Get on the Water in Kenosha

7/9/2019 - Frederick Butzen

Lake Michigan, Sports & Outdoors
Boating, Fishing, and other water activities are popular in Kenosha, WI
Boating, Fishing, and other water activities are popular in Kenosha, WI
Boating, Fishing, and other water activities are popular in Kenosha, WI
Boating, Fishing, and other water activities are popular in Kenosha, WI
Boating, Fishing, and other water activities are popular in Kenosha, WI
Boating, Fishing, and other water activities are popular in Kenosha, WI

Kenosha's water features are among the principal attractions in the Southeastern corner of Wisconsin. Most boating centers on Lake Michigan, and Kenosha’s magnificent lakefront. However, Kenosha County’s inland lakes and rivers also offer rich opportunities to enjoy boating and water-related activities, including fishing, kayaking, and camping. I’ve been exploring boating and fishing in Kenosha recently, including on Lake Michigan, on the inland lakes, and on our rivers.

Lake Michigan
Like Chicago, Kenosha exists because of Lake Michigan. Water transportation through the harbor made 19th-century Kenosha an excellent location for industry. That provided the economic base on which the city grew. Today, the downtown industry mostly is gone, and the lake schooners and cargo ships have been replaced by recreational watercraft. However, the lakefront, which is nearly 90% publicly accessible and offers parks, beaches, a vibrant harbor, and two marinas, remains the hub around which the city revolves.

Kenosha Marinas
Whether boats are visiting like the Tall Ships, or are docked here for the season, they need a place to harbor. Kenosha has two marinas for recreational boats: Simmons Island Marina and Southport Marina. Simmons Island Marina is located north of the Kenosha Harbor, between the mainland and Simmons Island. The marina is managed by Great Lakes Yacht Sales, which offers a full range of services to boaters. Because of the low bridge at 50th Street, Simmons Island Marina is accessible only to powerboats. This marina also offers a public boat launch for those bringing their boat for a day on the water. Southport Marina is south of the Kenosha Harbor, near the eastern tip of HarborPark. Unlike Simmons Island Marina, which is accessed through the harbor, Southport Marina has direct access to Lake Michigan, and therefore is accessible to sailboats with tall masts, as well as powerboats and large yachts. 

In addition to the marinas, The Kenosha Yacht Club is an organization that promotes boating and sailing in Kenosha. Its headquarters are located on Simmons Island, across the street from the Kenosha History Center. Kayak and Standup Paddle Board rentals are available to the public for use in the Kenosha Harbor. Among other services for its members, the Club sponsors sailboat races, boat storage and lift-out, use of the Club’s fleet of boats, and use of the facilities in the Club’s headquarters. The Club also has a bar and restaurant that are open to the public. Part of the KYC is the Kenosha Community Sailing Center, which offers sailing lessons to the public, for youth and adults alike. You may see the sailing lessons in action in the harbor during the summer months – as butterfly boats are the first crafts newbies are trained on. There are also sailboats that are available to charter, such as Sail Away Charters.

Charter Boats and Fishing
Sportfishing on Lake Michigan is a popular outing for families, friends, and organizations. If, like most of us, you don’t own a boat, Kenosha’s fleet of charter boats can take your group out for a morning or afternoon of fishing.

A bit of history: After the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, the Great Lakes were invaded by a number of salt-water species, principally the alewife and the lamprey eel. Lampreys devastated the larger fish in the lakes, while the alewife, which had no predators, flourished to the point that millions would die off every spring. In the 1960s, when I was growing up in Chicago, the city’s beaches often were heaped with dead alewives, especially in the spring. To deal with this problem, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Illinois Natural Resource Departments began to stock Lake Michigan with salmon and trout, to eat the alewives and eels, and provide sportfishing. As a result, the die-offs of alewives are a thing of the past, the lamprey is under control, and the sportfishing can be very good throughout the season. While native species of fish, such as perch, sturgeon, or whitefish, can still be found in Lake Michigan, the principal game fish now are salmon and several species of trout – lake trout, rainbow, and brown.

The other day, I accompanied a group aboard one of the Kenosha Charter Boat Association’s fleet crafts, Harbor Rat, captained by Terry Holmes, for a Lake Michigan fishing trip. It was a beautiful day - sunny, with a bit of a breeze. The lake had a mild swell, but no chop – so, no threat of the “Lake Michigan flu”. The water temperature this time of year is around 50 degrees, so we were comfortable. The Harbor Rattook us eight miles out, where the lake is approximately 130 feet deep. Apart from enjoying the lake and the sun, we did not go unrewarded: our group caught six fish, including several large salmon and a 13-pound trout. Afterwards, we retired to the Boat House Pub & Eatery, which transformed our fresh catch into a feast for us. That was a day well spent! You too can charter a boat for fishing on Lake Michigan, just contact the Kenosha Charter Boat Association

Pro tip: On your charter trip, if you pack a lunch, don’t bring bananas – they’re bad luck!

The Red Witch
The Red Witch is a two-masted schooner that’s based in Kenosha. It’s a copy, built in the 1920s, of the kind of schooner that carried cargo on the Great Lakes in the 19th century, with a roomy hold. It is easily worked by a small crew, and able to withstand extremely bad weather. – making it a great option for first-time visitors to Lake Michigan. The Red Witch is available for charter for private events and outings. It also makes regularly scheduled 80-minute sails along the Kenosha lakefront that are open to the public. For a schedule and tickets, check their website. My wife, who is an experienced sailor, and I took the Sunset Sail last year. We both enjoyed it tremendously. You can also sail aboard Jakab, the second ship in the fleet with Red Witch. 

Kenosha Inland Lakes and Rivers
Hidden gems, the lakes in western Kenosha County offer fine boating in a locale that is relatively close to the Chicago metropolitan area. Silver Lake offers a marina, with restaurant, fishing spots that boast everything from catfish to musky, and a beach. The Twin Lakes, Elizabeth and Mary, are two connected lakes at the western end of Kenosha County, which offer vacationers a variety of water sports, from swimming at beaches, to boating, kayaking, and canoeing. Boat rental is also available here.

Kenosha is home to the Fox River Water Trail is an 11-mile stretch of the Fox River that runs from Burlington, WI south to Wilmot, WI. Four launch sites are available, two toward the northern end and two at the southern. All four have slips for launching or retrieving watercrafts. The northern Fox River is a quiet stream that flows through Kenosha’s rural prairie, and is suitable for novice canoers. It offers pleasant canoeing or kayaking, especially in the autumn. Likewise, Richard Bong State Recreation Area offers canoeing and kayaking, in addition to camping, hiking, and other outdoor activities.

While I have just scratched the surface of what Kenosha has to offer boating enthusiasts, I hope you’ve found it helpful. If you want to fish in Wisconsin, you will need a permit from the Wisconsin DNR. Fishing in Lake Michigan from a Wisconsin harbor requires a Great Lakes fishing permit with salmon/trout stamp There are separate permits for Wisconsin residentsand nonresidents. If you plan to bring a boat into Wisconsin, you will be expected to comply with Wisconsin’s boating laws and responsibilities.

And as always, the staff at the Kenosha Area Convention & Visitors Bureau is happy to help answer any questions you might have about boating, fishing, swimming, or to plan your visit for water-related fun. Hope to see you on the waters of Kenosha soon!                                                           


Frederick Butzen

Frederick Butzen

Community Blogger

Recently retired software engineer & technical writer. Essayist and amateur musician, lifelong Chicagoan and newly arrived Kenoshan, enjoying exploring life and culture north of the Cheddar Curtain.