Rush Lake, Wisconsin, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Midwest - Wisconsin - Central Sands Prairie Region -

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 WI

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • Shopping

Fish species found at Rush Lake WI

  • Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Carp
  • Crappie
  • Northern Pike
  • Pike
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Sunfish

Rush Lake WI Photo Gallery

    Rush Lake WI Statistics & Helpful Links

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    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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    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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