although most of Buelow’s fishing time is spent on Mohawksin, Alice and the Jersey City and Spirit River flowages, there are lakes he has yet to check out, including Deer Lake, just north of town.
“Every year, we try to get out and fish four or five new bodies of water,” he said. “Deer’s one that has been on the radar for a while now. When you have all these bodies of water, picking a new one becomes a little bit of a commitment.”
Then there’s Lake Nokomis, a 2,300-acre flowage on the Tomahawk River north of town popular with anglers, water skiers and jet skiers.
The Spirit River Flowage, just west of Tomahawk, is another fishing destination, but the 1,200-acre lake is currently down about 6 feet because of repairs being made to its dam.
“What I really like about Tomahawk is anybody can come here and fish,” Buelow said. “You don’t need a big boat. If you have a small boat or a canoe, you have access to some of the best fishing water around where bigger boats don’t get to go. You might have a stretch of water all to yourself.”
Buelow eventually settled on musky fishing as his favorite past time, especially during the fall.
“Once you get a little musky slime on your hands, it’s hard to switch over to other fish,” he said. “Before I got musky fever, I used to go out and do a lot of trout fishing, especially when I lived in Clintonville. We fished a lot in the Big Falls and Rosholt areas and over by the Waupaca area. The Tomorrow River was always a lot of fun.
“Up here, the Prairie (River) is a dynamite trout stream and there are a ton of other trout streams,” he added. “There’s one out by me and I don’t think it’s hardly ever fished. There are a couple of lakes that provide trout fishing.”
The Harrison Hills, about 20 miles east of Tomahawk, has several small lakes with largemouth bass and panfish that offer a much quieter experience than a lake like Mohawksin, which can be a busy place on summer weekends.
“That’s where we’ll be on the Fourth of July every year, I can almost guarantee that,” Buelow said. “There’s never a time when you can’t come out there and find a little lake where you can drop your canoe and have it to yourself.”
Fishing and boating pressure is heavy on Mohawksin, Alice and Nokomis on holidays like Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day.
“If it’s a summer weekend, it’s not too bad,” Buelow said. “You can go out and fish and you’re not going to have a problem. On the holidays, it’s going to be busy and you’re not going to want to try and fish the flowages.”
Dams below Alice, Mohawksin, Nokomis and the Jersey City and Spirit River flowages also attract anglers.
“Starting in the spring, that’s where your walleyes will congregate for spawning and in the summer, the fish will return to kind of cool off from the warming temperatures,” Buelow said. “They’re really good areas in the fall because fish come in there to eat the forage fish that fill in below the dams.”
Dams might be a good place for anglers new to the area might want to start. The Kings Dam, which forms Lake Alice, has a parking area and areas for shore fishing.
“The dams are pretty safe areas if you’re just coming up and trying it,” Buelow said. “I would suggest hiring a guide on some of the lakes just for the safety factor. There are rock bars and logs that the guides are going to know about.”
With so many options, Buelow said it can be hard to pick a fishing destination.
“There’s never a day that goes by where we don’t have a chance to go out and fish,” he said. “In the spring, we start out with walleyes at the dams and on the rivers. Through the summer, we musky fish and try to get in a little walleye fishing when we can.
“I try to have a plan,” he said. “I’ll tell myself I’m going to go fish one spot, but I’ll end up going to a completely different lake and then I’ll be thinking, ‘Oh, I wish I would have fished this lake.’”
Buelow had to think when asked for his favorite time to fish.
“That’s a tough one,” he said. “I definitely have to say it’s fall musky fishing, but who can pass on catching big perch and walleyes in the shallows in the spring?”
If Buelow isn’t in the mood for an area lake or river, he sometimes heads to the Willow Flowage, about 25 miles north of Tomahawk, to fish for walleyes and camp at one of the area’s remote campsites. Or, he might head south on the Wisconsin between Tomahawk and Merrill to fish the Grandfather or Grandmother flowages.
Chances are, however, if Buelow is on the water, it’ll be in or near Tomahawk.
“It’s a fun place because it offers year-round opportunity,” he said. “There’s never a day that goes by where you can’t come up with an excuse to go out on the water.”