River of the fall: A late-season tour of the Namekagon River

  • Updated: October 24, 2013 - 2:41 PM

Wisconsin’s Namekagon River holds plenty of late-season appeal for well-prepared paddlers. Don’t forget to pack extra layers of warm clothing and dry socks.


The author loves the Namekagon so much he even named his beagle in its honor.

Photo: Photo by JAVIER SERNA,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger


The water can be low on substantial portions of the Namekagon River in northwest Wisconsin this time of year, but there’s usually a section or two that can still be floated easily during the cool autumn season.

You won’t be motivated to take a swim along the way, as many paddlers do during the summer, but there’s still something special about floating this river in the crisp fall air, when a paddler most likely has the stream all to himself.

It’s been years — in the late ’80s, before I hit my teens — when the Namekagon made its first impression on me during a summer family trip. Lucky for me, this family trip has been repeated almost annually with parents, siblings and cousins.

One year we encountered some nasty August weather. My family started on a cool summer day with blue skies and clouds. But several miles into the trip, the skies gave way to heavy, cold rain. It started pounding just as we pulled up for a picnic at the Earl Park landing near Trego, Wis. My father, sister and cousin, in the canoe ahead of us, ditched their boat on the landing and darted for shelter in the smelly cinder block restrooms a couple hundred yards away.

But as my canoe, with my mom, my brother and me, pulled up to the landing, the rain turned torrential. So we simply flipped our boat and waited underneath. Luckily, our boat was carrying the cooler and the main dish for the whole family’s planned picnic: fried chicken.

My brother and I dug in, eating under the comfort of our green, plastic rental canoe.

“We were sitting in a rainstorm, and you guys wanted hot sauce,” my mom recalled recently. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Pack wisely

Part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, the Namekagon has changed little over the years thanks to the act of Congress in 1968 that protected it, folding it into the National Park Service.

To this day, the Namekagon runs clean and clear, showing just what she is made of: sweeping sandbars and aquatic plants waving in the current, mussels and fish scattered across the channel, and wildlife from deer to bear, bald eagles and waterfowl.

It’s easy to take the river for granted. When I moved back to the Twin Cities from North Carolina a few years ago, I planned for frequent floats down the nearby Namekagon. A fishing buddy and I make a pact to visit the stream at least once every year. But I’ve gotten there less often than I hoped. That’s disappointing considering it’s one of my favorite streams. I even named my beagle mutt Nammy in honor of the river.

So while I’ve managed only a handful of summer trips down the river in recent years, fall has offered me a last chance to visit the Namekagon.

A decade ago, a friend and I paddled an 8-mile section of the Namekagon in late September. The leaves were turning from green to rich yellows and oranges. A light rain pattered the surface.

We were casting, mostly for smallmouth bass, but it was another fish, one we hadn’t tied into, that I still remember. A stubby lake sturgeon, about 3 feet long, jumped completely out of the water alongside my friend’s aluminum canoe. We got the rare glimpse at its rubbery gray skin and beady black eyes.

Late-season paddling requires extra precautions. This became apparent last October when I floated the stream with my brother and a few friends for a couple of nights of camping, and also, finally, to introduce my dog to the river for which she is named.

Keeping warm is one of the biggest challenges. For example, my poor hound was so cold she shivered in the bottom of the canoe until I wrapped her with my thick rain jacket.

Water levels are low this late in the fall (check levels online at www.nps.gov/sacn/plan yourvisit/riverlevels.htm). As our group trudged toward our takeout, I could have used a pair of hip-waders to keep my feet from freezing every time we bottomed out and our vessel needed a shove.

  • related content

  • A late autumn scene greets paddlers on the Namekagon: bare trees and icy-blue skies.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.


St. Louis 5
Pittsburgh 4 FINAL
Minnesota 2
St. Louis 1 FINAL
Washington 1
Boston - LP: C. Buchholz 2 FINAL
Atlanta - WP: J. Teheran 4
NY Yankees 10 FINAL
Philadelphia 0
Tampa Bay 0 Cancelled
Baltimore 0
Detroit 1 FINAL
Toronto 4
Chicago WSox 3 FINAL
Chicago Cubs 6
Texas 6 FINAL
Oakland 7
Cleveland 2 FINAL
Arizona 3
Arizona 7 FINAL
LA Angels 2
Miami 0 Cancelled
Houston 0
Seattle - LP: J. Paxton 1 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: Y. Ventura 5
San Francisco 8 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Colorado 5 FINAL
San Diego 7
Milwaukee 8 FINAL
Cincinnati 6
Detroit 111 FINAL
Orlando 97
LA Clippers 119 FINAL
Philadelphia 98
Charlotte 107 FINAL
Washington 110
Boston 96 FINAL
New York 92
Cleveland 98 FINAL
Brooklyn 106
LA Lakers 83 FINAL
Toronto 94
Miami 86 FINAL
Atlanta 99
Golden State 107 FINAL
Memphis 84
Sacramento 88 FINAL
New Orleans 102
Minnesota 110 FINAL
Houston 120
Dallas 76 FINAL
San Antonio 94
Utah 91 FINAL
Denver 107
Portland 87 FINAL
Phoenix 81
Calgary 2 FINAL
Minnesota 4
Columbus 5 FINAL
Chicago 2
Dallas 0 FINAL
Edmonton 4
Gonzaga 74
NC State 65 FINAL
Louisville 75
Utah 57 FINAL
Duke 63
Kent State 73 FINAL
Northern Ariz 74
Michigan State 62 FINAL
Oklahoma 58
(15) North Carolina 65 FINAL
(3) South Carolina 67
(18) Iowa 66 FINAL
(5) Baylor 81
(9) Arizona State 65 FINAL
(7) Florida State 66
(14) Stanford 60 FINAL
(2) Notre Dame 81
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question