How I Fish Remote Lakes In My Local Area

I’ve always loved fishing, and for most of my life, this has meant fishing for panfish in the Northwoods of Wisconsin on a full recreation lake. I’ll always appreciate that kind of fishing, but lately, I’ve been hankering for something a little different: fishing isolated lakes in remote areas.

So how do you start fishing in remote areas? A remote fishing lake implies the lake is not accessible by road or a well-maintained trail. Look for small, undeveloped lakes that are located on public land and are accessible by foot. The Boundary Waters have many remote lakes, but with a little research, you could find a lake much closer to home.

view of a remote lake in northern wisconsin while fishing it in an inflatable boat
A remote lake in Northern Wisconsin that my brother and I fished from my inflatable boat.

With that said, there are a lot of things to consider when getting started with fishing remote lakes. Below I’ll outline the process I use to find remote fishing lakes near me, as well as other great resources of remote fishing lakes.

Where to find remote lakes to fish

If you’re anything like me, I always thought that the idea of fishing a remote Lake is only possible if you travel hours and hours and find an excellent remote place like the Boundary Waters or anywhere in Alaska. Well, it’s entirely true that these places have huge opportunities for remote fishing, I would recommend that you first check your local area before committing to such a long and far trip.

I know I was a bit surprised when I realized that I could find at least a dozen small isolated lakes within a 15-minute car ride of the cabin I visited growing up in Northwoods Wisconsin. These lakes were just as undeveloped as anything you’d find in Alaska, and at most they were a mile off trail from my parking spot. To me, this opened up a whole vast world of possibilities, and I’ve had a ton of fun fishing them ever since I started.

Like I mentioned before, there are a few places in North America resources for remote fishing lakes. If you are fortunate enough to travel to them, you’ll be coming across all sorts of different remote lakes in every direction you stumble. Here are some great places to check out if you’re interested in this kind of trip:

  • Boundary Waters
  • Alaska
  • Ontario, Canada

If you’re like me and you’ve spent a bunch of time exploring fishing opportunities on Google Maps, you’ll know that these areas are just peppered with remote lakes of all sorts and sizes.

While those areas are beautiful, it would be a good idea first to confirm that you don’t have great opportunities for remote fishing in your backyard. So how exactly do you go about finding remote lakes close by? Personally, I’ve had the best luck while looking in large and expansive areas of public land. Most of the time that means looking in national forests, as state parks are usually a little bit more well-developed and don’t offer as much regarding remote and isolated likes.

Another possibility is to check whether your state has any programs that are meant to provide private landowners with tax incentives if they open up their land for public recreation. Wisconsin has a pretty well-developed program for this purpose, so I’ve been able to use that to my advantage, but this option takes a little bit more research.

How to choose the right remote lake for fishing

For me at first, this seemed to be pretty easy. I mean, find a remote lake, walk to it and then fish it. Easy, right? Not exactly. When trying to find the right lake for remote fishing, there is a minefield of issues to be aware of before you commit. My lack of research for my first time I meant that my wife and I ended up walking through extremely thick brush and very uneven terrain to fish a lake with a steep descent to the shoreline. Long story short, my butt was definitely saved by some kind marriage advice we’d received from an elderly couple the prior night at a fish fry.

Anyways, back to the fishing story. The plan was to fish from the shore and check out the lake, but unfortunately, the trees at the shore were much too thick to allow casting of any sort. Needless to say, I learned a lot on that first trip, and I hope you can learn from my mistakes.

First things first, it probably makes sense to do a little bit of research on the lake itself. This might not be possible, but check the depth of the lake and look for a profile that shows the contours of the lake bottom. Fortunately for me, Wisconsin maintains a pretty impressive database of lakes and usually has the maximum depth, types of fish found, information on the kind of lake it is, and, if you’re lucky, you might be able to find a contour map of the lake bottom.

This is all very handy to give yourself an idea of where you might be able to fish on the lake and therefore tell you where you might want to try to approach. It’s also wise to check aerial photos of the lake to get an idea of the type of habitat that surrounds the shoreline of the lake. If you want to fish a lake, but you realize that there are 200 yards of marsh all the way around the entire shore, the odds aren’t high that you will find a way to the actual lake.

The thick, marshy area would likely make this lake difficult to approach from the north.

Check the aerial photos for the path you plan on walking in, as well. From afar it might look like all hardwoods forests look the same, but you might be setting yourself up to fail if your path runs through some seriously thick habitat. If you’re using Google Maps to do research, I’d advise you to zoom in to the max on the forest and check how thick the trees look.

Here’s a shot of a thick forest of young trees that would be an absolute nightmare to walk through:

aerial shot of a thickly wooded area with young trees in northern wisconsin

And here’s a shot of a mature grove of hardwood trees, which would be a much more pleasant walk, all other things equal:

aerial shot of a mature grove of maple trees in northern wisconsin

Also, try to find a topo map for the entire region. This will help you in several ways. First, you can help you figure out whether the path you’d like to walk in on is reasonable or not. Yes, those squiggles on topo maps actually mean something and you might want to get concerned if you see a bunch of lines all close together on the path that you plan on taking. Second, this will allow you to get a better picture of how steep the terrain surrounding the shoreline is.

If you’re concerned about traversing steep terrains, I’d like to introduce you to CalTopo.com. Apart from being a great resource solely for their topo map of the entire contiguous lower 48 of the United States, they have an awesome feature that can alert you to slopes with steep ascents or descents. Simply go to their website and click on the ‘Slope Angle Shading’ menu option on the left pane. Now all steep terrain will have an overlay on the topo map that goes from yellow to red, with red being the steepest terrain. For example, if I was to try approaching this lake I would be sure to avoid the yellowish areas on the south shore of this lake:

How to fish the remote lake

Alright, so we’ve made it to the actual lake, and now we’re ready to start fishing. How exactly are we going to fish this lake after all? Well, you’re certainly not going to be portaging in an aluminum boat, but you do have several options here. Your most basic choice would be to fish the lake from the shore, but I would have to say that in most wooded areas I don’t think this would be a realistic option.

Most remote lakes in wooded areas have very crowded shorelines that have brush and trees growing in every direction. This makes it very difficult to access the water let alone stand on the shore and cast a fishing rod. If the bottom of the lake doesn’t super aggressively drop off, it might be possible to fish without about using a pair of waders.

remote lake in northern wisconsin with thick brush on the shore
Notice how crowded and thick the shore of this lake is. This made it difficult to approach when coming from that side of the lake.

These might be a little heavy to pack in, but it’s a lot better than packing in your own inflatable boat or kayak. But again, waders might not allow you to fish that much of the lake, depending on how quickly the lake bottom drops.

One quick note on fishing rods: if you expect to be walking through a lot of thick brush then it’s probably going to be a pain in the butt to haul in a 6 or 7-foot long fishing rod. Speaking from experience, it’s going to get caught on everything, and you’re just going to become annoyed super quickly. This is why I’m a big fan of collapsible fishing rods when fishing remote lakes. My collapsible fishing rod isn’t much longer than the handle and easily fits into a backpack, making it much easier to bring it to the lake. Yeah, the performance of the rod isn’t as good as a single piece rod, but for this application, the convenience is hard for me to beat.

collapsible fishing poles with a tackle box on a boat landing
Collapsible fishing poles might become your new best friends if you have to travel through thick brush or densely wooded forests.

If you’d like to fish the lake from a boat, then the best choice is probably going to be some kind of inflatable boat or kayak. One thing to be aware of is that these are usually heavier than you might think, so I would try to find an inflatable kayak that can fit into a large backpacking pack unless you can share the load of hauling a larger inflatable boat with another person.

The inflatable boat that I currently use the Seahawk 4, and while it’s possible to haul it in with two people, I would probably stick to a maximum of half a mile.

Always confirm that the access is public

The last thing to emphasize is that it’s essential to actually know that the path you approach the lake on is open to the public. As anyone who’s done anything off-trail knows, it’s in your best interest to double and triple check that you are not trespassing on private property when walking through the woods. Thoroughly do your research here and get this part right.

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