September 30, 2010
Hundreds of Wisconsin's lakes produce plenty of northern pike every year, many of them trophy-class fish. (March 2009)
By Greg Keefer
Trying to pick the best northern pike waters is a tough call. Hundreds of Wisconsin's lakes produce good numbers of northerns every year, many of them trophy-class fish. No matter where you live in the Badger State, you don't have to go far to get in on the action.
Here's a look at some of the state's best northern pike waters for 2009.
Shell Lake is a jewel among gems. Almost every lake in the area has good populations of northern pike. These deep, clear waters include Lac Courte Oreilles, Round, Whitefish and Grindstone lakes. All of them are first-class fisheries and Shell ranks right at the top.
According to Terry Margenau, the WDNR's St. Croix basin fisheries supervisor, Shell Lake has a good population of the toothy predators and is one of his top picks for the region.
Tom Klassa, the owner of Shell Lake Marine, also gives the lake a big thumbs-up.
"You can catch plenty of northern pike, especially in the winter," Klassa said. "They're pretty aggressive. When you fish for bass, you catch them. If you fish for muskies or panfish, you catch them."
But winter isn't the only time of the year to tangle with a 3- to 10-pound pike. Big fish are taken throughout the hot summer months in weedbeds with Rapalas and spinnerbaits. The weed edges produce throughout the open-water season. Weedless spoons, a big plastic grub hooked weedless on a 1/4- to 1/2-ounce jig or other weedless presentations can tempt the weed bite all summer long and into the fall.
Don't be afraid to try over-sized muskie baits. Northerns are capable of eating a meal a third of their own size and at times prefer not to waste time chasing smaller baits.
Under the ice a jig-and-minnow combination or a big chub on a hook are dynamite. Northerns feel comfortable under the ice and cruise just below the surface. An additional draw is that the dissolved oxygen is in its highest concentrations right under the ice. (Continued)
The lake covers 2,580 acres south of Spooner in Washburn County. A small fee is required at the developed boat launch near the downtown municipal campground.
For more information, contact the DNR at (715) 635-4089 or Shell Lake Marine at (715) 468-7662.
BIG EAU PLEINE RESERVOIR
The Big Eau Pleine is another top spot for pike anglers this year. Good numbers and sizes of northerns combine to make a great fishery.
The Big Eau Pleine covers 6,830 acres with an average depth of about 16 feet and a shoreline that extends for 66 miles.
A DNR survey focused on the northern pike fishery a few years ago yielded surprising results.
According to fisheries biologist Tom Meronek, 1,375 northern pike were captured. Small pike up to 20 inches were abundant and should be providing good catches this year. Nearly 20 percent of the pike measured at least 26 inches and 38 topped the 32-inch mark. The biggest fish was a 43-incher that will bend the best of rods.
The habitat is varied and the pike can be just about anywhere. They'll be chasing down a meal in the weedbeds in shallow water, the stumpfields south of the dam, in Pickerel Bay or off Big Elm Point.
Try a 1/4-ounce or 1/2-ounce muskie jig tipped with a 6-inch plastic shad near the surface or bounced along on the bottom for whatever the conditions dictate.
Using a fish finder to locate schools of baitfish is one way to pinpoint roaming pike that are moving with the prey. Northerns prefer to use ambush points in weeds and woody cover, but larger fish will sometimes hit the depths in search of open-water walleyes and other smaller fish.
The lake covers 6,830 acres southwest of Mosinee in Marathon County.
For additional information, contact the DNR at (715) 359-7582 or the Cyrans du Bay Pit Stop in Mosinee at (715) 693-2444.
EAU CLAIRE FLOWAGE
If the pike aren't hitting in Big Eau Pleine, consider giving nearby Eau Claire Flowage a try. This is a small lake covering less than 200 acres in Marathon County that packs a punch. It's a typical small bass and panfish lake with a nice smattering of northern pike thrown in for good measure. You probably won't find too many trophies here, but you can have some fun when the weather is too rough to be on larger lakes.
Some decent-sized northern pike are taken in the springtime, according to Greg Martens, the owner of the Third Avenue Sport Shop. Fishing anywhere around the boat access and the weedbeds should put anglers onto the action.
Eau Claire pike aren't fussy, Martens said. A wide variety of artificial baits work well as does a big sucker under a bobber.
This little lake only reaches 10 feet deep and develops a lot of weed cover later in the summer. It's best fished early on when the submerged vegetation isn't quite as thick. Weedless spoons, floating crankbaits and topwater Zara Spooks and Jitterbugs produce savage strikes before the weeds choke the surface. Once that happens, look for open patches and try fishing vertically. The pike will stick in the cover to ambush anything careless enough to pass by or cruise in the more open water.
A ramp is on the south shore by the dam near Wausau. A 34-inch minimum size limit is in place.
For additional information, contact the DNR at (715) 359-7582 or the Third Avenue Sport Shop in Wausau at (715) 842-4306.
BIG CEDAR LAKE
The state's 40-inch limit waters are designed to create trophy-class fisheries and keep anglers hopping. That's what's happening at Big Cedar. Fisheries surveys that have been conducted on the lake aren't recent, but it's clear that things are working as planned.
"From what I've seen in the most recent limited survey work, it looks like the northern pike population on Big Cedar is beginning to recover from the low numbers in the late 1990s," said fisheries biologist John Nelson. "We're beginning to see more natural reproduction and I think that all in all, the 40-inch limit has been successful."
The fishery is expected to continue improving and is well worth keeping an eye on.
Chris Zurn of the Small Town Bait and Tackle shop in West Bend couldn't agree more. According to Zurn, there are huge northerns coming out of the lake every year.
Live bait is the way to fool these lunkers. Use the biggest shiner or sucker that y
ou can find and let it swim under a bobber. Smaller pike are taken on casting gear, but the big ones aren't as easily fooled.
That's the method guide Rick Graskey uses to tempt the lunkers.
"There's a big year-class right now of 34- to 36-inch pike in the lake and things have changed a lot since the 40-inch minimum-length limit came in," Graskey said. "Big Cedar is a lake where you can catch a trophy."
Graskey found that the thermocline didn't develop last year and took pike as deep as 80 feet.
The best spots on the lake for the bigger fish are on the dropoffs near the islands. Drop a big minnow along the edges, sit back and hold on. One of these trophy-class fish will rip the rod right out of your hands.
Big Cedar Lake is in Washington County three miles south of West Bend.
For more information, contact the DNR at (920) 892-8756, Small Town Bait and Tackle in West Bend at (262) 335-6690 and Rick Graskey at (414) 322-2074.
According to fisheries biologist Gene Van Dyck, Blackhawk Lake is just one of those unplanned events that's worked out well
"Northern pike were illegally put into Blackhawk and there were a couple of high-water years at the right time," Van Dyck said. "The lake developed a northern pike population, and it really took off."
Winter fishing is when most of the pike leave the lake for the dinner plate. The warm-weather fishery isn't quite as popular, but the word is getting out.
According to Van Dyck, growth rates are good and anglers are tangling with fish up to 40 inches. These beasts are rare, but there are plenty of 30-inch-plus northerns.
Some anglers are far from pleased about the introduction of the water wolf to Blackhawk, but Van Dyck hasn't found any reason to feel this way. Bluegills and crappies are still abundant in spite of the pike. Pike prefer suckers and grow fast as a result of this excellent source of protein.
Look for northerns in the weedbeds and deeper water during the summer. Troll crankbaits in the fall through weedy areas and around any submerged cover.
Winter is a different story. Anglers hit the lake pretty hard, according to Dan Welsh, the assistant manger of the Blackhawk Recreation Area.
"A few of us began ice-fishing for northerns a few years ago and now there are tip-ups everywhere," he said. "We have a 40-inch club with three members so far. There are plenty of fish that are almost that long and lots of fish in the 10- to 15-pound class."
Most pike fishing is done in the winter, and the rest of the year anglers target bluegills or stay at home.
The lake freezes up late, but when it does, it freezes hard. Vehicles can usually be driven across the ice or anglers can reach the far corners on foot.
Blackhawk may be a flash in the pan, according to Van Dyck. Whether or not the current high density and trophy-class sizes can be sustained isn't known. The DNR has never stocked pike into the lake and there are no plans to do so. Now is the time to get in on the action.
Blackhawk covers 210 acres in Iowa County. It's part of the Blackhawk Recreation Area between Cobb and Highland. A boat sticker is required to use the boat launch.
For more information, contact the DNR at (608) 935-1936 or the Blackhawk RA at (608) 623-2997.
Even though the Madison Chain is located in the heart of the state's metropolitan area, it still keeps pumping out northern pike. It's not only an excellent pike fishery but one of the state's more overlooked ones.
Muskies take the lead and overshadow their smaller cousins. Fish up to 30 pounds aren't unheard of and they get most of the press.
But according to fisheries biologist Kurt Welke, some very nice pike were sampled by the DNR in 2008 as well.
"We see some 40-inch-plus fish," Welke said.
Waubesa, Mendota and Monona are the prime pike lakes in the chain, with Waubesa in the forefront. Population estimates place about two pike per acre in these waters.
The average pike in Waubesa in the most recent DNR sampling topped 25 inches. The largest pike was a 39-inch female weighing more than 14 pounds.
On 3,200-acre Kenossa Lake the population is estimated to be somewhere between 2,200 to 3,300 fish.
Mendota has a lower density but has some monsters. Fish in the 20-pound range are showing up more commonly and not just in fall or early ice. Spoon plugs regularly take fish in the high 30s in the dead of summer using weighted line.
Pike will be in the traditional pike habitat. Weeds, weeds and more weeds spell pike success and are where anglers should concentrate their efforts.
The railroad trestle at the north edge of Waubesa Lake concentrates baitfish and brings in the pike. The north and west sections of the lake are also productive.
The areas outside Olin Park and Turville Point on Monona Lake have a combination of deep water and weedlines that draw big pike. A ramp is available off Lakeside Road in the park. Another popular spot on the lake is Squaw Bay on the southeast side. The nearest ramp is off Tonyawatha Trail north of Tecunsen Park.
For more information, contact the DNR at (608) 273-5946 or D&S Bait, Tackle and Archery in Madison at (608) 241-4225.
There really is some truth to the adage that big water produces big pike. Lake Superior is a resource that anglers in the northern part of the state can enjoy that doesn't exist anywhere else in the Badger State. The dynamics of this cold-water fishery are such that pike surviving their first few years of life have an abundant food supply, can select ideal water temperatures and have the opportunity to avoid angling pressure almost entirely.
Mike Seider, the senior fisheries biologist on the DNR's Lake Superior Fisheries Team, points out that pike are not necessarily abundant but do tend to congregate on a seasonal basis.
"If you're looking for a big-water fishing experience and the opportunity to catch a couple of nice-sized northern pike, you'll enjoy Lake Superior," Seider said.
"During the spring, pike tend to be a little more concentrated and easier to locate in the shallow-water habitat," he said. "As you move into summer, the pike tend to spread out and spend time in deeper water. We've seen pike that the DNR have tagged in the shallow slo
ughs in bays during the spring show up later out in the Apostle Islands, so we know they're roaming around, probably in search of smelt and herring."
According to Seider, pike spawn in most of the sloughs associated with Chequamegon Bay and the wetlands near the mouths of many of the lake's tributaries. Good numbers gather near the Kakagon and Sand Cut sloughs and in the Fish Creek area in Chequa¬megon Bay. Spawners also frequent the Big Bay lagoon on Madeline Island, Bark Bay sloughs near Cornucopia and the sloughs near Port Wing. Pike can also be taken in and around the marinas in the early spring.
Troll near the deeper breaks, humps and deeper vegetation in Chequamegon Bay. During the early spring and summer, you can take a nice fish or two on an average day. Pike are caught in the fall and winter in shallower water in the vegetation and woody structure.
Pike can grow to some hefty sizes on Lake Superior. Growth rates are above average and there are good numbers of 30-inch-plus fish. Seider generally handles a couple of 40-inch fish every year during the spawning surveys. One of them reached the 46-inch mark.
The minimum length limit in Lake Superior is 26 inches with a two-fish bag limit.
For more information, contact the DNR at (715) 779-4035.
For additional information, visit the Wisconsin Bureau of Fisheries Web site at www.dnr.state.wi.us/fish.
Tourism information is available by calling the Wisconsin Department of Tourism at (800) 432-8747 or online at www.travelwisconsin.com.