The Northern Highland Fishery Research Area

  • Article

    The Northern Highland Fishery Research Area (once called the Five Lakes Project) is an experimental project of the DNR which has been going on since 1946. It includes Escanaba, Nebish, Mystery, Spruce and Pallette Lakes, all located between Boulder Junction and Star Lake off of Highway K. Originally fishing was allowed on these lakes without regard to size or catch limits or season. In recent years the experiment has been changed and the fishing rules have changed. The rule noted below for Escanaba Lake (limit one walleye at least 28") began in 2003. Report 2012

    There is a registration station of Escanaba Lake where fishers on any of the lakes must register and where they must register their catch.

    There have been several research publications based on research at the Five Lakes Project. Those of which I am aware are listed in the Bibliography for this topic in the "Comprehensive" section. Popular articles are listed in the "Major" or "Minor" sections.

    From the DNR website (2012):

    Experimental Waters of the Northern Highlands Fishery Research Area: Escanaba, Mystery, Nebish, Pallette, and Spruce Lakes have been managed as experimental waters since 1946. Every fish taken is counted and measured as part of the longest continuous record of angler harvest in the world! A free daily fishing permit from the Escanaba Lake Research Station is required to fish on any of these five lakes. The research station is located three and one-half miles east of Trout Lake off of Highway M in Vilas County. A Wisconsin fishing license is also required.

    The lakes are open to continuous year-round fishing for all species with exception(s) listed below by lake. These lakes are not open to fishing on New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, Martin Luther King Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The research station is open from 4 a.m. to 8-10 p.m. during open water season and 6 a.m. to 6-8 p.m. during ice fishing season. Closing hours vary depending on available daylight. After fishing, anglers must return the permit and bring their catch to be examined by biologists for entry into the database. For more information, contact: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Northern Highland Fishery Research Area, 8770 Highway J, Woodruff, WI 54568, (715) 356-5211.

    Escanaba Lake - The minimum length limit on walleye is 28" with a daily bag limit of 1. Nebish Lake - There is no minimum length limit on smallmouth bass, but smallmouth bass 9" through 12" may not be kept. Palette Lake - No open season for lake trout. The minimum length limit on smallmouth bass is 22" and the daily bag limit is 1. Spruce Lake - Only artificial flies and lures may be used. Largemouth bass season is open all year with a 12" minimum length limit and a daily bag limit of 2.

    Note: The DNR webpage from which this is quoted is no longer available online. However, extensive material about The Northern Highland Fishery Research Area is available on the DNR website.

    Charles P. Forbes
    June 4, 2012
  • Bibliography

    Comprehensive References

    General Information about Lakes in the Northern Highland Fishery Research Area, DNR Information Sheet, Revised 3/07, Madison, 2007. View Full Entry
    Brynildson and Kempinger, Production, Food and Harvest of Trout in Nebish Lake, Wisconsin, Technical bulletin No. 65, Madison, 1973. View Full Entry
    Bussey and Newman, Northern Highland Fishery Reserach Area [DNR Pamphlet], PUBL-RS-907-93, Madison, 1993. View Full Entry
    Christenson, et al., Improved Angling Quality Following Chemical Treatment of Nebish Lake and re-Introduction of Smallmouth Bass and Yellow Perch, Research Report 115, March, 1982, Madison, 1982. View Full Entry
    Churchill & Snow, Characteristics of the Sport Fishery in Some Northern Wisconsin Lakes, Technical Bulletin #32 [PUBL-RS-032 1964], Madison, 1964. View Full Entry
    Juday, Chancey, Summer Standing Crop of Plants and Animals in Four Wisconsin Lakes, The., Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, Vol. 34, 1942., Madison, 1942. View Full Entry
    Kempinger and Christenson, Population Estimates and Standing Crops of Fish in Nebish Lake, Research Report 96, March, 1978, Madison, 1978. View Full Entry
    Kempinger et al., Population Development of Re-Introduced Smallmouth Bass and yellow Perch in Nebish Lake, Research Report 119, June, 1982, Madison, 1982. View Full Entry
    Kempinger and Churchill, Contribution of Native & Stocked Walleye Fingerlings to the Anglers' Catch, Esc, Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 101:644-648, Bethesda, MD, 1972. View Full Entry
    Kempinger et al., Estimate of Abundance, Harvest, and Exploitation of the Fish Population of Escanaba Lake, Wisconsin, 1946-1969, Technical Bulletin # 84., Madison, 1975. View Full Entry
    Oehmcke and Waggoner, How Liberal Can You get?, Wisconsin Conservation Bulletin, 21:5, May 1956, pp. 12-15., Madison, 1956. View Full Entry
    Patterson, D. L., Walleye Population in Escanaba Lake, Transactions of the American Fish. Society, 82:34-41., 1953. View Full Entry
    Sass, Greg, Fishery Research Area, NHAL State Forest Visitor's Guide, 2017, pp. 20A-21A., Minocqua, 2017. View Full Entry
    Schneberger, Edward, Growth of the Yellow Perch (Perca favencens Mitchill) in Nebish Silver and Weber Lakes, Vilas County, Wisconsin, Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, Vol. 29, pp. 103-130, 1935 [Reprint], Madison, 1935. View Full Entry
    Serns, Steven, Walleye Growth in Relation to Water Temperature, Food Availability, and Population Density in Escanaba Lake, 1956-82., Research Report 130, December, 1984., Madison, 1984. View Full Entry
    Serns and Hoff, Food Habits of Adult Yellow Perch and Smallmouth Bass in Nebish Lake, Wisconsin, Technical Bulletin No. 149, Madison, 1984. View Full Entry
    Thuemler, T. F., Food Habits of the Walleye in Escanaba Lake, M. S. Thesis, UW Milwaukee, Milwaukee, 1969. View Full Entry

    Major References

    53 Years of Anglers' 'Fish Tales', Vilas County News Review, Aug. 4, 1999, "Outdoors", Eagle River, 1999. View Full Entry
    Escanaba Lake, Wisconsin Fishing Report 2012, Center section of Wisconsin Natural Resources, 36:2, Aprl 2012, Madison, 2012. View Full Entry
    Northern Highland Fishery Reserach Area [DNR Pamphlet], NHAL State Forest Visitor Guide 2012, p 20., Boulder Junction, 2012. View Full Entry
    Pallette Lake Trout Fishing Closed, North Country Journal, January, 1987, 1987. View Full Entry
    Casetta, Curt, Escanaba Lake Trail System, Wisconsin Trails, V. 41, #6, Nov-Dec 2000, pp. 46-7., 2000. View Full Entry
    Krueger, Kurt, Escanaba Lake Decision Deserves Some Further Review, Vilas County News Review, 1/15/2003, p. 13A, Eagle River, 2003. View Full Entry
    Krueger, Kurt, NR Board OKs Escanaba Project, Vilas County News Review, 1/8/2003, p. 14., Eagle River, 2003. View Full Entry
    Lillie and Mason, Limnological Characteristics of Wisconsin Lakes, Technical Bulletin # 138. 1983, Madison, 1983. View Full Entry
    Luehring and Shultz, To Stock or Not to Stock Walleye, Mazina'igan, Winter 2016-2017, p. 10, Odanah, 2016. View Full Entry
    Maines, Will, Here's My Two Cents on Escanaba, Vilas County News Review, 1/22/2003, P. 18A., Eagle River, 2003. View Full Entry
    Sass, Greg, Northern Highland Fishery Research Area, NHAL State Forest Visitor's Guide, 2018, P. 55, Minocqua, 2018. View Full Entry
    Walters, Troy, Lead Poses Major Threat to Wild Birds, Northbound, Vol. 31, #1, January 2014., Eagle River, 2014. View Full Entry
    Walters, Troy, Northern Highland Fishery Research Area, Northbound, Vol. 28, #2, Summer 2008, P. 9., Eagle River, 2008. View Full Entry
    Wisconsin Conservation Department, Old Lake--New Names, Wis. Conservation Bulletin, 5:2, Feb. 42, p. 32, Madison, 1941. View Full Entry
    UWSP, WI Co Fish Res Unit, Annual Report October 2008 - September 2009, Stevens Point, 2009. View Full Entry

    Minor References

    Sadowski and Tanzer, Explore Wisconsin's Wild Places, Wisconsin Natural Resources, Vol. 36, #2, April, 2012, Madison, 2012. View Full Entry
    Vilas County Advertising Department, Vilas County 2007 Visitor Guide, Eagle River, 2007. View Full Entry
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  • Miscellany

    +++NATURAL RESOURCES FOUNDATION FIELD TRIP 2012

    In conjunction with the DNR, the Foundation offered the following field trip in 2012: "Tour of Northern Experimental Fisheries Research Lakes. Enjoy a morning of fish and lake biology! Visit Escanaba, Trout, Crystal, Little Rock and Camp lakes to see and learn about the various longterm and ongoing fish, limnology and biological research at each location. Enjoy an electrofishing and netting demo to see fish up close. Interesting lake biology at its finest! Tuesday, June 19, 8AM-12PM. Boulder Junction. Leader: Greg Sass." See: ##1470 Wis. Nat. Res. April, 2012##.

    +++ONGOING RESEARCH 2009

    From the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, College of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Cooperative Fishery Research Unit ##1859 Annual Report##:

    Fish population size, size structure, reproduction, and recruitment, are highly dynamic and often fluctuate widely across years. Such population variability, in combination with intensive harvest from state and tribal users greatly increases the risk of overexploitation and possible fishery collapse. Regulations offer opportunities not only to prevent population collapse, but to maximize different desirable fish population characteristics such as size structure (i.e., larger fish), abundance, and catch rates, among others that offer a wide array of angling opportunities. Studying the effects of regulation changes insure that desirable outcomes are achieved and elucidate under which conditions particular regulations should be implemented. The most effective way to measure the effects of natural population variability and regulation changes relative to exploitation is by studying them for a long period of time. There are at least eight different regulations that are applied to the management of walleye in northern Wisconsin with the intent of creating diverse fishing opportunities. Unfortunately, many of those regulations have not been evaluated. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (then the Wisconsin Conservation Commission) established the Northern Highlands Fishery Research Area (NHFRA) in 1946 and the population size of walleye in Escanaba Lake has been estimated there annually since 1953. Until 2000, harvest of walleye was unlimited (no bag or size limits) and the population fluctuated annually. In 2000, as part of an overall exploitation study, a 28 inch minimum size limit was established to effectively reduce harvest to near zero and to help create a trophy walleye fishery. The objective of this study is to evaluate how walleye and other species of fish have responded (e.g., abundance, growth) to the implementation of the 28 inch minimum size limit using the long term data set available at Escanaba Lake.