Sure, muskies and walleyes get most of the angling attention in the Badger State's northern half, but the fishing for smallmouth bass and largemouth bass is pretty awesome, too! (June 2006)
Muskies are big and walleyes taste good, but if you want fast fishing action, smallmouth bass and largemouth bass are the fish for you. Northern Wisconsin has all these fish -- often in the same lake.
Flowages -- also called impoundments or reservoirs in Wisconsin -- and manmade lakes formed by damming rivers usually produce the best smallie fisheries, while largemouth bass prefer the natural lakes isolated from rivers. Sure, there are exceptions to that, too.
Try your luck this year for both basses on these waters.
The largest lake in Chippewa County is manmade Lake Wissota, located two miles east of Chippewa Falls. Lake Wissota is 6,300 acres, and the main lake alone accounts for over 4,000 acres. Largemouth bass are present in this big lake, but it's the abundant smallmouth bass population that attracts anglers.
Lake Wissota has several good boat launches. On the north end, there is a ramp off Highway S where it crosses the Chippewa River. Two ramps are in Moon Bay, which is little more than a wide spot in the Yellow River. The river flows into Lake Wissota on the east shore. On the south end, there are several ramps in Little Lake Wissota, which is a very wide spot in Paint Creek. Two of these ramps are off Highway X where the two lakes come together. On the west shore, there is a ramp north of the Chippewa River outlet just off Redar Road.
Wissota is known as a good -- but sometimes tough -- bass lake. Smallies in the 2-pound class are good fish here. In fact, a three-day tournament in 2005 saw an average weight of slightly over 2 pounds for the bass these pros registered. Finding the fish-catching pattern of the day is often the difficult part of fishing this lake. Bring a wide variety of lures, and be prepared to try them all.
Another reason Wissota is tough to fish is the heavy weekend boat traffic during the summer. If you must fish on Saturday and Sunday, get on the water early in the morning. If possible, schedule your fishing trips to this big lake for weekdays when there's less pleasure boat traffic.
Bright colors are the rule in Wissota's dark water, and night crawlers and leeches often entice moody bass to bite. Bass like structure, and your electronics will be important in finding these bottom elements for successful fishing.
The Chippewa Falls Chamber of Commerce can help you with accommodations and guide services. Go online to the chamber's Web site at www.chippewachamber.org, or call 1-866-723-0340. If you prefer to camp, Lake Wissota State Park on the east shore is popular with both vacationers and anglers. Find out more and make reservations at www.dnr.state.wi.us/
A half-dozen miles south of Spooner in Washburn County you'll find the village of Shell Lake and the lake of the same name. Approximately 2,500 acres of water gives you plenty of room to catch the abundant smallmouth bass and the less common largemouth bass. Six boat ramps on the north and west shores provide good boat launching access.
During the coolwater times of spring and fall, the shallow bay on the lake's south end, south of Scout Island, attracts both basses. Plan on moving quietly and making long casts. Shell Lake is filled with clear water, and shallow-water bass spook easily.
Shell Lake is a large basin. Look for bass in the main basin to hold near the deep-water cribs. Use your electronics to find these, but keep the noise down when you fish them. Often, an early morning trip will have the best fishing. In this clear water, don't hesitate to fish 14 to 18 feet deep, or even deeper. Soft-plastic stick baits or jerkbaits work well for this sort of fishing. Many anglers work the bottom, but sometimes the fish will suspend while feeding on minnows or sunfish near the cribs. Standard grub tails and dressed jigs will work around the cribs, too.
For more information, visit www. shelllakeonline.com, or the Spooner Area Chamber of Commerce's Web site at www.chamber.spooneronline. com or call (715) 635-2168. Additional fishing information is available at www.washburncounty.com at the fishing link.
MIDDLE EAU CLAIRE LAKE
The fishing reports on Bayfield County's Eau Claire Chain often note walleye and muskie catches, but if you're looking for largemouth bass, Middle Eau Claire is the one to fish, according the DNR. It's a clearwater lake of nearly 1,000 acres with an average depth of 17 feet and a maximum depth of 66 feet. Smallmouths are common in the lake, too.
Locate Middle Eau Claire on the map by looking approximately 12 miles west of Drummond. A barrier-free boat ramp on the southeast corner near Highway 27 provides boat launching and handicapped access.
Despite the clear water, there is scant weed growth, but shoreline cover, bottom structure and fish cribs provide plenty of hideouts and feeding locations for bass. Plastics work well in the early morning hours when rigged "wacky" style -- hooked in the middle -- and skipped under docks and piers. Try an assortment of colors, but black, white and watermelon usually catch fish.
To find travel and lodging information, go to the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce's Web site at www.bayfield.org, or Bayfield County Tourism at www.travelbayfieldcounty. com.
If you're looking for a smallmouth bass lake in the far north with beautiful scenery, Iron County's Gile Flowage is the one. It's located a few miles south of Hurley, contains over 3,000 acres of water, and the rock and wood cover make it a great smallmouth destination.
In recent years, anglers are reporting fast action on 12- to 14-inch smallies, but some trophy-class bass are being caught, too. The DNR posted special regulations for the flowage on June 17, 2005, so now the minimum length on bass is 15 inches.
There are four boat ramps on the Gile. One is off Highway C on the east end, another on the north end near Gile Falls Dam, and the remaining two ramps are on the southwest side. Boaters are advised to motor with caution because fluctuating water levels can expose wood and rock hazards.
Wind direction and speed can be a problem on a large flowage, but it can also make bass fishing better. Wave-swept rocks and wood can have active bass feeding on the insects, crayfish and forage fish stirred up by the wave action. Of course, waves can muddy the water, but that could mean the best bite is while the sun is out.
Tubes, jigs, spinners and crankbaits will catch the smallmouths here, but it pays to experiment. The hot lure or color seems to change from year to year. That's true of bass fishing almost anywhere.
Visit the Hurley Chamber of Commerce's Web site at www.hurleywi. com or call 1-866-340-4334 for information on travel and fishing "at the top of Wisconsin."
Forest County's Lake Metonga is well known for the perch and walleye fishing, but it also supports a healthy bass population. Smallies are the common species, but don't be surprised if you land a lunker largemouth, because they are present, too.
The town of Crandon is on the north shore. If you take Lake Avenue south from Highway 8, you will end up at one of two boat ramps. The other ramp is on the south shore at the end of County Park Road. This lake, which is over 2,000 acres, gets busy on summer weekends. The best fishing is both early and late on weekends or during the week when most recreational boaters are gone.
Fishing for bronzebacks in the Menominee is not difficult. In fact, you would have a hard time finding a stretch of this river that doesn't hold smallies.
Fishing reports from 2005 reflect a good summer for bass anglers hitting Metonga. The reports said smallies in the 20-inch class were not uncommon. Just be sure to practice catch-and-release.
Take a full arsenal of bass lures for both shallow- and deep-water fishing when you go to Lake Metonga. Rely on large tube jigs to start, and try both light and dark colors.
The city of Crandon can help you with travel, lodging and more fishing information. See their Web site at www.crandonwi.com, or call them at 1-800-334-3387.
BLACK OAK LAKE
Five miles west of Land O'Lakes in Vilas County is 584-acre Black Oak Lake. This lake is known to have good populations of both largemouth and smallmouth bass. The lake isn't popular with anglers, but once the water warms, it is popular with skiers. Even so, it's a good getaway destination if you're looking for a new and remote place to catch bass. There is one boat ramp on Black Oak and no commercial resorts. The one ramp is on the south shore off Highway B.
The lake's contour map shows the depth drops quickly from the shore. Most of the bass fishing is near shore on this clearwater lake, but a few walleye anglers report catching big largemouths while fishing the deep-water weed edges, sometimes as deep as 20 feet.
For more information on the area, contact the Land O'Lakes Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-236-3432, or visit the chamber's Web site at www.landolakes-wi.org.
From its beginning near Florence all the way to its confluence with the waters of Green Bay, the Menominee River has excellent bass fishing.
Smallies take center stage, but largemouth bass are caught in current-free areas such as sloughs, bays and flowages throughout the river's course. Unlike some of the lakes in this article, anglers will encounter few pleasure boaters on the Menominee, but this also means anglers need to motor with caution because of the deadheads and rocks. Another difference is that the river's water is stained, almost looking like very strong tea.
Boat ramps are common along the river's course, both on the Wisconsin and Michigan sides. The river forms the boundary between the two states. Every flowage has launching facilities, often operated by the county, and We Energies maintains many ramps for public use, too. The ramps vary in quality. Some are primitive, while others will handle large boats, and they have docks. Signage is good, too, so the ramps are easy to find.
Where once an 18-inch smallie brought out cameras, now they are common, and not just one or two, but many if you hit the water on the right day, and at the right time of day. Some of the best fishing is on the west shore of the Door Peninsula, and it extends from Sturgeon Bay all the way to the northern tip of the county.
Fishing for bronzebacks in the Menominee is not difficult. In fact, you would have a hard time finding a stretch of this river that doesn't hold smallies. However, during most of the summer season, the large fish in the 20-inch class are scattered. Keep moving until you catch fish, and keep trying different lures. Of course, the speed of your retrieve and depth you fish will depend on the season. In general, the larger bass will hold deeper than the smaller fish, and during a cold front, you will have to search for and find the deepest water around.
There is plenty of shoreline structure on the river that serves as current breaks for resting bass. Sometimes the river current is very strong, and it's only possible to fish the sloughs and flowages. In any event, all bass must have cover to relate to, and this river has it. But shorelines aren't the only places to fish.
The Menominee has plenty of bass cover, even in its middle. Rocks, downed trees and river grasses are used by bass, too. Some of this cover is in deep water where the big bass will hold during the midday hours. One problem anglers new to the river face is that it all looks good. Until you get some experience fishing a particular location, you won't know if it holds bass or not. You can often catch northern pike and smallies in the same spot, but as a general rule, if you catch pike, there won't be many bass there and it's best to move on. Not to mention that the abundant pike in the river can steal your lures.
Menominee River bronzebacks rely heavily on crayfish and forage fish for their meals. Lures that imitate crayfish should be the first you toss out, either soft plastics or crankbaits. Some people use live bait early and late in open-water season, but don't do this unless you are an expert at not letting the fish inhale the bait, and getting the bass to the boat in a hurry to ensure a safe release.
Mike Mladenik is a Crivitz-area guide who can show you how to catch Menominee River smallies. Check out his Web site at www.bigsmallmouth.com, or call (715) 854-2055 for more information. The Crivitz area allows access to much of the Menominee River, and the town has all the facilities you need. For information on bait, lodging and other services in the area, go online to the Crivitz Recreation Association's Web site at www.crivitzrecreation.com.
If you want to fish for bass in big waters, head to Door County. The smallmouth bass fishing is simply fantastic right now, and every small town or bay has launching facilities.
Where once an 18-inch smallie brought out cameras, now they are common, and not just one or two, but many if you hit the water on the right day, and at the right time of day.
Some of the best fishing is on the west shore of the Door Peninsula, and it extends from Sturgeon Bay all the way to the northern tip of the county.
Weather is a definite factor here, so check
the forecast at a real-time source like The Weather Channel's www.weather.com before launching. Also, tell loved ones where you are going, and take a cell phone along.
Contact the Door County Chamber of Commerce at (920) 743-4456, or www.doorcounty.com for more information. Campers will want to check out Peninsula State Park, Wisconsin's most popular camping destination.
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We have touched on only a handful of the hundreds of excellent bass fishing locations in northern Wisconsin. Don't be afraid to do a little exploring on your own, even if it means hiking in to a small, remote pond. Bass are all over the northwoods, and you never know when a big one will decide to bite your offering.