Wisconsin's Best Summer Angling
September 30, 2010
Summer can be a frustrating time for fishing, even for Wisconsin's best anglers. But there's no need to fret when you hit these special places for some of our favorite fish. (July 2010)
Capt. Bret Alexander shows a fine stringer of walleyes caught by trolling stick baits off Volk's Reef in Green Bay -- a deadly summer tactic that can really pay off!
Photo by Ted Peck.
Good fishing is usually less than an hour's drive from just about anywhere in the great state of Wisconsin. But we look through a couple of windows when the close-to-home action is generally slow for three to five weeks each year.
Mother Nature is about to lower the curtain on the "easy days" of summer fishin' as the dog days of August grow near. Now is a good time to check the lights and wheel bearings on the boat trailer and get ready for a road trip.
Travel is much easier now than during the action-challenged period in January and the first part of February when arctic high pressure and brutal weather scream into the Land of Cheese.
The dog days slump is harder to anticipate and conquer. One day multiple species are in a feeding rip with multiple presentations, the next their lips go into lockdown for no apparent reason. There are reasons, of course. Too much food in the water, water temperatures too high, oxygen too low -- rest assured, we'll find a reason not to feel like a jerk on one end of the line when there is no jerk on the other end.
Here's a look at some destinations and presentations for which the excuses -- oh, I mean reasons -- for less than stellar results are "we forgot to bring the net," or "there must have been a weak spot in the line."
There is science behind Lake Winnebago's quick evolution from red-hot walleye fishery to virtual Dead Sea. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources surveys indicate annual late-summer explosions in shad and troutperch populations.
The marble-eyes that live there see no point in chasing down a Berkley Flicker Shad pulled 50 feet behind a planer board at 2.3 mph when they can simply open their mouths and swallow real food.
Veteran walleye guide Capt. Greg Karch sees this bait explosion coming from his beautiful lakeside home and simply changes boats.
"There are several mud flats out in front of the house that draw tremendous numbers of perch during late summer," Karch said. "When the walleye bite shuts down, I simply jump in my smaller aluminum boat and tempt 'em with a little pinch of crawler or hellgrammite just off the bottom. The perch fishing is extremely easy. Winnebago has both tremendous numbers and respectable size in the yellow perch population, with very few anglers out there taking advantage of this bite."
Capt. Karch lives on the west side of Lake Winnebago. Like many anglers who live just beyond the smell of a Lake Michigan breeze, he seldom takes advantage of fantastic action on salmonids in the Big Pond less than an hour's drive from his home.
Current patterns in this freshwater inland sea can be difficult to predict. Last summer a thermocline failed to develop on the west side of much of this Great Lake, resulting in cold water temperatures close to shore all summer long.
This was a double-edged sword for folks fishing out of ports north of Milwaukee. With little or no thermocline development, few Coho salmon followed their forage base up the coast.
Water temperatures never crawled out of the 50s in Sheboygan, which has deep water just a short run offshore. Chinook salmon, rainbows and brown trout live there year 'round. With no thermocline development, many fish lived within a stone's throw -- or a long cast -- from the beach all summer.
Last August 6 my wife and I celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary with a trip to the Blue Harbor Resort in Sheboygan. Candy was drawn to the giant indoor water park. I was thinking about the public fishing piers within easy walking distance.
The best fishing is at dawn and dusk. It's also good all night long during the full moon period, which just happened to fall on Aug. 6 last year.
Happiness is tangling with an 18-pound Chinook that thinks a half-ounce blue/silver Cleo spoon is a midnight snack!
It took at least 30 minutes to convince this 4-year-old fish that travel to Michigan's Upper Peninsula was not in his life plans.
Sunrise was enhanced by a double-digit rainbow trout cartwheeling across the harbor.
Sheboygan may be known for bratwurst, but the perch dinner at Zieggy's Bar & Grill, two quality fish and multiple trips down the water slide made that a trip to remember.
Anniversaries and research for Wisconsin Sportsman articles are essentially my only reasons for leaving home base over on Mississippi River Pool 9 south of La Crosse where I'm a fulltime fishing guide.
Walleye action slows down on the Big River when summer's heat arrives. Even the channel catfish bite goes from sure-thing status to primarily nighttime action when the long days of summer blanket our western border with thick, sultry weather.
The Mississippi is one of our most diverse fisheries. Those who come to this place with a species-specific mindset often go home disappointed. Conversely, if you listen to what the river is saying, this is a place of perpetual grins.
The river typically runs low and very clear during late August, resulting in spectacular smallmouth bass action just off the main river channel.
Topwater lures and in-line spinners like the No. 5 Mepps Black Fury (with white dots on the blade) are bronzeback killers until about 8 a.m. and after 4 p.m. when tall bluffs shade rocky smallmouth habitat.
During mid-day, Senko- and Chompers-style skirted hula grub plastics fished just a little slower and deeper will fool fish all day long. Last summer clients put 19 smallmouths over 20 inches in my Lund on Pool 9.
Just inland, trout are very active on terrestrials and hoppers on many cool streams near La Crosse. Personal favorites eventually flow into the Bad Axe River, which dumps into the Mississippi south of Genoa.
The West Fork of Kickapoo River has international renown among the trouting set. Rullins, Bohemian Valley and Timber Coolee have thrilling potential for browns, rainbows and the occasional brook trout, but sec
rets on fishing them are held close to the fishing vest by local anglers.
The northern reaches of Wisconsin's namesake river are virtually overlooked as August melds into early September, even though smallmouths, muskies and the occasional walleye are more than willing to fall for a straightforward presentation that fools them all.
Crawfish are a major forage base for game fish in the shallow, rocky upper Wisconsin River. Common sense would indicate the most effective lure would be something that looks like a crawfish and tracks over rocks without hanging up.
A No. 5 Mepps Black Fury in-line spinner (with the orange dots) is the hands-down killer bait from Merrill to Brokaw and points both upstream and down.
Hooksetters Fishing Service (www.hooksetters.biz) offers float-fishing excursions on this water out of flat-bottomed boats with jet-powered outboards. Canoes and fishing kayaks also are suitable platforms for attacking this wild and beautiful river, with clients of the Rib Mountain Inn privy to both free shuttle service and perhaps the best gourmet breakfast in America's Dairyland.
A fresh blueberry muffin is a great way to calm shaking hands after a close encounter of the muskie kind somewhere between the Grandfather and Grandmother dams.
Upper Wisconsin River muskies can be found virtually anywhere. But a lone mid-river boulder is an extremely high percentage spot for hooking up. Most muskies on the upper Wisconsin are in the 30- to 36-inch range. If you're looking for bigger toothers, try throwing Bulldogs or bucktails in the more flowage-oriented waters of the Wisconsin River system such as DuBay, Mosinee and the Biron flowages.
Generally speaking, the best place to target muskies when fishing Wisconsin River flowages is close to a bend in the old river channel. There is a fair amount of similarity in these underwater structures.
Typically, there will be a stumpy flat only a couple of feet deep with water up to 20 feet deep just a long cast away. Sometimes the topography reveals the presence of the old channel with a tiny island.
Both submergent and emergent weed growth will be found on the flat. Because these flowages are stained, you usually won't find weeds deeper than 10 feet. Muskies -- and everything they feed on -- will be somewhere in the immediate area.
The tailwaters within a quarter-mile of every dam below upper Wisconsin River flowages is another high percentage, multi-species hotspot. This is also true on the Menominee River in the northeast part of the state where you'll find a series of cookie-cutter pools where fairly swift water in tailwaters eases into flowage habitat to the point of millpond serenity above the next dam downstream.
In-line spinners like the No. 5 Black Fury Mepps are good weapons on the Menominee. Senko-style and skirted hula grub plastics like the 4-inch Chomper also work well, especially for bass.
Weeds are fish magnets in the more flowage-oriented parts of the Menominee. Don't overlook areas that appear too shallow to hold fish if weeds are part of the picture!
The first couple of pools upstream from Marinette are a little deeper, allowing access for anglers with deep-V boats via ramps just above dams at the lower ends of the pools.
When you get inland up around Amberg, a canoe or fishing kayak is generally the best fishing platform. The local power cooperative plays a major role in offering both boat access points and great basic camping facilities along the Menominee, making this a premier destination for fishing families before the kids go back to school.
The Menominee River isn't the only stretch of our northern border country that provides great fishing while most of the state is stuck in a dog-day funk. Both northern Door County and the big water of Chequamegon Bay offer both cooler temperatures and hot fishing when most of the state goes into a late-summer slump.
The water around Chambers and the Strawberry Islands out from Ephraim in northern Door County offers your best shot at a trophy walleye in our state in late August.
Troll Husky Jerk Rapalas and big Smithwick Rogues from 30 to 70 feet behind planer boards around reefs found out from the islands. Ironically, the best action is likely to come on a sultry day at noon when the water is glassy calm.
Don't be lulled by the apparent serenity of this big water. Some reefs top out less than a foot below the surface more than a mile from any land mass. One point on the south side of Chambers Island has the potential for crushing your lower unit farther out than most folks could swim to reach the safety of shore.
Of course, smallmouth bass think this long rocky finger is the best habitat they've ever seen. Don't stay away; just be careful.
The same advice holds true around the Apostle Islands in the northernmost reaches of our state. You probably won't catch a "legal" smallmouth around the Apostles, or over the deepwater humps nearby. A one-fish, 22-inch limit is in place to protect the bass population.
To catch these smallmouths, which average more than 4 pounds, Capt. Craig Putchat likes throwing large topwater poppers that were designed for pike.
"There is always a good topwater bite at dawn and dusk," Putchat said "these bass will come charging up out of 20 feet of water to smack a big topwater bait. Few fishing experiences are more exciting than that."
Putchat said the waters of Chequamegon Bay are flat and calm about one day out of five this time of year. These conditions are prime for vertical jigging lake trout in 40 to 80 feet of water around the islands.
"The best weapons are a big white bucktail jig or heavy Swedish Pimple," Putchat said. "Lakers over 20 pounds get caught every August, but the average is closer to 10 pounds."
On those days when the water is rougher, Putchat chases lake trout with big stick baits about 50 feet behind downrigger balls. "There are no sure things in fishing, but chasing lake trout around the Apostles in August is pretty darn close," he said. For more information, contact Putchat at www.outdoorallure.com.
Every Wisconsin angler who pursues the sport with any degree of passion has water close to home where every cast delivers the potential for hooking up. Back in the days before sophisticated electronics, soft plastics and $300 graphite rods, excuses like "everybody knows that pike lose their teeth in August" were plausible for coming up empty during the so-called summer slump.
Technology and fishing knowledge have taken this face-saving card off the table, leaving essentially two options. You can fish the water where every trick in your angling repertoire results in merely washing lures, or ease a couple of more hours down the roa
d to a place where a camera phone can be used for something besides ordering pizza.