Turtle Flambeau Flowage: A Gateway to Fishing in Paradise


The Turtle Flambeau Flowage near Mercer, Wis. is one of 200 pristine bodies of water within a 30-mile radius of the town. Add 377,900 acres of forest and 300 miles of trout streams, and the Magic of Mercer, the “Loon Capital of the World,” will create an echoing memory making you come back again.

The Gateway Lodge is aptly named: It is the “gateway” to a pristine outdoor paradise that draws folks for four seasons of fun, relaxation and fishing for crappies, walleyes, bass and muskies.

“We’ve had the lodge since 2005, and I love to cook,” says Wayne Riebe, who owns the Gateway Lodge with his wife Melissa. “We continue to make improvements, including a bait/tackle cabin, the addition of cabins and an additional house.”

Opportunities to fish various waters on this trip include Island Lake, part of a 10-lake chain in Manitowish Waters, Fisher, and Catherine lakes located north of Mercer and the Turtle Flambeau Flowage.

Guide Eric Keller specializes in targeting muskies, northern pike, walleyes and bass. His 17 years of experience in southern Wisconsin plus 13 years in the Mercer area have allowed him to learn the lakes.

“I like multi-species lakes, and especially taking kids out fishing,” Keller said.

Keller guides 80 to 100 trips each year, and added that the spring spawning run heats up the fishing action.

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Have you ever heard the sound of silence in the Northwoods so far away from civilization that a part of you remained long after returning home?

Often, silence was complete on the lake, especially while Keller, my wife Shirley and I were consumed by the scenery of multi-colored autumn leaves clinging to trees along the shoreline. Not only does this remote location allow a transition back to an earlier time of voyageurs, lumber jacks and native peoples, but the culinary talents of chefs at a variety of luxury restaurants and lodges here may exceed the five-star ratings of big-city restaurants. We savored the taste of a wilderness experience paired with a variety food at the Gateway Lodge, the Cranberry Inn, the Chippewa Retreat White Oak Grill, Wolf’s Den-Great Northern Motel and Little Bohemia.

Little Bohemia Lodge has a colorful history dating back to April 23, 1934, where a shootout occurred when federal law enforcement officials attempted to capture John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson—the feds, assuming the pair was on the second floor of the lodge, began shooting with machine guns. The upstairs has been left as it was on that very day in 1934, with bullet holes in walls, ceilings and floors. (Dillinger and Nelson actually escaped out of a window before the shootout, stole the constable’s car and drove off.)

My wife and I had the opportunity to fly over the Turtle Flambeau Flowage with pilot Jerry Wilke. Nearly 18,900 acres in size, the Flowage was created in 1926 when a dam was constructed to create a reservoir. The Turtle consists of rivers and interconnecting waters, stretching 212 miles on with winding shorelines. There are nine lakes, three rivers and several creeks in this protected wilderness area.

The window in our cabin was open on this evening; the sounds of silence embraced us, interrupted by the typical call of loons across the waters. The musical symphony continued, as dreams of a return trip provided a restful night’s sleep.

Bob Holzhei has always had a love affair with the outdoors. During his 37 years of teaching and advising, he wanted to not only teach writing, but also follow a dream of writing about his experiences. To date, 396 of his stories have been published in a variety of publications across the United States and two self-published books, Canadian Fly-In Fishing Adventure Featuring Campfire Stories from Northern Michigan and Alaskan Spirit Journey.