Photo by Dan Small.
The Badger State offers esox anglers so many opportunities to tangle with muskies that it’s easy to find a place to fish. The hard part is deciding where to go. You can certainly save up vacation time and hard-earned money for one or two trips a year to the classic waters of northern Wisconsin, as many anglers do. Or, you can join the growing throng of bucktail slingers who opt to fish more often and closer to home.
With time and gasoline at a premium, southern Wisconsin muskie waters look better and better every year. Muskies don’t reproduce naturally in many southern waters, but the Department of Natural Resources makes up for that by stocking these lakes with good numbers of fish. That fact, together with the catch-and-release ethic that most muskie hunters practice nowadays, means there are plenty of muskies available, some of them growing to trophy size.
Let’s look at some of the best places in southern Wisconsin where you stand a good chance of tangling with a muskie or two on a regular basis.
In the time-honored tradition of eating dessert first, let’s cut to the chase and hit the best lake right off the bat. Pewaukee is hands down the best muskie lake in southern Wisconsin, perhaps the best in the state. With a muskie population of about .5 adults per acre, Pewaukee tops even the best northern Wisconsin lakes for numbers. And no lake in the state has produced more 50-inchers in recent years.
Pewaukee covers some 2,400 acres just north of I-94 in Waukesha County. The lake’s east basin is shallow and weedy with a couple of good bays, some offshore humps and one island. The west basin is deeper with a good weedline that always holds fish. Rocky Point juts between the two basins, adding — guess what? — rocks!
A survey conducted several years ago by Wisconsin Lutheran College biology professor Bob Anderson showed muskies here have a home range averaging 30 to 40 acres. Anderson’s radio-tagged fish moved around a lot in spring and fall, but spent the summer near structure in fairly shallow water.
Most anglers favor black and orange baits, but remember that every muskie you encounter has already seen enough bucktails, Bulldawgs and buzzbaits to make its own mental catalog of offerings. Don’t be afraid to think outside the tackle box and go with something outlandish like a chartreuse marabou bucktail or glow-in-the-dark topwater. If it makes noise and thrashes the surface, it’ll attract attention and might draw a strike.For more information, contact Smokey’s Muskie Shop at (262) 691-9659, or visit the Web site at www.smokeysmuskieshop.com .
OKAUCHEE AND OCONOMOWOC LAKES
Located a couple of lakes west of Pewaukee, both Okauchee and Oconomowoc lakes also offer good muskie action. During a spring survey a few years ago, DNR fisheries biologist Sue Beyler found a good population of muskies in Okauchee Lake and tagged some big fish, including a 51-inch, 41-pounder. A later survey on Oconomowoc Lake showed similar numbers and sizes of muskies. Interestingly enough, 1,300-acre Okauchee is stocked, while 767-acre Oconomowoc is not.
Guide Ben Kueng, who lives on Okauchee Lake, rotates his efforts among Pewaukee, Okauchee and Oconomowoc, and routinely catches muskies in all three. Browse the photos on his Web site and you’ll see why he likes these waters.
Okauchee and Oconomowoc are deeper and clearer than Pewaukee with plenty of sharp breaks and both deep and shallow structure. Early in the season, concentrate on water less than 12 feet deep, but fish the entire column, as muskies may be anywhere looking for spawning panfish.
BIG AND LITTLE GREEN LAKES
Big Green Lake is the state’s deepest, at 237 feet. In fact, 7,325-acre Big Green holds more water than any other lake in the state, including sprawling Lake Winnebago. As far as muskies are concerned, however, you can forget water deeper than 15 feet here, with one exception — and we’ll get to that in a bit.
Work Big Green’s shallow bays, weed edges and dropoffs with diving crankbaits and soft plastics. There are several bars and weedbeds from Dartford Bay to Lone Tree Point, and similar structure at the lake’s east end, all of which hold a variety of species, including the muskies that eat everything else.
In summer, and here’s that exception I mentioned, you might try probing the depths for suspended muskies. Look for schools of ciscoes and drop a blade bait, like a Fuzzy Duzzit or giant Cicada, down into the school, jig it up and down and hang on.
Little Green Lake covers 466 acres in central Green Lake County, just north of the village of Markesan. Spring muskie action here is tops, but a heavy algae bloom, thick weeds and recreational boat traffic make summer fishing a challenge. Fish the developing weeds and breaklines with topwaters and shallow-running baits.
For more information, contact the Green Lake Area Chamber of Commerce at (800) 253-7354 or online at www.greenlakecc.com
The Madison Chain deserves a book all by itself, as all the lakes on the Yahara River harbor muskies. Mendota has more structure than you can shake an Ugly Stik at, and plenty of muskies swim there. Pick up a good lake map and concentrate on humps, weeds and dropoffs, and you’ll narrow the lake’s 10,000 acres to a more manageable number. Dunn’s Bar, off Governor’s Island, is worth fishing, as are Second Point, Picnic Point and Commodore Bar. In early spring, weeds might be your best bet.
Monona is about a third the size of Mendota and much easier to fish. The Yahara River mouth and Monona Bay are good early-season spots. You’ll also find muskies near the underwater points and deep pockets along the entire shoreline from Turville Bay around to Monona Bay. If we have a cold spring, try the warmwater discharge off John Nolan Drive.
Waubesa and Kegonsa, located downriver on the chain, are shallower than Mendota and Monona, so they warm more quickly in spring. On both lakes, you’ll find muskies along new weeds as they develop. Kegonsa doesn’t have much structure, but look for muskies on the offshore bars. There’s one just west of Colladay Point, another off Williams Point and a third off Lund’s Point. Maps will show a couple of smaller bars also worth fishing.
Waubesa’s weedbeds hold muskies all season long. In spring, cast the edges of weedbeds between Goodland and Babcock parks or near the train trestle at the north end. In summer, look for open holes in the weeds along the south shore. These are springs that draw muskies to their cooler water. Bucktails, topwaters and shallow-running jerkbaits all work here.
Lake Wingra is the baby of the chain, covering a mere 345 acres. Wingra holds more muskies per acre than the other Madison lakes, but they run small. This is a good lake to take a neophyte looking for his or her first muskie. Throw topwaters and bucktails along weed edges or troll the open water. Some anglers speed troll, with one bait right in the prop wash. I’ve yet to fish this lake without at least seeing one muskie.
All the Madison lakes have good, well-marked public launches. For more information, contact D&S Bait, Tackle & Archery at (608) 241-4225 or www.dsbait.com .
GREEN BAY AND LOWER FOX RIVER
Thanks to DNR stocking efforts, Green Bay, Sturgeon Bay and the Lower Fox River are now home to a fair number of Great Lakes spotted muskies — some that grow to awesome proportions. Problem is, they have a vast amount of water to roam and finding them can be like looking for that proverbial needle.
In spring and fall, however, these spotted muskies hang out near river mouths and in bays up and down the shoreline. You’ll also find them in the Lower Fox River to the DePere dam, throughout Sturgeon Bay and Little Sturgeon Bay, and over Larson’s Reef.
Because of the acreage you’ll need to cover, trolling is the most popular method used to catch them. Some anglers also cast jerkbaits and crankbaits wherever perch, walleyes and other muskie food hang out.
Walleye anglers occasionally tangle with a big muskie, so most carry a big landing net and needle-nose pliers. Guide Eric Haataja and Ryan Dempsey of Green Bay caught and released a fish they measured at 56 inches while trolling for walleyes in April a few years back. No one has reported catching that fish during the open season, so she may still be out there waiting for you.
For more information, contact DePere Sportsman’s Warehouse at (920) 336-7000, or visit the Web site at www.sportsmanswarehouse.com ; or the Door County Chamber of Commerce at (800) 52-RELAX or www.doorcounty.com .
ELKHART AND RANDOM LAKES
Located at opposite ends of Sheboygan County, these two lakes offer a good chance to see a muskie or two in a half-day of fishing. Elkhart is the bigger of the two, spanning 286 acres, with a maximum depth of 119 feet. The lake is stocked annually with Leech Lake-strain muskies by a local Muskies Inc. chapter.
The lake is crystal clear, and follows are common, while hookups are not. The lake holds some big muskies, according to DNR fisheries biologist John Nelson. He suggests fishing the shallows during low-light periods or probing the depths with diving crankbaits. Ciscoes are a common forage here, so white and silver are good bait colors. Several rocky points, a few weedy bays and one good offshore bar provide structure. The public landing is located along the west shore off Highway P.
Random Lake is mostly shallow and weedy, with one 20-foot hole. Topwaters, Bulldawgs and shallow-running crankbaits produce fish. In spring, you’ll find muskies in the new weeds at the north end of this 200-acre lake. Later in the season, work the deep weed edge along the east and west shores of the main basin or soak a sucker in the deep hole.
There are several rigs at the landing at the village park nearly every day of the season, so the muskies here have seen their share of baits. Follows are common, but because the water is murky, you won’t see a fish until it is practically at boat side. Ben Kueng and other successful anglers here always drag a sucker or two on a bobber line. Muskies that follow a lure often grab the live bait. Kueng and his clients have taken a number of hefty muskies here, most of them on suckers and quick-strike rigs.
For more information, contact the Elkhart Lake Tourism Commission at (877) 355-4278 or go online to www. elkhartlake.com
Known more for its fantastic bass, walleye and panfish action, Delavan is also home to a decent muskie population. This 2,000-acre Walworth County lake has sharp breaks along both the north and south shores. Both ends of the lake are shallow, and weeds there provide good cover. The DNR stocks muskies here every year, and they grow fat on the abundant forage.
Motor trolling is allowed, but Brian Gates, who operates Geneva Lake Bait & Tackle on Highway 67 just south of Highway 50 in Williams Bay, said casting is more productive. Try the rocky dropoffs west of Cedar Point and off Willow Point, or deep weed edges wherever you find them. Summer recreational boat traffic is unbelievably heavy, so many anglers switch to night-fishing once the ski-boat plague hits the lake.
This flowage on the Wisconsin River between Wausau and Stevens Point is a 6,800-acre maze of stumps, channels and backwaters, all of it muskie habitat. Tributaries include Johnson Creek, Big and Little Eau Pleine rivers and Little Eau Claire River. The lake has a maximum depth of 47 feet in the river channel just above the DuBay dam, but most of the lake ranges from 5 to 10 feet in depth.
The water is stained brown, so bright-colored lures are the rule. Guide Pat Pierce throws large, noisy bucktails and shallow-running crankbaits in spring in the inlets and bays. In summer, he trolls the river channels and flats in the large south basin, where big muskies roam in search of baitfish, especially schools of carp. Topwater baits often produce after dark.
The nice thing about fishing Wisconsin River flowages is there is so much structure, you can almost always find active fish. If trolling the lake doesn’t produce, head for the stumps in one of the tributary inlets. If you strike out there, head upriver and cast to shorelines and below sandbars.
A dam on the Yellowstone River in Lafayette County formed this 450-acre flowage, one of the few lakes, manmade or natural, in the unglaciated southwest corner of Wisconsin. The lake is mainly shallow, with plenty of fallen trees to provide shoreline cover. Its dark waters hide fish, so be prepared for a strike at any time. The DNR stocks muskies here annually, and there are good numbers of them ranging up to 50 inches. Special regulations prohibit the keeping of game fish here, so you have a good chance of tying into a good muskie.
A state park surrounds the lake, and there are campsites, hiking trails, picnic areas and several boat launches. Two private campgrounds nearby handle the overflow of campers from the state park.
For further information, contact the Darlington Main Street Program at (608) 776-3067 or online at www.darlington wi.org , or Yellowstone Lake State Park at (608) 523-4427. For camping reservations, call (888) WI-PARKS, or go to www.reserveamerica.com/usa/wi/yell
(Editor’s Note: For more information on Wisconsin fishing, catch the author’s weekly radio show, “Outdoors with Dan Small and Judy Nugent,” on broadcast stations throughout the state and available as a podcast at www.lake-link.com , and www.iTunes.com .)