Great Lake Escape

Great Lake Escape

Photo Adobe Stock

On the northwest shore of Lake Michigan are two tiny Wisconsin communities — Algoma and Kewaunee — with a huge reputation for sportfishing. Go deep with one of the area’s 50-some fishing charters or cast your own line into tranquil tributaries. Count Viking River Cruises among those en route to the pretty but low-key waterfront.

Twelve miles separate Algoma and Kewaunee, whose combined population barely exceeds 6,000 residents in Kewaunee County. The area has attracted fishermen and nature lovers since Native Americans first inhabited the area.

What the county’s name means depends on the source. “River of the lost,” “woods river,” “go around” and “prairie chicken” are among the definitions on record.

The Potawatomi lived here and did business with French explorers and fur traders, including Jean Nicolet. In the 1830s, a decade before Wisconsin statehood, their village was settled and developed as Kewaunee because of rumors of gold in riverside marshland.

Only iron pyrite — Fool’s Gold — was discovered during the rush of fortune hunters, but the vicinity was truly rich in another resource: Lumber. Ninety percent of the county was thick forest in 1834, and that dropped to 20% a few years later as trees were harvested, milled and transported via schooner or sure-footed horses.

Farming by European immigrants replaced forestry on the cleared acreage, and an additional opportunity became obvious: Commercial fishing, especially after Orrin Warner and John Hughes sailed into the area to fish in 1851. They took shelter during a storm and would later settle the lakeside as Wolf River (renamed Ahnapee, then Algoma).

As early as 1859, a local newspaper raved about all the whitefish being caught on the adjoining Ahnapee River. What Native Americans did to supplement their fur trade turned into a major industry.

Heavy-duty pier construction brought a surge of steamer ship traffic. Two ships could be loaded at once in Kewaunee, where the 300-foot Pere Marquette was among those ferrying railroad cars with everything from coal to flour to Michigan. Besides lighthouses, storm warning flags were flown outside a 75-foot-tall tower at the congregational church.

Lake Michigan inspired shipbuilding too. Kewaunee Shipyards and Engineering (now Kewaunee Fabrications) built 80 vessels for the U.S. military during World War II and had its own 22-member band that played whenever a new vessel was launched.

Car ferries linked Kewaunee and Frankfort, Michigan, from 1892 to 1990. On land, state Highway 42 remains a quiet, scenic way to follow Lake Michigan toward popular Door County, instead of taking speedier Interstate 43.

The area’s low-key reputation begins to change this year. Kewaunee County will gain international attention as Algoma becomes a morning-to-late-afternoon port of call during Viking River Cruises’ 15-day excursions between Duluth, Minnesota and Toronto.

“We don’t usually see tourism coming from the lake side — it tends to work the other way around,” observes Ken Weinaug, Algoma Area Chamber of Commerce executive director.

Go fish

Algoma, nicknamed the Sportfishing Capital of the Great Lakes, is among the largest charter fishing ports on Lake Michigan. Why here? Lake Michigan deepens quickly in the Algoma-Kewaunee basin. Nearby state fisheries stock the Great Lake with millions of salmon and trout annually.

Such a bounty reels in fishing records and makes the adjacent, calm Ahnapee and Kewaunee rivers attractive to fishermen too. Public boat launches are plentiful; check with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for locations.

“Algoma is perennially one of the top ports for catching salmon and steelheads. We catch fish all summer long,” says Lee Haasch of Haasch Guide Services, an Algoma native and charter captain since 1985. “Captains work together and share information [about where to fish]. Cooperating with one another helps all of us.”

Charters accommodate true beginners to grizzled anglers, multiple generations of families to groups of veteran fishermen. Haasch says his charters typically venture two to four miles from harbor.

Not your thing? Buy smoked fish at LaFond’s Fish Market in Kewaunee, the area’s only remaining commercial fishery, selling locally caught chubs and whitefish. Owner Andy LaFond Jr. can also custom-smoke your own catch; it’s a two-day process.

At Besadny Anadromous Fish Facility, two miles from Kewaunee, self-guided tours and underwater viewing windows show the work of collecting fish eggs, plus raising coho and Chinook salmon.

Wine and dine

Fish and fishing lure travelers, but Weinaug emphasizes that “there’s more to do than just put your boat in the water.”

Wisconsin’s oldest licensed winery, von Stiehl Winery, was a brewery during Civil War times. Limestone caverns ferment and store wine instead of beer today. Also near the lake in downtown Algoma is Ahnapee Brewery’s taproom with small-batch beer.

Dining choices are classy to casual. On the shoreline and between the two communities is Red’s Pub and Grill, where specials are fried fish on Friday and prime rib on Saturday.

In Algoma, savor steaks and seafood at century-old Hotel Stebbins. Homestead Kitchen and Tap, west of town, serves farm-to-table ingredients in burgers, pizza and more.

In Kewaunee, Bucket Tavern, a century-old bar/grill, is known for charbroiled burgers. Fat cinnamon rolls and lattes are daily fare at The Bakery Bar, where customers also linger with sandwiches and craft beer. Other local favorites include the Ballering, the brand-new Wildflower Supper Club and Port O’ Call, with views of the river.

On the move? Harbor Express and Grill opens at 4 a.m. It’s a quick place to gas up boats (up to 35 feet) and buy breakfast sandwiches or Broasted chicken.

Photo Courtesy of Von Stiehl Website


Algoma Chamber of Commerce

Algoma-Kewaunee Area Great Lakes Sport Fishermen

Algoma Marina

Captain Ks Landing

Kewaunee Area Chamber of Commerce

Kewaunee Marina

Sunrise Cove Marina and Campground

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Yacht Works Kewaunee

Above Photo Courtesy of Visit Kewaunee County Facebook

Photo by Mary Bergin

See and do

Pierhead lighthouses in Algoma and Kewaunee, each 40-plus feet tall, are beloved nautical beacons. Tugboat Ludington, a World War II vessel in Normandy for the D-Day invasion, is open May to October for self-guided tours in Kewaunee. Walk the half-mile boardwalk at Crescent Beach in Algoma.

Both communities lovingly preserve their architectural past. On self-guided walking tour maps are a rich mix of Victorian-era houses and businesses in the Marquette Historic District of Kewaunee and downtown in Algoma (10 outdoor murals highlight local history).

Kewaunee’s outdoor grandfather clock, almost 36 feet tall and the largest in the world, marks one end of the 48-mile Ahnapee State Trail, popular for hiking, biking and horseback riding.

Look for free music near the waterfront during summer. In Algoma’s Heritage Park, next to the municipal marina, are Concerts in the Park on Thursdays. Harbor Park in Kewaunee hosts Music in the Park on Sundays. On Fridays and Saturdays are von Stiehl Winery’s Summer Concert Series.

Within 10 miles are Pagel’s Ponderosa, among Wisconsin’s largest dairy farms and open for tours by reservation; Parallel 44 Vineyards and Winery, whose name refers to the latitude, ideal for grape growing; and Gib’s on the Lake, a lakefront Wisconsin supper club with German specialties.

Lambeau Field, home to the Green Bay Packers and open for tours, is roughly 35 miles from the Algoma-Kewaunee shoreline. Within 20 miles is the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, which attracts religious pilgrims as the nation’s only Vatican-acknowledged location of Virgin Mary apparitions.


Yacht Works bought, updated and upgraded a Kewaunee marina to sell, service and store a wide array of boats. The 127-slip dock with 44 campsites accommodates vessels up to 85 feet. Indoor and outdoor storage is offered as well. A recently installed 100-ton boat hoist, constructed 27 miles north at Marine Travelift, is described as large enough to haul out “almost any pleasure boat on the Great Lakes.” Also on site is a 35-ton hoist.

At Algoma’s downtown municipal marina, open May through September, 50 seasonal slips offer electric/water hookups for boats up to 40 feet. Reservations are taken for daily, monthly and seasonal moorings, and there are double-launch ramps.

The 100-slip city marina and campground in Kewaunee is open seasonally; the boat launch stays open as weather permits. Daily to seasonal stays are possible. In the campground are 40 RV sites with electric/water hookups.

At Captain K’s Marina, on Ahnapee River, are 11 campsites (10 for RVs, one for a camper/tent) and 22 slips for watercraft up to 30 feet. An air draft of 13 feet or less should get you under the Second Street Bridge, between the marina and Lake Michigan.

On a cove that overlooks the lake and Algoma’s lighthouse is Sunrise Cove Marina and its Smashed On The Rocks Saloon. Other amenities: 30 boat slips, 25 campsites with electric/water hookups and a private beach.

Be it land or water, expect lakeside Kewaunee County to provide small-town charm and nautical adventures for you and your family.

Photo Courtesy of Visit Kewaunee County Facebook

More Information

2023 Events

International Carp Tournament
Mid-May @ Kewaunee Harbor

K/D Salmon Tournament
July 14-23 @ Kewaunee and Door counties

Shanty Days
August 11-13 @ Downtown Algoma

Soar on the Shore Kite Festival
August 19 @ Crescent Beach, Algoma

Wet Whistle Wine Fest
Mid-September @ Von Stiehl Winery, Algoma

Photo Courtesy of Shanty Days Facebook


Boat Lyfe