260th Avenue to Brunet Island State Park:
There’s potential enjoyment on the part of the Fisher River that conjoins the Chippewa within the boundary of Brunet Island State Park. If you’re a list-maker of rivers you’ve paddled (I admit I am), then the doing an out-and-back on the lower Fisher, from the state park boat launch, would be perfect for that purpose. The midsection of the river beckons but it should only be run after a heavy rainfall or when it’s flush with snowmelt.
I was in the vicinity of this west central Wisconsin stream after paddling the Yellow River (the Taylor County version) a few days prior. There were few indications from other intrepid paddlers that this was a river worthy of exploration. But it had just enough temptation for me (small, wooded, some rapids) to give it a try. Those features were all there except perhaps the most critical one – an ample supply of water. All of its other attributes were negated by the fact that I attempted this stream when it simply lacked an adequate flow to be navigated.
By Denny Caneff
A Miles Paddled contributor
Rating: ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: August 29, 2021
Skill Level: Intermediate
Class Difficulty: Class I (with proper levels)
≈ 7.75′ per mile
Fisher River Visual Gauge
While there’s no gauge for the Fisher River, a good indicator is how the rapids look at the 240th St. bridge on the edge of the village of Cornell. If the river doesn’t look runnable from that bridge, it isn’t.
Only after a heavy rainfall or snowmelt.
Time: Put in at 10:45a. Out at 1:45p.
Total Time: 3h
Miles Paddled: 6.75
Doable on bicycle, using a combination of paved town and county roads. About six miles.
In part because it was in the neighborhood of a river I’d done the same weekend (the Yellow), and in part because this river was attempted by two other guerrilla paddlers whose combination of bravery and foolishness I admire (Rick Kark and Frank Piraino), and in part because I was itching to get on a river that hadn’t been cataloged on MilesPaddled.com, I decided to give the Fisher a try.
Sometime in the late 90s, Piraino (described in his out-of-print Small River Canoe Adventures of Wisconsin) attempted the segment upstream of where I put in. He termed it a “very difficult and rugged trip!” That ruled out going in above 260th Street. For his part, Kark explored some of the section I ran and was noncommittal about the paddling viability of this river.
The put-in (river-right on the south side of the road) is at the intersection of 290th Street and 260th Avenue. (Pay close attention to these road numbers to not confuse streets and avenues.) It’s a nice access point, perhaps misleadingly so. The path to the water is well packed by anglers.
On this day, navigating the Fisher was essentially a choice between taking a path with little water in it, or taking a path with even less. There was rarely a time I nailed a good line through the many, many Class I rapids present in this stream. I did a lot of what I called “downstream rock climbing”, where simply putting the paddle aside and doing hand-to-hand combat with the rocks was the only way to get downstream.
It was evident early on I’d chosen the wrong boat for this stream. I brought a Dagger Axis crossover flatwater/whitewater boat, but its slight rocker means I sit lower in the water, which translates into grabbing more rock than a standard kayak.
The few times there was sufficient flow, it was exhilarating. That is to say, this river would be a ton of fun, and good whitewater practice for a novice paddler, with good flows.
At the Wisconsin Highway 27 bridge, the river flattens out and widens, thereby becoming more navigable, more relaxing, but perhaps a bit less interesting. The corridor created by the river features low grassy banks and a forest dominated by silver maple. The current is negligible here, leading you to think you’re feeling the effects of the big dam on the Chippewa River, which pushes water well up into the Fisher.
But don’t be fooled! There’s a roughly 300-yard rocky run that, again, in high water, would be an utter delight. Today, utterly painful and frustrating. The rapids finally run out at the 240th Street bridge. That bridge offers a good visual gauge of water level for this river; from there, if it looks rocky, it’s not worth running it.
You’ll know you’ve entered Brunet Island State Park when you see the banks lined with young Eastern hemlock trees, a welcome sight because that tree species is threatened. The river really gets flat and slow here, a telltale sign you’re approaching the Fisher’s confluence with the Chippewa. In fact, the width and lack of current (and a headwind, as I encountered) will make you feel like you’re paddling on a small lake.
At the sight of a channel on your left, turn into it and you have about a 400-yard paddle to the take-out at the state park boat launch, which has adequate parking and a pier.
What we liked:
I liked the potential of this stream if not the actual reality that I encountered this day. High water in a small stream sometimes means deadfalls lying across the river become death traps. Not here: there were almost no downed trees or deadfalls in the section I paddled.
While I’m not a huge fan of slow, flatwater paddling, the Fisher and Chippewa offer a nice opportunity to paddle around Brunet Island (the main channel of the Chippewa) or upstream into the Fisher River. It’s all flat and without current due to the hydro dam at Cornell.
There are also a lot of possibilities for non-paddling side trips that make this area a good weekend destination: the Old Abe State Bike Trail, the Ice Age Trail, the state park, and the Moon Ridge Brew Pub, offering decent craft beer and pizza.
What we didn’t like:
Not to beat this point on a rock, but if you’re skimming this entry to get to this note – avoid the upper part of the Fisher River that I paddled unless there is sufficient flow. It had rained two days before I paddled it, but that water was quickly out of the system. Jump on to the Fisher only if you see adequate flow at the bridge mentioned above, and that will be the case only immediately after a hard rain or fast snowmelt.
If we did this trip again:
I would not, unless I happened to be in the area, happened to have my boat on my car, and there happened to be a huge rainstorm the night before. I didn’t find the flatwater section of the Fisher all that compelling for my tastes and I wouldn’t return here for that reason either.
Camping: Brunet Island State Park