Rush Lake, Wisconsin, USA
Welcome to the ultimate guide to Rush Lake — things to do, where to stay, fun facts, history, stats and more. Let’s dive in!
Topics we cover in this article:
- All About Rush Lake
- Things to Do
- Fish Species
- Where to Stay
- Vacation Planning Tools
- Rush Lake Map
- Statistics / Weather / Helpful Links
- Shop Rush Lake Gifts
Looking for Rush Lake cabins or other accommodations? Save time and use this interactive map to find, compare and book at the best rates. Or explore our comprehensive list of favorite travel partners.
All About Rush Lake
Rush Lake is a conservation success story in the making and a testament to what can happen when diverse groups are willing to put aside their differences and work together. Located in Winnebago County, Wisconsin near Oshkosh, the lake is a fantastic place to bird watch and is rapidly becoming a great place to fish.
Rush Lake is the largest prairie pothole marsh east of the Mississippi River. Prairie potholes are typically shallow, marshy lakes with significant wetland areas. Prairie potholes like Rush Lake result from periods of drought when variations in water levels allow aquatic vegetation to take root. The lakes rely on the fluctuations in water levels to maintain a healthy balance of vegetation, fish, and wildlife. It isn’t uncommon for the lakes to dry out completely in severe drought years only to reappear when the rains come back. During dry periods the dried out lake bed becomes a great place to hunt for small mammals. The wet and dry cycle results in the build up of rings of soft muck and sediment. In the case of Rush Lake only about one percent of the lake has a hard bottom. The rest of the lake bed is covered with soft muck up to twenty feet deep in some places.
The Native Americans who lived in the area around Rush Lake called the lake “Appucaway” which means “where the rushes or flags grow.” Named for the hardstem bulrush and cattails that made up the lake’s extensive wetlands, Rush Lake had plenty of native aquatic vegetation and lots of birds. Water levels on the lake cycled up and down naturally, unadulterated by humans until 1847. In 1847 a series of dams were built on Waukau Creek the outlet of Rush Lake. The dams built for hydroelectric power, raised water levels over 30 centimeters and doubled the lake’s surface area. By the 1920’s the dams were removed and Rush Lake went through several periods where it completely dried up.
In order to encourage duck and fish populations, in 1946 the town government rebuilt one of the dams at the north east corner of Rush Lake. Unfortunately over time the dam had the opposite effect, and for the past 30 years there has been a significant decrease in water quality, wildlife and vegetation. The artificially high and stable water levels allowed carp to infest Rush Lake and by the end of the 20th century fish populations had shrunk to just bullhead and carp. There were just a few duck broods every year, and only one percent of the lake was covered with the bulrush stands that gave it its name. There was also a study done in 1994 that found that the amount of lead shot in Rush Lake from shots fired over the lake was equal to 150 tons of lead. The lead caused a major die off of birds especially mallards. Over 1,200 birds succumbed to lead poisoning.
Because the town had built the dam to improver recreation opportunities on Rusk Lake they were reluctant to get rid of it, but everyone agreed the lake wasn’t what they remembered from childhood. Instead of imposing conservation methods, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources together with other conservation agencies formed a fifteen member steering committee made up of government representatives, citizens, and user groups, and in 1999 they started work on a holistic lake restoration project.
The plan included a two year draw down of water levels to kill off invasive species and reestablish vegetation. In 2005 Ducks Unlimited contributed $100,000 in funds and engineering to design a new dam and oversee its construction. The new dam has gates to better control and vary water levels. It also includes carp guards to keep the carp from swimming upstream into Rush Lake. In 2007 the Wisconsin DNR sprayed the lake to kill the remaining carp which are very destructive to the emerging vegetation. There is also a new boat landing for small to medium motorboats. Money and resources for the project came from several organizations and was administered by the steering committee which was renamed Rush Lake Watershed Restoration, Inc.
By 2008 the restoration of Rush Lake was almost complete. There is boating for canoes, kayaks, skiffs and small motorboats with marsh engines. The fish are back and so are the fishermen. Anglers can fish for northern pike, bluegill, crappie, and large and small mouth bass. The bird watching is exceptional with rare red-necked grebe and forester’s tern along with the more common American coot, black tern, and common moorheads. The Nature Conservancy manages the Owen and Anne Gromme Preserve for bird watching and wildlife. Rush Lake inspired some of the scenes painted by Mr. Gromme.
Rush Lake is just one of several lakes in Winnebago County including Lake Poygan, Lake Winneconne, and the state’s largest lake, Lake Winnebago. Rush Lake is between Lake Butte des Morts and Green Lake, and fishing and boating opportunities abound nearby. The lake is only about five miles from Waukau and Ripon both of which have populations over 6,000. Ripon in bordering Fond du Lac County has a charming historic district, shopping, restaurants, and various accommodations. It is also home of the Little White School House, the 1854 Birthplace of the Republican Party.
Rush Lake is a beautiful example of people working together and with nature. It is once again a fantastic place to fish and watch the birds and once more the place “where the rushes grow.”
Things to Do at Rush Lake
- Vacation Rentals
- Wildlife Viewing
Fish Species Found at Rush Lake
- Northern Pike
- Smallmouth Bass
Find Places to Stay at Rush Lake
If you’re considering a Rush Lake lake house rental or hotel, we’ve made it super easy to find the best rates and compare vacation accommodations at a glance. Save time using this interactive map below.
Recommended Sites to Book a Rush Lake Vacation
If you want to take a deeper dive to find waterfront lake cabins, cottages, condos, hotels or resorts, check out our favorite Rush Lake lodging partners.
- VRBO – Use VRBO to find the perfect lake rental home, condo, cabin, cottage or other vacation property.
- Booking.com – One of the world’s leading digital travel companies, Booking.com connects travelers to everything from cozy B&Bs to luxury resorts.
- Expedia – Expedia is a popular online travel agency with more than 140,000 lodging properties worldwide.
- Hotels.com – With more than 325,000 hotels in 19,000-plus locations, Hotels.com is an industry leader in online accommodations.
- TripAdvisor – Read traveler reviews and compare prices on hotels, vacation rentals and more at TripAdvisor.
- Trivago – Trivago helps travelers compare deals for hotels and other accommodations from a variety of booking sites.
- KAYAK – KAYAK scours hundreds of other travel websites at once to find the best deals on hotels and other travel-related services.
- RVshare –RVshare connects travelers interested in renting a motorhome with owners who have RVs to rent.
- CampSpot – Campspot offers premier RV resorts, family campgrounds, cabins and glamping options across North America.
Note: These are affiliate links so we may earn a small commission if you book through them. While there is no extra cost to you, it helps provide resources to keep our site running (thank you)! You can read our full disclosure policy here.
Rush Lake Statistics & Helpful Links
Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed
Water Level Control: Rush Lake Watershed Restoration Inc.
Surface Area: 3,070 acres
Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 821 feet
Average Depth: 2 feet
Maximum Depth: 7 feet
Completion Year: 1847
Lake Area-Population: 6,828
Trophic State: Eutrophic
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