The name Totagatic comes from the Ojibwe word “Totogan” meaning “place of floating logs” or “boggy river”. Pronunciation is varied between Tuh-TO-ga-tec, To-TO-ga-tec, To-BA-tec, and just TO-ga-tec, according to long-time local residents. Each of these spellings and pronunciations seems to have a strongly-defended local following, and one will consider use of the others as incorrect.
The Totogatic flows approximately 70 miles through portions of five counties in NW Wisconsin. It begins in southern Bayfield County, just upstream of Totogatic Lake. From the lake, it flows westerly through Sawyer, Washburn, and a small portion of Douglas County, crossing back into Washburn and eventually emptying into the Namekagon River in Burnett County. It is impounded by four dams forming Nelson Lake in Sawyer County, and the Totogatic, Colton, and Minong Flowages in Washburn County. The shoreline is relatively wild for much of the river’s length. A substantial portion of the land along the river is owned by the state, county, or federal ownership.
The river has a very wild character with forested banks, waterfalls, rock outcroppings, and relatively few road crossings. Fishing is good, with many cool-water game species present and several tributaries that support trout. There are challenging stretches for whitewater canoists, as well as quiet water segments through forestland, and one area known as the “Dismal Swamp.”
Retaining the river’s wild character and habitat is dependent on all five counties and the state keeping their present holdings in public ownership, and/or on responsible use and development of both public and private shoreline and forestland.
The Totogatic River became a State Wild River in July 2009. It was so designated because of its miles of scenic and relatively undeveloped banks; significant public ownership; and excellent water quality, habitat, and wildlife. There are four reaches or segments of the river.
- First Reach: From the outlet of Totogatic Lake in Bayfield County to the upstream end of Nelson Lake in Sawyer County.
- Second Reach: From a point 500’ below the dam in the Totogatic Wildlife Area to the upstream end of the Colton Flowage, both located in Washburn County.
- Third Reach: From a point 500’ below the dam that forms the Colton Flowage to the point where the river crosses the Washburn-Douglas County line immediately above the upstream end of the Minong Flowage.
- Fourth Reach: From the bridge on Cty Hwy I in Washburn County to the confluence of the river with the Namekagon River in Burnett County.
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