Wisconsin's Best Bets For Fishing
September 30, 2010
If dedicating your life to a fishin' mission seems like a good plan, the following are 36 super places to try in the 12 months ahead.
Life is too short. If you don't think so, try fishing every lake and river in Wisconsin in a lifetime. With 26,000 miles of rivers, two Great Lakes and over 1 million surface acres of inland waters, you would have to fish 200 days a year for 40 years to hit 'em all.
Take it from a guy who has been fishing this hard for this long already. It can't be done. Why? Because we have so much water that you'll want to fish more than once a week, not once in a lifetime!
If dedicating your life to a fishin' mission seems like a good plan, the following are 36 super places to try in the 12 months ahead.
St. Germain: Panfish
Plum and both Big and Little St. Germain lakes in the heart of Wisconsin's northwoods offer a variety of panfish species to probe for.
This time of year the key to success lies in mobility. Keep moving until you get into a mess of respectable perch, crappies or bluegills. Fish tend to school by year-class. If you're catching 7-inch bluegills, 9-inchers may be just another 50 feet down the weedline.
Dark-colored baits that can be fished in a horizontal presentation seem to work best. New plastics like those Lindy Techni-Glow Tails often work better than live bait.
Contact: St. Germain Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-727-7203.
Lake Columbia: Channel Cats
This cooling lake near Portage in southern Wisconsin is just about your only open-water option when Old Man Winter arrives. When power is being generated, you can have a ball catching channel catfish on small bluegills from shore. Catching this bait can be accomplished right in the shoreline rocks with a tiny ice jig.
Nelson: Lake Panfish
This popular Hayward area lake has produced two state-record bluegills over the years, with jumbo crappies also present. Target natural wood and fish cribs. Watch for crowds of anglers. Nelson is hot no matter how cold it gets.
Lake Koshkonong: Walleyes
DNR fisheries biologist Don Bush says there are more than six adult walleyes per surface acre swimming in this shallow basin straddling the Jefferson-Rock county line. Some of these fish are approaching trophy proportions.
The keys to success are simple: target waters at least 5 feet deep, use tip-ups baited with shiners or rosy reds and stay away from the crowds! Time of day isn't as important as time on the water. Move until you find them and be ready to move on when the fish move.
Contact: U-Catch Em Bait, (608) 754-7976.
Milwaukeee: Brown Trout
Changing winds can clear ice overnight, providing a great opportunity for brown trout from shore using alewives, spawn sacs or Little Cleo spoons. Milwaukee Harbor can be good, but last winter those waters just east of the Summerfest grounds were the place to be. The Oak Creek discharge is a fish magnet, with a mixed bag possible from a small boat if the wind is out of the west. Extreme caution is advised.
Big Green Lake: Lakers
A February lake trout outing with Capt. Mike Norton on our deepest inland lake is a great way to stymie the midwinter blues. Heated shacks and simple tactics lend themselves to storytelling between bites. Don't forget the grill. Contact: (920) 295-3617.
Mississippi River: Saugers
This walleye cousin with the desert camo paint job is stacked by the bajillions below every dam on the Mississippi right now, with a six-fish daily limit and no size restriction in place.
Target the yellow "bullnose" areas where slack water meets fast water. Saugers are notorious bait thieves. Using a stinger hook and impaling a minnow through the lips and out through the back will net you more fish. No-stretch superlines like Berkley FireLine and a sensitive IM-7 graphite rod are part of the fish-catching equation.
Contact: Cap'n Hook's bait shop, (608) 752-5552 or www.in-depthangling.com.
Lac Vieux Desert: Crappies
Any remaining green weeds are the biggest key to finding slabs on what may be our best multi-species lake. Electronics and a 4-wheeler are part of the picture. You'll need to move around to find active fish, but once you do, remember that the limit is 25 fish. A tiny jig-spinner called the L'il Cecil is a secret weapon here. You'll find the crappies suspended along the weed edge about halfway down.
East Coast: Steelhead
Runoff is the major key to fish movement inland into Lake Michigan tributaries. Wait about three days after a weather event, then sneak along the banks to drift spawn sacs through deeper holes. Wear your camo clothing and polarized glasses.
Fox River: Walleyes
If you're looking for a wall-hanger walleye, April is the time and those waters just downstream from the De Pere Dam on Fox River are the place where it all comes together.
Take a bucketful of fire-tiger ShadRaps, ThunderSticks and No. 13 Rapalas. The new jointed ShadRap is a killer. Put in your time and hooking up is inevitable. But De Pere is no secret. It's elbow-to-elbow with anglers. Resist the temptation of keeping a foul-hooked fish. Walleyes are so thick below the dam that you're going to inadvertently snag fish. But keeping a snagged fish will result in a quick ticket from the DNR warden.
Lake Kegonsa: Bluegills
About 10 days after ice-out, whopping big bluegills start cruising the shoreline around Quam Point. Use light line, stealth and a small black jig pegged about 3 feet under a little float and keep moving until you find 'em. Nine-inchers are common, and 10-inch 'gills are not out of the question.
Door County: Brown Trout
Every harbor on both sides of the Door Peninsula draws in brown trout during April. Long-line trolling with Little Cleos or stickbaits is a sound attack plan. Baileys Harbor is probably your best bet, with Sawyer Harbor near Sturgeon Bay a close second. But then there is Fish Creek. Remember, if your line is in the water, you are a weapon.
Lake Wisconsin: Largemouths
This lower Wisconsin River flowage doesn't have a reputation for producing largemouth bass, simply because few anglers target this species, and the ones who do aren't talking.
Almost the entire bucketmouth population of this flowage is in shallow water close to shore right now in preparation for spawning. Wood is a major key to fish location, with some riprap shoreli
nes also attracting fish. If you're looking for a wall-hanger largemouth, this is the place to come during May. If there is a double-digit largemouth in Wisconsin, the smart money says she's swimming here.
Contact: Guide Ron Barefield, (608) 838-8756.
Coulee Countr: Trout
There are dozens of trout streams in the Coulee Country of western Wisconsin, with Vernon County the epicenter of trouting activity. Browns are plentiful. There are quite a few rainbows. And a 12-inch brookie is not out of the question, especially on the West Fork of the Kickapoo River.
Lake Monona: Muskies
If you would like to catch a muskie on opening weekend, this Dane County lake is a short-odds favorite. If we have a cool spring, look for muskies to congregate out from the warmwater discharge off John Nolan Drive. Plastics are a great choice, especially a giant lizard or Tiger Tube. Long casts are a key to success in shallow water.
Eagle River Chain: Muskies
Muskies in this popular resort area see plenty of lures during the summer months. Your odds of hooking up are greatly enhanced if you follow the advice of veteran guide George Langley. "Use smaller lures, especially black, and target less obvious spots, especially at dawn, dusk and ahead of an approaching weather system." Langley advises a high-low approach. "Somebody should always be throwing a topwater, with another angler pitching a small jerkbait or bucktail."
Contact: Eagle Sports, (715) 479-8804 or www.justmusky!.com.
Butternut Lake: Smallies
Trophy smallmouth bass cruise the ultraclear waters of this north-country lake near Eagle River. Tube jigs and the clear "glass pattern" Rapala Husky Jerk are the way to go. The big bronzebacks like to hide under logs. Find structure using polarized glasses, then back off and pitch clear, natural-colored baits. Be sure to practice catch-and-release.
Racine: Coho Salmon
These silver salmon follow the shoreline north with warming temperatures. Target the top 20 feet of the water column with dodger/fly combinations and trolling spoons. Planer boards are part of the equation. It is important to get lines away from the boat when chasing salmon in shallow, clear water. A quick limit is waiting for you between Racine Harbor and Wind Point to the north.
Rock River: Channel Catfish
This medium-sized southern Wisconsin river has one of the best channel catfish populations in the Midwest. A 10-fish daily bag limit is in place. On a good day you can fill out in just over an hour, with dip bait the most productive offering during summer months.
The Rock is aptly named, with a great deal of gravel bottom structure. Key on areas with a moderate current above snags and driftpiles, fishing toward the bank early and late in the day, and toward the channel edge of the snag at midday.
Contact: Dick's Tackle & Bait, (608) 362-8712.
Upper Wisconsin River: Smallies
That stretch of our namesake river above Merrill offers some of the best smallie action in the state, with a No. 4 Mepps Black Fury the weapon of choice. This boulder-strewn water holds both size and numbers of smallies, with 20-inch fish possible. Contact: Todd Koehn, 1-800-710-8020.
Kentuck Lake: Muskies
This weedy lake near Eagle River is full of eager muskies, with many fish in the mid-30-inch range. Try "burning" a black bucktail with a silver blade over the tops of weeds along the outside weed edge. Topwater lures are also a good choice. This may be the closest water you'll ever find to a "sure thing" for muskies.
Lower Wisconsin River: Smallies
The Lower Wisconsin River around Portage is entirely different water than found in northern Wisconsin. There aren't many rocks. Any rocks you'll find are worth probing. Smallmouths here relate to lower edges of the many sandbars and fallen trees.
This is cartopper/canoe water because of the ever-changing sandbars. Because access is limited, this neck of river also produces many trophy-class smallmouths, with walleyes occupying the same riverine niches.
Contact: Fishing Adventures Guide Service, (608) 235-7685.
Mississsippi River: White Bass
When gulls start dive-bombing into the river on Lake Onalaska and below the lock-and-dam complexes this month, they are chasing shad that have been pushed to the surface by thousands of white bass. Fishing is usually better at dawn and dusk.
Door County: Walleyes
For years anglers have pondered the location of Lake Michigan's giant walleyes between the spring run to De Pere and Marinette, and fall action on Michigan's Bays de Noc. Right now these monsters are around Horseshoe Reef, Chambers Island and Strawberry Island outside Fish Creek. Try trolling big stickbaits behind planer boards.
Mississippi River: Largemouths
Bluegills converge on wing dams and shoreline riprap on our western border every year about mid-September for 10 to 14 days. Largemouth bass are camped just a little deeper, waiting for stragglers.
Not all wing dams or riprap shoreline hold bass. If probing casts with crankbaits doesn't produce in five minutes, move on. Find bass and the action will be hot, with 50-bass days the rule. Lure selection is key. The Worden's DC-8 Timber Tiger in bluegill pattern is the most consistent crankbait I've found for fishing bass on the Mississippi, and I'm on this water almost 100 days each year.
Wisconsin Dells: Sturgeon
Huge lake sturgeon cruise beneath ancient rock formations on the Wisconsin River, with angling permitted for a few weeks in September each year. Tactics are simple -- a gob of night crawlers fished behind a pyramid sinker at the leading edge of river holes, tweaked with a little anise scent. The bite is primarily at night, with a free tag required before fishing and a one-per-year limit in place.
Teal Lake: Muskies
This lake outside of Hayward is another short-odds muskie lake. Water is stained, making fluorescents a good choice. Fish average in the low- to mid-30-inch range.
Pewaukee Lake: Muskies
Fish in this Waukesha County lake see plenty of angling pressure. But in a state known for its muskie fishing, Pewaukee is a class above everything else for both size and numbers of muskies.
The second major cold front of autumn tends to turn these highly educated "toothers" into feeding fools for about 10 days. Target the 12-foot breakline around green weeds topping out about a foot below the surface with bucktails, probing a little deeper with baits like the Depth Raider.
Contact: Smokey's Bait Shop, (262) 691-0360.
Shawano Lake: Crappies
The October crappie
bite on this northeastern Wisconsin lake is legendary. Electronics are a major key in finding fish, which move to the mouths of bays after leaves begin to fall. Crappies here tend to suspend about halfway down in the water column. Fish just above 'em with little tube jigs or minnows. A controlled drift is a good way to hook up.
Lake Mendota: Pike
With a 40-inch, one-daily pike limit in place for a number of years, this Dane County lake has developed into a superb trophy pike fishery. You may not catch a "legal" fish, but run No. 5 Mepps bucktail with a purple hair tail over weedtops near the 10-foot contour and you'll probably tangle with several fish in the 12- to 15-pound class. And there is always a shot at a true trophy.
Lac Vieux Desert: Muskies
This Michigan-Wisconsin boundary water would finish in the top 10 fisheries in any poll, trailing only Pewaukee in the muskie category.
Any remaining green weeds will likely hold fish, but winter is knocking at the door. Chances are better for hooking up by working waters a long cast off deeper main-lake points right now with the one-two punch of a sucker and "big wood." Don't overlook deeper water near the dam. A sunny afternoon is probably best in these stained waters, with the shoreline where a prevailing wind has been stirring things up for several days also a good place.
Contact: Land-O-Lakes Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-236-3432.
Mississippi River: Walleyes
After 40 years angling on waters all over the state, I chose the Mississippi River near La Crosse as the base for a "retirement cottage." Actually the place is a 1966 mobile home with original carpet, and a fat walleye caught from just a couple miles away hanging over the TV set. Fifty-walleye days are the rule rather than the exception until winter comes down hard here. Hair jigs and blade baits work well. But I'll take a 5/16-ounce jighead with a Lindy Thumpin' worm any day, especially a blue-fleck worm with a white tail on a black jighead.
Cisco Chain: Panfish
Another Michigan-Wisconsin boundary water, anglers from both states often overlook the panfish here. Especially during the early-ice period, the best panfish lakes are on the lower end of the chain on the Wisconsin side of the border.
Long Lake: Northerns
This aptly named lake near Spooner is home to both size and numbers of northern pike.
Tip-ups baited with smelt or big shiners are the best way to go, setting up in the backs of bays where there are any remaining green weeds and out in front of this lake's five major points with inlets nearby. Walleyes like to hang around Kunz Island, which is something to keep in mind toward sunset. Earlier in the day, target pike off the first deep breakline at either end of the island.
Contact: Spooner Chamber of Commerce, (715) 635-2168.
Pioneer Lake: Panfish
This little lake outside of Eagle River is pretty much overlooked all winter long, especially at night when schools of slab crappies are on the move. Use electronics to find the fish, then deadstick a small minnow hooked under the dorsal fin on one line while working a glow-in-the-dark Rat Finkee tipped with a plastic tail on the other.
Prairie du Sac: Saugers
For about a week last winter, anglers pounded saugers through the ice below this Wisconsin River dam by using Wolf River rigs.