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Southern Wisconsin's Best Bets For Muskies

Southern Wisconsin's Best Bets For Muskies

We have great muskie lakes up north, but imagine boating the beast of a lifetime and still being able to be home in time for dinner! You can do just that on these downstate waters.

Photo by Pete Maina

There is much to be said about chasing muskies "up north," but seasonal considerations and warmer water make downstate Wisconsin the place to be if you're chasing toothers in the Land of Cheese this month. For every trip not made to the piney woods this year, you can save enough money in gasoline costs to buy at least two more lures the next time you finally pull into the parking lot at Rollie & Helen's Muskie Headquarters in Minocqua.

Besides, muskies swimming in southern Wisconsin still have that pugnacious Esox attitude. They may be feeding on crappies and bluegills instead of ciscoes, but they still get fat, and they still fight hard.


There will be plenty of time for muskie fishing on North Twin, the Chippewa Flowage and Lac Vieux Desert in the northwoods next month. This month, take along a boom box with a Yoopers CD, some brats and a couple of Leinies -- and hang a pine air freshener around your neck -- and you won't know the difference. And other anglers will probably stay more than a long cast away, even if you're working Pewaukee or Wingra -- especially if you're singing along with The Yoopers or talking to an invisible friend.


The following is a look at some waters on the south side of Hodag Country where you can get your string stretched and be home in time for dinner.

PEWAUKEE LAKE


Giant muskie mounts on the walls of northwoods supper clubs may conjure dreams of what swims in the lake just down the road, but when you check the facts, there is simply no water that even comes close to producing more trophy muskies than this 2,400-acre Waukesha County lake.

Want to talk size? Numbers? Growth rates? Pewaukee leads the curve with adult males averaging 33 inches and adult females over 37 inches. Fifty-inch muskies swim here, caught by both sport-anglers and Department of Natural Resources officials in surveys.


Regarding that "fish of 10,000 casts" stuff. Pewaukee boasts .52 adult muskies per surface acre. The very best Class A muskie waters up north check in at about .33 adult fish per surface acre. Conventional wisdom says the more fish that see your lure, the greater the likelihood that one will be willing to chomp.

One could argue that these fish are better educated than their northern counterparts. DNR statistics also indicate an exceptional amount of fishing pressure per surface acre. You'll seldom -- if ever -- be alone out there. Fishing prime spots means you'll have to wait your turn to see if that black Tallywacker with the orange fin is what Ol' One Eye wants to chase that day.

This is an easy lake to figure out. The east end is essentially a vast weedflat with a couple of rocky humps, an island and a great transition area running off of Rocky Point. Since this end of the lake is shallower, it warms quicker. See you on Taylor Bay opening weekend. My Lund will be one of just a dozen or so boats there, but mine will have a female yellow Lab curled up near the stern.

Once waters warm about June 10 the fleet moves toward the west end to probe deep weed edges. Think that noise is crippled frogs thrashing on the surface on a moonlit summer night? Nope! That's the sound of 40 Top Raiders and Crazy Crawlers being dragged through a forest of red, green and white navigational lights. There will be more than 10,000 casts here on any given night. At least one will result in a hookup that will tear the guts out of a new reel.

Contact: Smokey's Bait Shop, (262) 691-0360.

OKAUCHEE LAKE

Probably No. 2 for muskies out of Waukesha County's 100 lakes is this popular 1,200-acre waterbody just down the road from Pewaukee. Access is from two good boat ramps on the south side.

Okauchee is a little tougher to fish than Pewaukee. There are a lot of humps, breaks, transition zones and, in a few weeks, distinct weed edges.

Key in on the predator-prey relationship, especially between now and June 1. Crappies will be spawning shallow, followed by bluegills. Muskies are never, ever far away. I caught a 37-incher here three years ago while fishing for bluegills using an ultralight rod. If the dummy would have run toward cover rather than open water, the 2-pound-test Berkley FireLine would have surely snapped. Catching and releasing this fish was easy. Partner Ron Barefield had the rough job -- landing net in one hand, video camera in the other.

Why aren't there any jerkbaits out there that look like a 12-inch wax worm? This fish illustrates a point that is nearly gospel on Okauchee and the Madison Chain -- downsize your lures. Think like a basser. Just remember to talk like a cheesehead and not like a hillbilly when you get off the lake.

If I had just two hours to spend on Okauchee, it would be pitching a black/orange Mepps bucktail over submergent weedy flats at dawn or dusk -- adjacent to bluegill spawning nests.

Contact: Dick Smith's Live Bait & Tackle, (262) 646-2218.

THE MADISON CHAIN

There are two times each year when chasing Esox on the Madison Chain is nearly a sure-fire operation.

My favorite is a two-week window during mid- to late October after the second major cold front of fall, targeting submergent weeds over the 12-foot breakline. Right now is the other super-hot time to hit this chain of natural lakes that ring our state capital.

My greatest faith lies in just two lures here: a Lindy Tiger Tube and a Mepps Giant Killer bucktail with a purple hair tail. These will work if the muskies -- and pike -- are even thinking about eating.

Lake Wingra in the shadow of the Henry Vilas Zoo gets the most fishing pressure per surface acre here. But it also has the highest population of muskies per surface acre. It's essentially a soup bowl. Join the crowd and pitch the shoreline.

Kegonsa is a pretty much a soup bowl, too. Not as many muskies, but there is a whopper pushing 50 inches that calls the long, tapering point off of Sugarbush home. This beast likes to come up and look, then glide away.

Waubesa probably holds the best opportunity for hooking up, if you're happy with a mid-30-inch fish. Target the south end, fishing weed edges from Goodland Park north to Babcock Park. Don't forget the weeds around Hog Island near the train trestle at the lake's north end. Come summer, look for holes in the weed growth

that may indicate the presence of springs. These are summer muskie magnets!

Lake Monona holds a pile of fish off of the warmwater discharge out from John Nolan Drive around opening day if we have a cold spring. Fish are pretty much sunning themselves and don't want to eat. Be persistent, though. Probably the best spot on the lake is off of the Yahara River entry point weedbed once serious summer weather arrives.

Mendota is the jewel of this chain. Lots of structure. Bigger fish. Whopping big pike, too. Weeds are a key right now and again in the fall. During summer's heat the big gals tend to hang in deeper water next to humps like Dunn's Bar off of Governor's Island, off of Second Point and Commodore Bar.

Contacts: Madison Chamber of Commerce, (608) 256-8348; guide Ron Barefield, (608) 838-8756.

THE BIRON FLOWAGE

The Wisconsin River around the city of Wisconsin Rapids is virtually overlooked by anglers, which guide Dave Lutz doesn't mind a bit. Lutz regularly boats about 100 muskies each year, with many fish in the mid- to upper-40-inch range.

The Biron is essentially an upper flowage and a lower flowage separated by a dam, with water that is fairly easy to read -- except for the rocks. Guess how "Lower Unit Rock" got its name?

Although there are several access points to this flowage, the boat ramps aren't well marked. Don't forget your DeLorme Wisconsin Atlas & Gazetteer.

Be sure to check out the Wisconsin River around Tomahawk to the King Dam below Lake Alice. Lutz's guide buddy Bryan Schaeffer calls this water the "muskie mile." This water and the Biron Flowage have my vote for the quickest place to tangle with a "toother" in the entire state.

Contact: Wisconsin Rapids Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-554-4484 or

www.visitwisrapids.com.

GREEN BAY

The old adage "big water, big fish" will eventually be proven in spades in this western wing of Wisconsin's biggest pond. Intensive stocking efforts of the Great Lakes-strain spotted muskie is beginning to bear fruit, with fish of respectable dimensions showing up on a predictable basis in and around several tributaries that enter Green Bay.

Spring and late fall are the best times to chase muskies in Fox River at the south end of the bay, the Menominee River below the Hattie Street dam along the Michigan border, and directly across Green Bay in the Sturgeon Bay ship canal and inlets like Sawyer Harbor and Little Sturgeon Bay.


Mendota is the jewel of this chain. Lots of structure. Bigger fish. Whopping big pike, too. Weeds are a key right now and again in the fall. During summer's heat the big gals tend to hang in deeper water next to humps like Dunn's Bar off of Governor's Island, off of Second Point and Commodore Bar.
 

During the summer most muskies migrate into the vastness of Green Bay, resulting in an extremely low-density fishery per surface acre. Stocking efforts have been concentrated at both ends of the bay, with advanced fingerlings introduced into the Menominee River to the north and Fox River to the south, according to DNR fisheries biologist Terry Lychwick.

"There are good numbers of 45- to 50-inch fish in excess of 25 pounds out there," Lychwick said. "These predators have plenty to feed on. But there is so much water to hide in that early spring and late fall are the only high-percentage times to go species-specific for muskies."

Come fall, trolling chartreuse stickbaits out from the Fort Howard paper plant in Fox River is nearly a sure thing for hooking up if you keep lines in the water, with muskies also locating close to warmwater discharges here and at the confluence with Green Bay, and up near the dam tailwaters.

On the Menominee, there is only about a mile of river between Hattie Street and the bay in Marinette. Muskies can be anywhere along this run, feeding on everything from walleyes to small salmon. River pools upstream are tougher to navigate, but there is good access on every pool. And the muskie fishery is an untapped bonanza.

Door County may evolve into a muskie mecca over the next few years. Muskies cruise around Chambers Island and the Strawberry Islands out from Fish Creek later in the summer. Right now you'll find them in shallow bays at the southern end of the Door Peninsula and weed edges in the ship canal.

The theme song from the movie Jaws goes through my mind every time I think about an almost-40-inch pike that was floating out from Potawatomi State Park a few years ago. The fish was freshly dead with a huge bite mark in its side. This was not the work of a bullhead gone berserk.

Contacts: Green Bay Chamber of Commerce, (920) 437-8704; Door County Chamber of Commerce, (920) 743-4456.

DELAVAN LAKE

Beyond a doubt the best multi-species water in southern Wisconsin, this 2,072-acre Walworth County lake's muskie population gets precious little species-specific pressure. DNR fisheries biologists have been stocking advanced muskie fingerlings here for years, with larger specimens now at or above 40 inches.

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day your best times to be on the water are between dusk and dawn, a fact that doesn't have all that much to do with fishing. Recreational use here during the summer months is profound. Try targeting the shallows off of Willow Point and Brown's Channel with bucktails, or cast or motor-troll deep crankbaits off of the steep breakline out from Cedar Point.

Contacts: Delavan Chamber of Commerce, (262) 728-5095; Geneva Lake Bait & Tackle, (262) 245-6150.

LITTLE GREEN LAKE

This 466-acre Green Lake County fishery is home to both pure and hybrid muskies, with neighboring Big Green Lake home to pure-strain fish. Both of the Greens have 40-inch-plus fish swimming in their waters. Both lakes have also been tourist meccas for decades and are good places to avoid in the summertime if you like solitude.

Little Green warms up quicker than the profoundly deep Big Green Lake. Fishing will be outstanding for the next several weeks for those targeting developing weeds along the 13-foot breakline into shallower weedflats.

There are multiple launch facilities, with plenty of dining and shopping amenities nearby. Until Memorial Day, the area has definite small-town appeal and not much fishing pressure.

Contact: Green Lake Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-253-7354.

YELLOWSTONE LAKE & TWIN VALLEY LAKE

Southwestern Wisconsin doesn't have much in the way of natural lakes. Two manmade impoundments worthy of note are centerpieces for state parks.


Come fall, trolling chartreuse stickbaits out from the Fort Howard paper plant in Fox River is nearly a sure thing for hooking up if you keep lines in the water, with muskies also locating close to warmwater discharges here and at the confluence with Green Bay, and up near the dam tailwaters.
 

Four-hundred-acre Yellowstone Lake in Lafayette County is pretty much the headwaters of the muddy Pecatonica River. You won't be able to see these fish coming because the waters are so turbid. On the other hand, a strike can come at any time without warning.

Noisy lures like a basser's magnum buzzbait or Rat-L-Trap call these fish that are used to feeding by vibration and sound. The DNR has been stocking Yellowstone at the rate of two muskies per surface acre for years. Multiple year-classes are present, with fish up to 50 inches in the system.

For more information, contact the Yellowstone State Park superintendent at (608) 935-2315.

Twin Valley Lake is only 150 acres of considerably clear water nestled in the hills at Gov. Dodge State Park north of Dodgeville. Crappies are the major draw at Twin Valley. Look for muskies relating to these fish close to shore on opening day.

No monster muskies in Twin Valley. Three-footers are the rule. But tether a 36-inch muskie to a 14-year-old kid and you'll create memories to last a lifetime.

Contact: Gov. Dodge State Park office, (608) 935-2315.

SILVER LAKE

Like several other southern Wisconsin waters, this Kenosha County lake is an easy drive from Illinois, seeing plenty of recreational boat traffic once summer arrives.

Most muskies are in the 30- to 38-inch range -- the size where muskies tend to be aggressive like those silly pike. Like Twin Valley Lake, Silver is a great place to get a kid hooked on muskie fishing.

Fish here tend to relate to the weedline, often suspending just outside the weeds in a little deeper water once summer weather arrives. This is a great place to try short-line speed-trolling with a pair of those magnum shallow ShadRaps -- especially in the baby carp pattern. Set the drag fairly loose and pull the lure right in the prop wash at about 4 to 5 mph. You can cover all 500 acres effectively in just a couple hours, and the trolling presentation is the best way to work through all the boats and still actually be fishin'.

Contact: Kenosha Area Convention & Visitor's Bureau, 1-800-654-7309.

Ted's Tip: Always have a muskie rod rigged with a "throwback lure" like a bucktail or Lindy Tiger Tube, even if you aren't fishing for muskies. Many times muskies will investigate commotion from you reeling in panfish, bass and walleyes. If you're ready to make a quick cast, that "fish of 10,000 casts" legend goes right out the window!

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