Since he retired, the author has been busy prospecting the lakes in the southeastern corner of our state. These are some of the best for bucketmouths.
By Ted Peck
Imagine living in a place where you could chase largemouth bass on a different lake every day the season was open and never fish the same lake twice - all within an hour's drive from home.
Most folks dwelling in the nine-county area in southeast Wisconsin don't even realize they're living in this world. According to Department of Natural Resources statistics, there are over 400 lakes in the southeast. Waukesha County has the most, with 118 designated lakes. Racine County has the fewest, with 21.
Some of these waters are almost small enough to cast across, with limited public access, maybe not even a boat ramp. Others are quite well known and a regular zoo on the weekends this time of year.
DNR biologists in this part of our state say that the largemouth bass is by far the most prevalent game fish here, swimming in just about every body of water capable of floating a duck. Some lakes get choked with weeds by this point in the summer. Others - most notably deep, natural "kettle" lakes - are ultraclear and appear almost sterile. In between are a number of lakes that can often be effectively probed in just a couple of hours' time on the water - hiding in plain sight and essentially unknown to but a few anglers, who aren't about to tell anybody about their secret little spot.
Prospecting for new honeyholes is often fraught with disappointments and shattered dreams, with lakes either inaccessible or not what you hoped they would be. A 50-bass outing isn't much fun if the critters are all 8 inches long. But there are places close to heavily populated areas where 8-pounders swim, and where the big gals seldom see a hook.
My very best spots are not mentioned in this article. You'll have to find them yourself. All you need is DeLorme's Wisconsin Atlas & Gazetteer, the free DNR book Wisconsin Lakes (publication FM-800), and a little ambition, and you might just see this retired Beloit firefighter and his yellow Lab, Hanna Banana, working plastic "finesse" baits out of a beat-up little flat-bottomed boat with an old electric motor on the transom.
Following is a look at other little-known waters that are pretty darn good. Check out a couple of them before the summer ends.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
BOHNERS LAKE A 23 1/2-inch bucketmouth that ate a shiner under a tip-up on this 135-acre Racine County lake a few years ago was my impetus for prospecting some of southeastern Wisconsin's nether waters.
We accessed this lake from the public launch in the township of Burlington, looking to do some perch and bluegill jerking. We also had two tip-ups set, simply because there were several pricey shiners that deserved at least a shot at a warrior's death.
Most of the perch caught that afternoon were 4-inchers, but there were even smaller ones mixed in as well, giving Bohners all the outward appearances of another "write-off." And then the flag went up, producing the biggest bass I've ever hooked through the ice.
Bohners is a deep lake, with a maximum of about 30 feet in depth and average of over 9 feet. A fairly distinct weedline is the key to getting hooked up in the summertime. But even though my whopper bucketmouth may still be swimming here, most fish will be at or just above the 14-inch size limit in place on most Wisconsin bass lakes.
ROCKLAND LAKE While waiting to launch at Racine County's Brown's Lake is a common occurrence every summer weekend, this other lake located just down the road off of Highway 11 east of Burlington sees very little fishing pressure. The main reason is lack of a public boat ramp. But if you don't mind dragging in a canoe or cartopper to fish these 40 acres, bass are almost always willing to accommodate your efforts.
Much of Rockland's shoreline is undeveloped. If it weren't for traffic noise the experience would be almost northwoods in character. As is the case at Bohners, the average depth here is over 10 feet, with a 28-foot maximum and clear water conditions.
UPPER & LOWER PHANTOM LAKES These two connected lake basins in south-central Waukesha County near Mukwonago are two different fisheries.
The larger, Lower Phantom, has much better bass habitat, with plenty of marshy water, lily pads and similar cover over a maximum depth of about 12 feet. Upper Phantom drops away quickly into much deeper water, and may be a good place to target now that serious summer is upon us. Bear in mind that water temperatures can be up to 10 degrees cooler in the shade of weeds than in unprotected waters nearby. There is a good weedbed located in the southeast corner of the deeper lake basin, with both lakes combining into a 540-acre fishery.
DNR biologist Sue Beyler says the Phantom lakes have a good matrix of weed growth, with some milfoil and cabbage weeds holding the primary forage base of minnows and bluegills.
Beyler says there are many year-classes of bass present in this fishery, with "some specimens well in excess of 6 pounds."
Access is in the village of Mukwonago. Take County Highway ES to Andrews Street and start fishing right at the ramp.
LAKE WANDAWEGA This 119-acre Walworth County lake located north of Elkhorn was almost included in the list of lakes requiring prospecting. There is a great mix of weeds in Wandawega, which has a maximum depth of perhaps 10 feet.
Some of the most exciting action can be found around one of several stands of lily pads, pitching topwater lures like the clear Heddon Tiny Torpedo or silver/black Devil's Toothpick. Thick wads of milfoil also hold bass. Slug-Gos or similar baits are a good bet here. But wacky-worming a salt-and-pepper Senko just outside the weed edge can provoke some serious bass action.
There is a fair boat launch maintained by Sugar Creek Township. Most of the 30 bass you'll catch in a typical evening here are just shy of legal. And anything over 14 inches should be quickly returned to the water if Wandawega is to maintain "honeyhole" status.
HOOKER LAKE Located in the village of Paddock Lake in Kenosha County, 87-acre Hooker Lake is one of the prettiest little waters in southeast Wisconsin. Most of the shoreline is natural, with weeds and the occasional deadfall or stump almo
st always hiding a willing bass.
With a 27-foot maximum depth, there is plenty of deepwater escape cover for bass. But if you're fishing more than 10 feet deep you're below a great percentage of the bucketmouths that swim here.
DNR biologist Doug Welch says there are five solid year-classes of largemouths calling Hooker home, with the biggest specimens approaching near-trophy size.
There is a good boat launch located off of Highway 50 with limited parking available.
CENTER LAKE Located just down the road from Hooker, Center Lake is another Kenosha County water that sees very little bass fishing pressure throughout much of the summer.
Like many smaller waters, this 120-acre gem located near the village of Camp Lake is prone to summer algae blooms, which can actually improve fishing.
Center averages about 10 feet in depth. A fair boat ramp is maintained by the township.
BIG MUSKEGO LAKE Folks have been staying away from this once-popular bass lake in droves since a major winterkill that targeted mainly bass occurred during the winter of 2000.
Subsequent surveys by DNR crews indicate that bucketmouths swimming in Bass Bay - a 100-acre lake on Muskego's north side that is connected by a canal - survived the winterkill event in the slightly deeper water found there. Another pod of bass that spent that fatal winter near Big Muskego's inlet also survived. Both of these groups of bass have since moved out into other portions of the 2,260-acre lake located in the southeast part of Waukesha County.
The DNR is helping things along with significant stocking of fish each year since the winterkill occurred. As a result, DNR biologist Sue Beyler says the bass population in Big Muskego is back in a big way, but only a few local folks are taking advantage of the situation.
You can expect most of the fish caught here this summer to be at or below the 18-inch minimum. But with good numbers of fish that spent the winter of 2000 up in Bass Bay still swimming in the lake, the potential for tangling with a whopper is always there.
Big Muskego has a pair of good boat launches. One is located on the east end on Durham Road, with the other access at the old Boxhorn Gun Club.
SILVER & GOLDEN LAKES Two of Waukesha County's smaller bass lakes - Silver and Golden - get relatively light bass fishing pressure, in spite of urban locations. Both of these waters are "kettle" lakes, generally clear in nature with a predominantly sandy bottom. These lakes are also quite deep, with maximum depths in the 40-foot-plus range - not exactly prime bass habitat. But there are marsh components on both of these lakes where largemouths feel quite at home.
Natural colors work best here. Probably the most consistent color is a clear hologram or salt-and-pepper, with downsizing a good strategy. Plastics work well on these lakes, especially the 4-inch Senko and 3-inch tube, with the lightest tube jig weight you can find.
Lighter tackle is part of the presentation. Spinning gear is ideal. Try a 7-foot-long medium-action spinning rod with good sensitivity and backbone and 6-pound-test Berkley FireLine or a similar "superline."
The key to finesse fishing lies in precise presentation and tripwire readiness. If you can hit a basketball-sized hole in the weeds where a fish lies in ambush, the strike will come almost immediately, followed by a quick rush for the adjacent heavy cover. A long rod with some backbone can move the fish quickly when coupled with the stronger superline.
Golden Lake is located on the west side of Waukesha County. This 250-acre lake has a fair access located on the south side, just off of Highway 18.
Silver Lake, checking in at about 222 acres, is in the northwest corner of the county near Oconomowoc. There is a boat launch on the lake's north side on County Highway B.
DNR biologist Doug Welch says both lakes have several year-classes of bass present. A 14-inch, three-fish daily bag limit is in place.
JEFFERSON COUNTY GEMS Several lakes southeast of Madison are worthy of note.
The most popular is Rock Lake, which sees heavy recreational use, especially on the weekend. At 1,271 acres with a maximum depth of over 50 feet, Rock Lake is home to a diverse number of fish species. Largemouth bass here tend to reside close against shoreline cover, out to the first breakline at the deep weed edge.
A variety of presentations work here, with pumpkinseed Berkley Power Worms a local favorite. Tube jigs pitched close to cover are also effective, especially when the lake is seeing high recreational traffic or after passage of a substantial cold front. Also try throwing a Chomper twin-tailed hula grub at several places on the lake where there is a very steep breakline, just letting the bait fall.
Good access and plenty of amenities are readily available at Rock Lake, located in Lake Mills.
Red Cedar Lake, situated east of Cambridge, is a great place for having fun with smaller fish on a fly rod. Access is via a small canal south of Highway 12. At about 350 acres, the fishing pressure this lake sees comes primarily from ice-anglers. With only about 6 feet of space in the water column at Red Cedar, a well-placed popper will often trigger a strike.
There is no public access to Hope Lake, which is also located east of Cambridge. The Stockfish family has so far allowed access to the public, asking for a small donation for the privilege.
Also a primary target of ice-anglers, Hope is home to generally smaller bass. A "belly boat" is a great way to go get 'em at Hope, which is 142 acres in size.
GREEN LAKE This little 71-acre fishery has considerably less notoriety than its like-named waters in Green Lake County. Access isn't easy at Green, located just northeast of West Bend in Washington County, but it's well worth the effort to fish here.
The shoreline around this small lake is highly developed, with a matrix of suburban streets that need to be negotiated before reaching a marginal boat ramp.
Like Wandawega down in Walworth County, Green isn't really the kind of lake you want to talk about. I've fished it several times, and get bewildered every time the turn is made off of Highway 144 onto Wallace Road. If it weren't for nearly sure-thing status, orienteering efforts might be better spent looking for different waters.
All you need are a couple of trusty topwaters for the evening bite and a good selection of 7-inch
Berkley Power Worms in tequila sunrise pattern presented on a Texas rig. According to the DNR, Green has a maximum depth of nearly 40 feet. Probe considerably shallower water, targeting the diverse weed structure in this clear lake.
LONG LAKE Long is another pretty much overlooked Fond du Lac County lake - at least by serious bassers. A public launch and several private launches are located around these 417 acres near Dundee off of Highway 67, with most folks out there this time of year interested in recreational pursuits rather than fishing.
Long is a drainage lake with a significant dropoff at the deep weed edge along much of the shoreline. This weed edge is quite distinct by this point of the year, and it's habitat for the lion's share of the largemouth population that swims here.
Long is a great place to fish slow-falling baits at the weed edge. Tubes, wacky-wormed Senkos and similar baits all work. Probably the most consistent is a big black Berkley Power Leech fished on a 1/8-ounce jighead. The key is to be a "line watcher" - a technique made much easier by using a high-visibility line.
Using medium spinning gear, cast the leech to the weed edge and let it fall on a pretty much slack line, watching for the slight "tick" that indicates a bite. Once you get the feel for this technique and locate fish, it's usually an every-cast situation. Live jumbo leeches work even better than plastics, but on a slack line the bass definitely has the advantage. All she has to do is create a vacuum in which to suck in the leech, blowing out your barren jighead a nanosecond later. It is possible to go through a couple dozen jumbo leeches without even getting hooked up before you acquire a feel for this delicate dance.
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The good news on the little lakes we've told you about in this article is that few other anglers will be around to watch you stumble along this learning curve - or hear you chortle like a pirate once you've figured out the finesse fishing game plan.
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