Thankful Outdoors: Canoeing the Wisconsin River

canoe on Wisconsin River
Scott & Jared

MERRILL, WI (OnFocus) – Saturday morning started at 4 am; as I went downstairs to start the coffee, I found my oldest son had made it home and brought his dog, Charlie, along. Charlie rose from the couch and gave me a sleepy look of “what are you doing up so darn early? It’s the weekend!”

I chuckled at him and said, “Come on, boy, it’s time to get ready for fishing.” Jared stirred from his deep slumber, and Bryce soon found his way downstairs as well. But, unfortunately, Connor was the guy who had to stay back on this trip because he had work commitments to fulfill that day.

We soon were on our way to Mom and Dad’s place to meet up with Dad and youngest brother Kurt. We had a 5 am meeting time. As we pulled out of the driveway at 5:18 am, I was surprised that we were pretty much on schedule!

Dad & Bryce

Kurt and Dad lead the way to Merrill; we made a stop at the gas station for water and Holiday convenience store breakfast sandwiches. The plan was to drop a vehicle off at the boat loading near the Council Grounds; we then loaded up all canoes and kayak into my truck and headed north on Highway 107.

Charlie, who is an American Eskimo Dog,  acts like he has some lab in him. As soon as he saw the water, he waded out and started swimming. However, we had to call him back several times before the current would sweep him away downstream. I wonder how he would do retrieving a duck?

Dad and Bryce were the first to push off from shore, and they were soon downriver fishing.

Charlie swimming

Kurt was going solo in his kayak; Jared, Charlie, and I were in our canoe. On this day, we were going to float about 9 miles of the Wisconsin River.

Bryce was catching fish within a few casts, Kurt followed up by landing a decent size sucker. Jared had the hot lure in our canoe; I think he had boated three fish before I had caught my first one. Jared and I had just missed watching Bryce fight a nice musky for a little bit before it gave him a head shake and threw his lure back at him. Dad got pretty excited over that moment!

After about 3 miles down the river, Dad and Bryce were no longer in eyesight. Who knows where they were at as they entered what is called Alexander Lake. The first three miles were the most enjoyable. It’s where we had the most fishing action and seen most of the wildlife.

We saw four eagle, two beaver, a couple of turtles, and of course, the smallmouth bass that we were catching. Unfortunately, I lost a nice smallmouth that was probably close to stretching out the tape to 18inches.


By the time we had reached our take-out point, we had sore backs, recovered a kayak paddle that was found in shallow water, and an afternoon of memories.

Most of the fish were caught on crankbaits; I’m not fond of using steel leaders and prefer to tie cranks directly to my line. Knowing that these waters held musky and northern, I didn’t want to get bitten off either. Losing an almost $10 crankbait to a fish is not something I enjoy doing. To prevent bite-off, I used a swivel and a leader from a 50lb musky line. I figured if a toothy fish was going to bite me off with a 50lb test, then it was just meant to be that day.

This section of the Wisconsin River was not challenging from a rapids standpoint. Only one time did I get worried that we were going to roll the canoe over. Jared and I got caught up fishing and got ourselves snagged up on a boulder. The rapids almost put us over, but we managed to get out.

Spending time in a canoe always makes my mind wander off to a time many, many years before me; I wonder about the earlier settlers and the Indian tribes that traveled these waters. Their canoes loaded down with piles of beaver fur, maybe a freshly harvest of a buck as they made their way back to their villages.

I wondered if the area that we floated was considered peaceful, or did travelers have to worry about hostile confrontations as they traveled the water corridor near Merrill, WI? We had no conflicts other than a few snags; the boats out tubing or skiing were respectful of our canoe travels. Easy water travels without many rapids to worry about navigating gave us a great adventure!

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Scott Hopperdietzel
Author: Scott Hopperdietzel

Scott Hopperdietzel is the creator of an outdoor blog named Thankful Outdoors. He shares his passion for the outdoors with readers. The focus of the blog is to “Celebrate the Experience” in his stories; you feel what the connection to the outdoors means to him. His goal is to inspire others to get into the outdoors and create their own experience. Along with writing, he is a father to three boys who are often part of the adventures along with the family Weimaraner, Boone. You can find his writings on the website or follow his social media platforms on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.