JANUARY – Walleyes: Lake Koshkonong
Koshkonong is a shallow 10,000-acre flowage of Rock River in south-central Wisconsin with very little structure or current. Ironically, both current and structure are major keys to success on Kosh. On a slightly rising river, fishing usually is better near the east end inlet, out from places like the Mounds.
When the Rock is stable — or falling — the old shale road between Thiebeau and Carcajou points built by Native Americans to cross wetlands that became Koshkonong when the Indianford dam went in, is a walleye hotspot.
Setting three tip-ups in a triangle pattern is a good way to find fish. Drill multiple holes before fishing, then move the boards according to how the flags pop.
Other Options: Petenwell Flowage Crappies: Fish woody cover on the old river channel. Big Eau Pleine Reservoir Crappies: Known for producing huge crappies on tip-downs and jig sticks.
FEBRUARY – Lakers: Big Green Lake
Sensitive electronics play a major role in putting hooks in front of these light-biters that suspend in 60 to 115 feet of water in Wisconsin’s deepest inland lake. It takes heavy spoons, Jigging Raps and white jigs to drop quickly into depths where active fish are cruising, a fairly stout rod and reel spooled with superbraid line, and a fluorocarbon leader for an effective hookset on these deep-water heavy cruisers.
If you mark fish at 70 feet, drop your lure to about 60 feet and subtly shake it in place. Interested fish will rocket up the water column to bite quicker than electronics, or often reflexes, can respond. An inland trout stamp is required to chase these fish.
Other Options: Prairie du Sac Saugers: Jigs and 3-way rigs yield saugers below this Wisconsin River dam. Bender Park Browns: Troll stickbaits behind planer boards in the discharge plume from Oak Creek power plant.
MARCH – Saugers: The Dells
Botch Leonhardt is a much more dependable harbinger of spring than Puxatawney Phil. When Leonhardt plows out the boat ramp at River’s Edge Resort, seasonal change is coming. Saugers tend to hold twice as deep as walleyes in Wisconsin River wintering holes downstream from the Dells dam.
Most anglers vertical jig their way downstream with a hair jig tipped with a minnow, or they pull crankbaits upstream using lead-core line. When waters warm into the upper 30s, cast orange Kalin grubs or ringworms on the shallow water of a sandbar and then drag it back to the boat along the bottom in 10 to 15 feet of water.
Other Options: Stoddard Perch: Late ice is hot for jumbo perch on Mississippi River Pool 8. Mendota Channel Cats: Fish cut bait for cats near Dunn’s Bar out from Governor’s Island.
APRIL – Walleyes: Fox River
Word spreads like wildfire on social media when ice leaves the Fox River downstream from the DePere dam, drawing walleye nuts from all over the state and beyond.
There is no place or time in the entire region when the odds are this short for hooking into a trophy walleye. Huge female fish migrating up the Fox each spring from Green Bay stage in many places along the 7-mile stretch between the fish refuge below the dam and the confluence with Green Bay.
Most anglers have a candle/moth fascination for water close to the refuge and the flotilla of boats there. Much can be said for anchoring near the start of the gauntlet instead of the finish line.
Other Options: Wolf River White Bass: Catch a fish on every cast with a 1/8-ounce white Road Runner. Menominee River Walleyes: The run peaks one week after DePere on this river.
MAY – Smallmouths: Sturgeon Bay
“Wisconsin’s thumb” is the place to fish in May if you’re looking for action on smallmouth bass with a genuine shot at a trophy. Bronzebacks are moving inland from Green Bay, seeking suitable spawning habitat not far out from shore.
Rig two rods — one with a clear topwater lure like a Chug Bug, the other with a multi-tentacle plastic on a 1/16-ounce jighead. Medium-light spinning rods at least 7 feet long work best with reels holding 4- to 6-pound-test fluorocarbon line.
Color selection is important. Clear hologram, salt-and-pepper, or green pumpkin, which approximates the color of gobies, work best. Stealth is important. These fish are extremely wary, also extremely aggressive when it comes to guarding their nests.
Other Options: Spooner Lake Bluegills: This is the perfect family fishing adventure. Lake Wisconsin Crappies: Shallow channels and docks hold teh biggest slabs.
JUNE – Cohos: Lake Michigan
Our far southeastern border from the state line to Milwaukee provides an outstanding opportunity for tangling with aggressive coho salmon close to shore this month. Pier anglers at Port Washington and elsewhere find success, but the best way to score is trolling stickbaits and spoons behind planer boards in less than 20 feet of water.
A Great Lakes salmon stamp, seaworthy boat and common sense are the primary prerequisites for a memorable day on the water. A marine radio or other ready access to weather conditions is paramount. Conditions can deteriorate quickly.
Time of day can be critical. Overcast days, dawn and dusk generally offer the best action. Multiple hookups are the rule once active fish are located.
Other Options: Butternut Lake Muskies: Small bucktails are deadly for mid-30-inch fish. Lake Owen Bass: Try wacky-rigged Senkos for smallmouths and largemouths.
JULY – Muskies: Upper Wisconsin River
There is a world of difference in our namesake river between the sandy, sleepy water near the Dells and water upstream from Wausau where the root beer-colored Wisconsin crashes into rocks and boulders.
The deepest hole you’ll find is only 6 feet, making topwater lures and bucktails the obvious choices when chasing muskies on this truly beautiful water. Black/orange lures are extremely effective. A No. 5 double-blade Mepps Black Fury may be the ultimate lure.
When hooked, the fish almost always start jumping. Keeping your rod tip close to the water’s surface is a good tactic once the aerobatics commence.
Other Options: Lake Michigan Salmon: A salmon charter out of any port is a cool way to spend a hot summer day. Coolee Trout: Nightly insect hatches offer dry fly action.
AUGUST – Walleyes: Lake Winnebago
For the past two summers the abundant forage base in sprawling Lake Winnebago hasn’t kept the amazing walleye population that swims there away from chasing hooks. Anglers have an honest shot at a trophy ’eye, with good numbers of mid-20-inch fish.
A little walleye chop is a good thing, but ’Bago can be dangerous. Precision trolling with Flicker Shads or spinner rigs behind planer boards along the shoreline or over offshore reefs and humps and casting 1/16-ounce jigs tipped with half a nightcrawler are productive techniques.
Other Options: Pool 9 Panfish: Tear up crappies, perch and bluegills on woody cover and weed edges. North Door County Walleyes: Snap-jig Shivver Minnows and troll spinner rigs behind planer boards near offshore islands and reefs.
SEPTEMBER – Pike: Mississippi River
A five-fish, no size limit on northern pike is in effect on the Mississippi River, with September prime time for tangling with the fish. My best trip on Pool 9 where I work as a full-time guide last summer yielded 12 pike from 32 to 38 inches and at least twice that many shorter fish. Pike location is directly tied to forage base, which is found in habitats from main channel rocks to weedy backwaters.
With at least 105 fish species swimming here, hooking multiple species is the norm, not the exception. Don’t be surprised if your lure finds pike, bass and walleyes on consecutive casts.
Other Options: Chippewa River Sturgeon: The state’s best river for tussling with a lake sturgeon during the three-week season. Moon Dam Cats: Tailwaters of this middle Wisconsin River dam yield huge channel cats.
OCTOBER – Muskies: Lower Green Bay
Millions of hours have been spent chasing the next world-record muskie since Louis Spray set the mark on the Chip back in 1949. Smart money says this is the time and place the controversial record will fall.
The muskie has a reputation as the “fish of 10,000 casts.” Ironically, when the record falls here it will almost certainly come in a trolling presentation. Southern Green Bay has produced at least one 60-inch fish for the past four years running. Every one of them struck large, shallow-running lures pulled at speeds up to 3 mph.
Luck may trump skill and persistence in this quest for the ultimate freshwater fishing trophy. Will the big bite come out from Long Point? Near the Stripper Pole? It’s anybody’s guess.
Other Options: Pike Chain Crappies: This chain of lakes holds huge slabs that seldom see a hook. Menominee River Smallmouths: Kayak fishing with Senkos and spinners can produce smallmouths up to 20 inches.
NOVEMBER – Walleyes: Mississippi River
Marble-eyes are serious about feeding with winter knocking at the door. The big bite starts when surface water temperature falls to 48 degrees, lasting until freeze-up. Walleye movement is driven by forage base location, which is highly influenced by current velocity and flow. Expect location and effective presentation options to change on a daily or even hourly basis until hydrologic conditions stabilize when ice arrives. Successfully connecting all the dots can produce a 50-walleye day for those who dress for success and keep their lines in the water.
Other Options: Eau Claire Lakes Muskies: Drag a sucker and cast black/orange wood just before ice-up on this ultra-clear northern chain of lakes. Mendota Pike: Target green weeds with a small purple bucktail for pike up to 40 inches.
DECEMBER – Panfish: Madison Chain
Ice-fishing will start shortly after Thanksgiving in southern Wisconsin in the ditches off County Road AB near Stoughton and on Cherokee Marsh at the inlet to Lake Mendota.
A week later it will be possible to light-foot out on Barber’s Bay on Lake Kegonsa and the “triangle” off Jon Nolen Drive on Lake Monona. A few days later Lake Waubesa will have “safe” ice at the south end off Goodland Park and at mid-lake out from Babcock Park.
This progression provides hot first-ice action for almost a month for panfish in shallow water.
Other Options: Chetek Chain Bluegills: First ice is the time to find ’gills up to 10 inches. Lake Onalaska Pike: This Mississippi River gives up numerous quality northerns to tip-up anglers.