The Wolf River

Before the 1860’s, the area was traveled by Indians and a few trappers. The Wolf River and its tributaries were inhabited by native brook trout. The only recorded travel route through the area was the “Lake Superior Trail”, which paralleled the Wolf River from Shawano north past Pine Lake and on into the Copper Country. It was used by early explorers and fur traders. In 1861 the trail was improved.

The Military Road was built through eastern Langlade County in 1867-68. The road follows the current Hwy 55 route.

Gardner dam was built in 1868 to help the logs clear the rapids during the spring log drives. Dams were built in Langlade in 1870, Lily in 1871 and the lower Post Lake dam (at the current county A bridge) a few years later. As dams were built the cutting of timber expanded up the river, as did logging camps, river driving crews and stopping places. In 1873 it was estimated that one and a half billion board feet of logs floated down the Wolf River. The log drives ended in 1904 with the advent of the railroads in the area.

The native brook trout began to repopulate the river after logging, attracting trout fisherman. In 1921 the Wisconsin Conservation Department decided to supplement the brook trout with a western rainbow fry. By the mid twenties, fishermen were catching large rainbows.

A severe drought from 1931-1933 wiped out the rainbow. In 1933 the Wolf River Conservation Club was organized. The Wisconsin Conservation Department, along with the Wolf River Conservation Club, built a rearing station at Langlade on Dalton Creek where German brown trout were reared and stocked in the Wolf River. The native brook trout were ignored, but flourished in the tributaries.

By the early 50’s the Wisconsin Public Service Commission had issued permits to farmers to pump 9600 gallons of water per minute from the Wolf River. That was half the normal flow being diverted. The federal government also approved DDT as a pesticide for use in controlling potato bugs. Two dozen 30 gallon spray barrels were found discarded in the river during one clean-up. Cap and Herb Buettner, with the backing of the Conservation Club, led the fight to end the diversion of water from the river. DDT was banned also, but still shows up in some local wells.

In 1958 a group of property owners convinced the County Board to obtain a permit from the Public Service Commission to construct a dam at the highway A bridge to flood a three mile marsh and create valuable lake frontage property. The PSC issued the permit to Langlade County to build the dam, but the Conservation Department appealed the ruling to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1961. The court could only rule on whether the paperwork and permits were issued legally, and they were. Herb Buettner led the fight to draft new legislation simply stating, “There shall be no dams constructed on the Wolf River upstream from Keshena, Wisconsin, henceforth.” The bill was the first law ever passed unanimously on a voice vote.

Cap Buettner organized the Wolf River chapter of Trout Unlimited in 1959. It was the first chapter in Wisconsin. About this time the state initiated a special preservation program for the upper Wolf River, declaring it a “Trout Fishery” and to begin acquisition of all river shore land to a distance of three hundred feet. Cap was the first person to sell his river frontage. The state now owns about 80% of the Wolf River shore land from the Menominee County line up to Pearson.

The bag limit was originally twenty-five trout. After the drought of the 30’s the limit was reduced to fifteen, then down to ten. Attempts were made in the 50’s to reintroduce rainbow trout. They carried over quite well for several years, but there was no evidence of natural reproduction as the first strain had done.

In the late 60’s Senator Gaylord Nelson named the upper Wolf River a part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers.

In July 1975 Exxon Minerals announced the discovery of a large zinc and copper deposit in the Swamp Creek area, a main aquifer of the Wolf River. Many people came together in the ensuing twenty-five year battle with corrupt lawmakers and mining proponents to defeat this mine. The site is now owned by two Indian tribes.

In the mid 90’s major work was done in the river. Islands were created, forcing the water to move through the slow stretches where the water warmed. These projects, along with habitat work and beaver control on the Wolf’s tributaries, has helped, but more needs to be done to protect Wisconsin’s largest freestone trout stream from denigrating into a “bass fishery”.

“Trout Logic” Herb Buettner
“History of Langlade County Wisconsin” Robert M. Dessureau

Wading the Wolf is dangerous regardless of water level. Use waders with felt bottom boots that give good ankle support. The best fishing is usually near rapids, where the oxygen content of the water is highest.

Military Park Located on Highway 55 two miles south of Pickerel. Strauss Crossing and Stopping Place was located just south of the park, and one of the first stopping places on the old “Lake Superior Trail”.

Strauss Rapids Located 2 ¼ miles north of Lily on Highway 55. The highway bends left around a hill and there is a parking area on the left side of the road. A trail leads down to Strauss Rapids.

Sylvan Road Located 1 ½ miles north of Lily on Highway 55. Sylvan Road is on the east, and across from Sylvan Road is a parking area. A trail leads down to the river.

Lily Just south of Lily the railroad grade has been turned into a trail. The trail follows the river downstream. Remnants of the old Lily logging dam can be seen from this trail. St Claire Rapids is about a mile downstream from Lily.

Wolf River Landing Wolf Road is located 2 miles south of Lily on the west side of Highway 55. The road splits after a mile. To the right is a gravel road that crosses the old railroad grade. The road ends at the beginning of Sheen Rapids. Up river is Big and Little Slough Gundy Rapids.

Wolf Road Wolf Road is located 2 miles south of Lily on the west side of highway 55. The road splits after a mile. Follow the road left. It follows the old railroad grade. The road then turns away from the grade. Follow the gravel trail over the grade to a small parking area. There is a foot trail that leads down to the river. This is one of the areas where work was done in the 90’s, with a couple of long islands.

Hollister Located 5-6 miles north of Langlade on Highway 55, just past Ninemile Creek. West Hollister Road leads to the river at Burnt Point Rapids. Just up river is another manmade island from the 90’s.

Hollister South Turn left off West Hollister Road just before it reaches the river. The road ends in a small parking area. Down river is the old rail road bridge and Ninemile Rapids.

Irrigation Hole/Potato Field 2-2 ½ miles north of Langlade on the west side of Highway 55. This is a rafting and canoeing access.

Langlade Up river is Larzelere and Sherry Rapids. Down river are remnants of the Langlade logging dam.

Rocky Rips Located just south of Langlade on the west side of Highway 55 is Rocky Rips Road. Turn left at the “T”. There is a small parking area on the right. A trail leads to Crowle Rapids.

Boy Scout Camp Located two miles north of the county line on Highway 55. Follow the winding road west to the parking lot. Drive slowly. Be sure to check in with the friendly ranger there. A gravel trail leads to Garfield Rapids. There are two suspension bridges across the river. The upper one is where the old logging dam was located.

Herb’s Landing Located west on County M from Highway 55 about 4 miles. There is a gate with a sign. The dirt road leads through a field where there is a parking area. A nice trail leads down the hill to the river. This is another of the areas worked in the 90’s with a few islands. Above the islands is the Ledge. Be careful wading there!

County M Bridge The parking area is southwest of the bridge. A big trail starts across County M and follows the river upstream to Hanson Rapids.

Mike’s Service Station in Langlade has flies, fly line, leaders and other trout fishing equipment. To check the water level, see our links page.

           Cap’s Hairwing tied by Ed Haaga

Wolf River Chapter 050

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Waders On The Wolf