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Oneida County in Wisconsin's Northwoods has over a thousand lakes and over 68,000 acres of water making it one of the largest concentrations of water bodies in the world. A surprising number of those lakes are called Pelican Lake. The largest of the lakes with the name and the largest individual lake in the county is Pelican Lake with the City of Pelican Lake on its shore. With some truly large fish and surrounded by the majestic Northwoods, Pelican Lake is a fantastic Wisconsin getaway.
Pelican Lake should not be confused with North Pelican Lakes, also known as 4th and 5th Lakes, that are part of a chain of lakes called the Moen Chain; they are often referred to as "Chain of Lakes." Although they are in Oneida County, the Moen Chain lakes are not connected to Pelican Lake or the city on its shore.
Pelican Lake is a natural lake whose water levels were raised by the South Pelican Dam completed in 1908. The Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company built the dam for hydroelectric power and flood control. Today the Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company manages Pelican Lake along with 20 other man-made and natural lake reservoirs as a single system, the Wisconsin River Headwater System. The Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company raises and lowers lake level as needed for power generation and to maintain the flow of the Wisconsin River.
Pelican Lake has the reputation for being a good diverse fishery. There are healthy populations of blue gill, musky, northern pike, walleye and large and small mouth bass. In winter the ice fishing is very good. Coontail and Cabbage Weed flats provide fish habitat and the weedy bays also attract fish. There is still plenty of clear open water, however, and boating and water skiing are popular. There are several public boat launches and boat rentals available.
Accommodations around Pelican Lake range from campgrounds, cabins, and cottages to resorts. Accommodations and provisions can be found at the City of Pelican Lake, but Rhinelander, Oneida's county seat, is also within easy driving distance. Originally called Pelican Rapids, Rhinelander like most of the Northwoods area started in the late 1800's with logging camps. In fact it was one of the local lumberjacks that gave Rhinelander its mascot. The city is known as the home of the "Hodag" and there are Hodags everywhere. They show up on t-shirts and as team names. The Hodag is about seven feet long and thirty inches tall. It's hairy with horns on its back and tusks on its snout. The Hodag was photographed by lumberjack Gene Shepard in 1896. He later admitted it was a hoax, but by then the creature had captured the townspeople's imagination just as it does today.
There are miles of ATV, snowmobile, and cross country ski trails near Pelican Lake and the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest covers part of Oneida County. With 225,000 acres of trails, hunting land, and wilderness to explore it's a great way to enjoy the Northwoods. For visitors who love history the Mecikalski Stovewood Building and Museum is nearby. Built in 1899, the folk architecture museum is made of 18 inch pieces of cedar stacked and filled in with lime mortar.
Although Pelican Lake is a common name, a trip to this Northwoods lake is anything but common. Whether it's fishing for trophy musky or chasing the elusive Hodag, there is something to delight the whole family at beautiful Pelican Lake.
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