Lake Info and Maps

Located in the headwaters of the Brill River in southeastern Washburn County, Long Lake is the largest lake in the county. Long Lake is known as one of the premier, high quality fisheries in the northwestern part of Wisconsin, and has been designated by the State of Wisconsin as the “Walleye Capitol of Wisconsin.” In ancient times, the Long Lake basin consisted of at least three glacially formed lakes and their interconnecting streams. In the late 1800s, a dam was constructed to raise the water level approximately 8 feet, fusing these separate bodies of water into one whole. Loggers then used the lake to transport logs downstream. The raised water level created the complex multi-basin body of water that we enjoy today.

Long Lake Facts

  • 19 miles long
  • 99 mile total shoreline
  • 3,290 acre surface area
  • 74 foot maximum depth
  • 26 foot average depth
  • 38,000 acre watershed

Contributing Watershed Lakes

LLPA Watershed Brochure

Fishing at Lincolnwood Resort

Fishing at Lincolnwood Resort

  • Bass Lake
  • Big Devil Lake
  • Harmon Lake
  • Lazy Island Lake
  • Little Devil Lake
  • Loyhead Lake
  • MacRae Lake
  • Mud Lake
  • Nick Lake
  • Slim Creek Flowage
  • Slim Lake

Maps

Where to purchase WI Fishing License on the lake

Long Lake Dam Operation

Road over original dam.

Concerns about water levels in Long Lake are not new.  The original Long Lake dam was built in 1884 by the Rice Lake Lumber Company, having been authorized by an act of the Wisconsin legislature the prior year.  Its purpose was to supply enough flowing water to float logs downstream to lumber mills at Rice Lake and Menomonie, which required a significant buildup of water, and to that end the authorizing legislation permitted a head of 12 feet!

The lumbering era ended early in the 20th century, and the dam was sold to the Wisconsin-Minnesota Light & Power Company, which used it as a reservoir dam.  A reservoir dam does not generate power, but helps regulate water levels for dams downstream which do, in this case at Rice Lake.  This results in considerable fluctuation of levels behind the reservoir dam, and the power company put its 12-foot allowed variance to good use.

Sluicing logs through original dam.

By this time the shoreline was beginning to be developed, particularly on Holy Island.  Residents found the large rise and fall of lake levels annoying at best, and a group filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Railroad Commission, which at that time had jurisdiction to regulate dams.  In 1915 the Commission entered an order limiting the allowable variance to just one foot, which promptly resulted in a lawsuit which reached the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1917.  The Court reversed the Commission’s order on technical grounds, but also noted in passing that the order rendered the dam “practically worthless for power purposes,” and that “It is common knowledge that most inland lakes in this state without dams vary more than” a single foot.  Eventually the Railroad Commission revisited the issue and entered an order with which all concerned could live.

Today the dam is owned by Washburn County, operated by it’s Highway Department and ultimately regulated by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.  Within DNR parameters the owner has discretion concerning what level to maintain and whether to have a fall drawdown, and if so how much. The assumed purpose of a drawdown is to minimize ice damage to the shoreline.  Water is quite unique in that as it turns from a liquid to a solid it expands, which is why ice floats.  That also means it expands outward, sometimes causing shoreline damage.  A potential side benefit of drawdown is to allow exposed rocky spawning areas to be washed clean before levels rise again in spring, but this assumes levels will have risen before spawning occurs.

There are competing interests in the timing of drawdown.  If it is too early some people will have difficulties getting boats off of lifts.    Too late and turtles and various species of amphibians and invertebrates are put at risk.  They hibernate in muck below the ice where the temperature will remain about 37 degrees Fahrenheit, and if there is significant lowering of water after that they may freeze.    A now retired UW-Extension educator has advised LLPA that in this area mid-October is about when turtles go to hibernate.  Studies conducted in 2003 and 2004 by the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, State of the Long Lake Watershed, recommended consideration be given to complete elimination of the drawdown.

Then there is the more general question of what levels are best at various times of the year.  Recently an ad hoc committee consisting of some LLPA board members, the Highway Commissioner and two DNR specialists conferred concerning ideal levels.  Long Lake tends to fluctuate around 1,223 feet above sea level (FASL), and the consensus reached as to ideal levels was as follows:

Spring, After Ice Out:                    1,223.6

Boating Season:                              1,223.2

Fall, After Drawdown:                1,222.6

These targets are not binding on the County, but they do fairly well mirror actual experience.  The accompanying graph shows actual levels since mid-2013.

This is not to say that the levels can be controlled with absolute precision.  Weather is a major factor.  That is the reason for having high levels in spring, as a hedge against the possibility of inadequate rainfall.  It is far easier to lower levels later than to replenish them.  And the dam cannot be closed off completely, no matter how little rain has fallen.  A minimum flow of nine cubic feet per second is required to maintain the Brill River, which amounts to over 4,000 gallons per minute or over 24,000 tons of water per day!  And that’s minimum.

The ideal lake levels, as well as drawdown timing and amount or whether to have it at all, continue to be reviewed.  At the 2019 Annual Meeting a show of hands poll indicated over 91% of LLPA members present favored discontinuation of the drawdown, but any decisions in that regard can only be made by Washburn County.  Further developments will be reviewed here.