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Centerpiece of the Eagle River Chain of Lakes, Catfish Lake holds a special spot in the hearts of visitors to the Lake Superior Northwoods region of Wisconsin. The largest lake in the chain, Catfish Lake is a natural lake and a favorite of both anglers and resort visitors to the Eagle River area. Settled in the early 1800s, the Eagle River area saw a massive population increase in the 1880s when loggers arrived from Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Word soon spread of the multiple chains of lakes teaming with fish, and the area began to draw sportsmen as seasonal visitors. Within a few years, the area was logged out and the loggers mostly moved on. The memory of this remote northern fishing destination 150 miles northwest of Green Bay remained, drawing hardy anglers to fish camps and rustic lodges. Because the area is so far from major cities, Catfish Lake never suffered over-development with vacation cottages and resorts as did more accessible areas.
Today, Catfish Lake remains an uncrowded, although increasingly upscale tourist venue. Most available lakefront property has been developed and holds an eclectic mix of lovely private homes and a few townhouses and condos mixed with the occasional resort. The lake is a favorite among boating enthusiasts who can access all ten lakes in the Eagle River chain from Catfish Lake. Sailing, windsurfing, water-skiing, jet skiing, diving and snorkeling are favored activities here, as is swimming. The many coves lend themselves to canoeing, kayaking and pontooning along the wooded shoreline. A marina at the channel between Catfish and Voyageur Lakes rents boats, pontoons and motors. A public boat ramp is located on the northwest shore off Highway 32. Wildlife is still plentiful in the area, and few residents venture far without a pair of binoculars and camera at the ready as bald eagles are plentiful in the area.
The Eagle River flows through the lake; boaters have direct access to Cranberry and Voyageur Lakes and through them, to Eagle Lake, Scattering Rice Lake, Otter Lake, Lynx Lake, Duck Lake, Yellow Birch Lake and Watersmeet Lake. Although natural lakes, the water levels in the entire system are regulated by the Otter Rapids hydroelectric dam operated by Wisconsin Public Service Corporation. Boaters can access the 20 lakes in the higher 'Three Lakes' chain by way of a Boat hoist/tramway at Burnt Rollways Dam south of Cranberry Lake on the Otter River. The channel between the two chains is dredged and maintained to provide access to boats up to 30 feet long and eight feet wide. It is reported the two combined chains make up the largest inland freshwater chain of lakes in the world. Access to this boating paradise is one of the main reasons for Catfish Lake's increasing popularity among vacationers.
Catfish Lake and the Eagle River Chain are very popular fishing waters. Although specializing in walleye, muskie and largemouth bass, other species caught are smallmouth bass, crappie, bluegill and northern pike. In winter, ice fishing becomes the sport of choice as shanties appear over the favored 'hard water' hotspots. The Catfish Lake area offers a wealth of activities year-round to please the outdoors fan. The Town of Eagle River three miles away is considered a snowmobiling capital. The World Championship Snowmobile Derby is held at the ice oval north of the city, and local snowmobile clubs offer a number of groomed trails through the area. These same trails and others provide ample room for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Provisions for downhill skiing, snowboarding and sledding can all be found nearby. In warmer weather, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, miniature golf and wildlife viewing take precedence along with golf. Eagle River offers a variety of festivals and activities throughout the year, including the Klondike Days Voyageur Encampment in mid-winter each year.
Several campgrounds and camping resorts exist near Catfish Lake. One needn't be a fan of camping and rustic living to enjoy the area around Catfish Lake, however: several newly-developed resorts on the Eagle River chain offer every possible amenity from gourmet meals to spa treatments and world-class entertainment. Although Eagle River is a small city with only 1500 residents, shopping is provided for everyday items, groceries and hardware. Eagle River offers movie theaters, restaurants and all necessary services to occupy the family on the occasional rainy day.
A variety of vacation rentals can be found along the shores of Catfish Lake. Many private residences and cottages can be rented by the week or month. Many are luxury homes with all amenities, private beaches and provisions for water sports. A motel located at the west end of the lake offers weekly rentals, and the several resorts and condo complexes on the Eagle River chain can provide exactly the kind of vacation venue to suit the most discerning visitor. Real estate in the form of existing homes is often found along the shore, although building lots are quite rare. So come investigate the possibilities at Catfish Lake. Let Catfish Lake become the centerpiece of your summer or winter vacation. Perhaps you'll stay for both!
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