Cisco Chain of Lakes, Michigan & Wisconsin, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Midwest - Michigan - Upper Peninsula - Wisconsin - Lake Superior Northwoods Region -

Also known as:  Little African Lake, Cisco Lake, Thousand Island Lake, Big African Lake, Record Lake, Lindsley Lake, Fishhawk Lake, Morley Lake, Poor Lake, Indian Lake, East Bay Lake, Big Lake, West Bay Lake, Mamie Lake, Clearwater Lake

One of the lesser-known gems in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is the Cisco Chain of Lakes. This chain of interconnected lakes straddles the border between Michigan and Wisconsin, with the majority of them within Gogebic County in Michigan, two shared with Vilas County, Wisconsin and one completely in Vilas County. Originally not connected with navigable streams, 19th century loggers dammed the Cisco Lake outlet to the Cisco Branch of the Ontonagon River to facilitate floating logs out of the area. A permanent low dam was constructed in 1931 to store water for hydroelectric facilities downstream at Victoria Dam. This permanent dam raised water levels between four and five feet, creating navigable channels between the lakes. This dam created the water-sports paradise that the chain is known for today. Water levels vary only about six inches throughout the year, so the lakes are accessible to boating all summer long.

Local sources say there are 15 lakes in the Cisco Chain of Lakes; official state sources refer to 14 lakes. Both are probably correct, as Clearwater Lake has no navigable channel connecting it to nearby Little African Lake, although a small creek meanders the few hundred yards between the two. The commonly listed 14 lakes are: Cisco Lake with 567 surface acres, Thousand Island Lake with 1,009 acres, Little African Lake with 31 acres, Big African Lake with 86 acres, Record Lake with 68 acres, Lindsley Lake with 156 acres, Fishhawk Lake with 77 acres, Morley Lake with 59 acres, Poor Lake with 106 acres, Indian Lake with 129 acres, East Bay Lake with 277 acres, all entirely within Michigan. Big Lake with 733 acres and West Bay Lake with 362 acres are partially in both states, and Mamie Lake with 337 acres is entirely within Wisconsin. Together these lakes total 3,987 acres. The state has not recorded the statistics for Clearwater Lake, but it is of reasonably good size and brings the total to over 4,000 acres of water.

Most of the 271 miles of shoreline is private property. The Cisco Chain of Lakes has increasingly attracted private owners to build residences along the shoreline ranging from simple cabins to elegant homes. Several of the lakes still have no development on them, and the surrounding forested lands help to maintain a northwoods wilderness atmosphere. Wildlife is abundant, including black bear, deer, coyote, smaller mammals, waterfowl, eagles and ospreys. Loons regularly nest in the more remote areas. Thousand Island Lake, the largest and most developed in the chain, is the choice of power boaters, water skiers, and other watersports enthusiasts. A few of its many islands have a cottage or two on them, but most are uninhabited. Most of the channels are navigable by nearly all watercraft, although underwater hazards in the form of sunken logs and sand bars exist. Most of these are clearly marked on navigation maps. The same underwater obstructions that frustrate inattentive boaters offer excellent fish spawning and feeding areas to a variety of game fish. Most lakes have a public boat launch site. Larger craft may launch at the one marina on the chain, located on the south end of Big Lake. The marina rents boats, motors and pontoons, provides indoor winter storage, and offers repairs and necessary supplies.

The Cisco Chain of Lakes is noted for trophy fish. Walleye and muskellunge grow to hefty size, with stat records for muskellunge still held by a 1980 catch on Thousand Island Lake. Northern pike, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, perch, rock bass, bluegill and crappie are also caught. Thousand Island Lake is the deepest lake in the chain, reaching depths of 40 feet. Only half of the waters in the entire chain are deeper than 20 feet. Combined with the excellent underwater structure, good weed cover and spring-fed waters, the chain is a favorite destination of fishermen who come to the resorts along the shore to spend their vacation. Some special regulations cover fishing in the chain. Check current regulations and Michigan/Wisconsin reciprocity when purchasing a fishing license. Ice fishing is also popular, although some areas do not freeze solidly due to underwater springs near the surface. Cisco Chain of Lakes has some areas of restricted water use, but most boating etiquette is a matter of common sense and respect for the enjoyment of others.

The Cisco Chain of Lakes has been a famed fishing destination for many years. Former President Eisenhower came here to the resorts to fish many times before and after his term in office. Nearly a dozen resorts still dot the shores of the lakes, and anglers are regularly seen casting their favorite haunts around the many islands and near the inlets. There are no campgrounds directly on the chain, but two state parks and several areas for camping within Ottawa National Forest exist within a few miles of the lakes. Both Lake Gogebic State Park and Bond Falls State Park provide camping, water fun and fishing to visitors. Much of the surrounding area is within state or national public lands, and fishing opportunities abound in the area. The Sylvania Recreation Area lies east of the Cisco Chain and includes a forest-controlled camping area with boat launches on three additional lakes. South of this area, the Sylvania Wilderness is a 19,000-acre no-motors wilderness with trails for hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and primitive camping, Several lakes can be fished within the wilderness with only a short portage. The newly developed Wilderness Lakes Trail is a series of hiking and biking trails that stretch around a 32-mile loop and extend as far south as Eagle River.

Watersmeet, Michigan and Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin leaders have cooperated to provide snowmobile trails, maps and lists of lodgings and recreational opportunities spanning the borderlands. The area is filled with small inns and motels, guest cottages, resort cabins and private rentals on Cisco Chain of Lakes. Lakefront visitors enjoy swimming on sandy beaches and viewing sunsets across serene waters. Real estate is often available, particularly existing cottages and homes.

The Cisco Chain Riparian Owners Association, Inc. educates visitors and residents on the threats posed by invasive species and works toward maintaining excellent water quality. Currently the group is collecting enough donations to purchase the Cisco Dam from Integrys Energy Group and is applying for permission to do so from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. With nearly $300,000 collected, they now have enough cash to purchase the dam outright but need to build a cash reserve to pay for dam maintenance. An interesting day trip is a visit to Victoria Dam, site where the famous ‘copper boulder’ was discovered. The boulder itself resides in the National Museum in Washington DC. Several old mines and smelting facilities in the area are in State hands and are open to visitors. The Cisco Chain of Lakes is a great place to live and a great place to visit in all seasons. Come North: The Upper Peninsula awaits, along with some trophy muskies.

*Statistics are for Thousand Island Lake only.

Things to do at Cisco Chain of Lakes

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Water Skiing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • State Park
  • National Forest
  • Museum

Fish species found at Cisco Chain of Lakes

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Cisco
  • Crappie
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Muskellunge
  • Northern Pike
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Sunfish
  • Walleye

Cisco Chain of Lakes Photo Gallery

Cisco Chain of Lakes Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

Water Level Control: Upper Peninsula Power Company

Surface Area: 1,009 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,683 feet

Maximum Depth: 40 feet

Completion Year: 1931

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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