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Southern Wisconsin Muskie Fishing

Southern Wisconsin Muskie Fishing

If you like looking at the mounts of muskies in northwoods bars and supper clubs, well, that's just hereditary. But if you are one of our state's many Esox addicts, try therapy a little closer to home on these waters. (May 2006)

Although there is much to be said for loon magic and the incredible food at northwoods supper clubs and bars -- plus all the mounted fish you get to see -- muskie fishing in southern Wisconsin is as good as you'll find anywhere, and it's closer to home for most of us.

The following is a look at some top downstate waters where you have an excellent chance to get your therapy from the Esox king this season.


TWIN VALLEY LAKE


Department of Natural Resources biologist Gene Van Dyck said this 150-acre Iowa County lake in Gov. Dodge State Park could have the best population of adult 30- to 40-inch muskies in Wisconsin at 1.5 per surface acre. A recent change in stocking philosophy, which includes introduction of large numbers of bullheads and suckers, and cutting stocking rates to one per surface acre is resulting in some very fat fish.

At just 150 acres, you can effectively fish this scenic little lake in just a couple of hours, with fair expectations of hooking up. Therein lies the problem, according to Van Dyck. In recent fisheries surveys, the DNR found one dead and two dying muskies, including two just short of the 40-inch minimum-size limit and one a 44-incher. All were victims of "quick-strike" rigs.


"Every muskie angler you talk to said they don't kill muskies," Van Dyck said. "But once fish reach 40 inches, they seem to disappear. It is interesting the amount of damage just one unethical angler can do to a limited, expensive and valuable fishery. We are only out there surveying this lake two nights in the fall. Is this just one person bent on killing every legal muskie intentionally who gut-hooks and releases shorter fish to die? The point is, to have a good muskie fishery, you need not only appropriate regulations, but honest, ethical anglers as well."

Twin Valley is one of the smallest muskie lakes in Wisconsin. Can the scenario at this delicate fishery be extrapolated on larger bodies of water? The catch-and-release mantra is part of the overall persona of muskie anglers. We all go out at least talking good intentions about preserving the muskie fishery. Is it time to step up and demand that live bait for muskies be outlawed to protect the fishery from a few unscrupulous anglers?


COLUMBIA & SAUK COUNTY WATERS

Tiny Silver Lake in the city of Portage is essentially a "pet lake" of the Portage Muskie Club, according to DNR biologist Tim Larson. Silver is only half the size of Twin Valley, but fair numbers of fish in excess of 40 inches thrive here. Why?

Just east of Portage is 400-acre Swan Lake, which local anglers guard with a vengeance. Swan can be effectively probed in a couple of hours, and it contains good numbers of quality fish for its size. All you need is a couple of bucktails, a Jake, a black/orange SurfRoller -- and four cans of Fix-A-Flat.

Sauk County's Lake Redstone is a beautiful fishery. At 600 acres, you can effectively cover all the bases in a good day on the water. You can see a fish coming from far away in these clear waters, which is unusual for a southwestern Wisconsin muskie lake. Smaller bass-sized lures tend to generate better response here than baits with railroad-tie dimensions.

WAUKESHA COUNTY WATERS

Waukesha County is the epicenter of muskie fishing activity in the southern part of our state, with DNR biologist Sue Beyler putting Okauchee, Pewaukee and Oconomowoc lakes at the top of the list, and in that order.

There are plenty of places for muskies to hide in Okauchee's 1,200 acres, with heavy cruisers taking up residence on the lake's humps, steep breaklines, transition zones and weed edges once serious summer arrives.

Predators are always looking for an easy meal. Right now, that means crappies are close to shore trying to spawn. The favorite muskie snack will change over to bluegills around Memorial Day, calling for a simple change from the chrome/black to the firetiger-pattern magnum Rat-L-Trap. You'll hook more muskies throwing the standard 1/2-ounce Rat-L-Trap, but the hooks on this lure simply won't hold up to a fish with both substantial dimensions and a bad attitude. Bucktails are always a good bet on both the Waukesha and Dane county lakes, with smaller bucktails usually outproducing baits with eggbeater dimensions.

The DNR doesn't keep data on occupations of muskie anglers. If they did, I suspect the proportion of CPA/bean-counter anglers on Pewaukee would be greater than on any other Wisconsin water. Statistically, Pewaukee is the best muskie water in the entire state. Bean-counters wearing DNR patches tell us the number of adult muskies per surface acre in Pewaukee is nearly double the ratio found on top muskie waters in the northwoods, with .52 adults per surface acre swimming in this 2,400-acre lake. Many fish over 50 inches swim here, with multiple year-classes of muskies from wannabes up to trophy status. Although Pewaukee is easier to fish than Okauchee, it sees plenty of intelligent fishing pressure.

Right now, the fleet is concentrated on shallower waters on Pewaukee's east end. These waters warm quicker, with a topwater lure or bucktail fished over submergent weedtops the smart way to fish. Once summer arrives, action is better off deeper weeds on the other end of the lake, with night the best time to fish.

The old adage about toothers of magnum dimensions being a fish of 10,000 casts holds true on this lake. Maybe that's why motor trolling is the preferred method here and on other Waukesha County waters. With .52 adult muskies per surface acre, you would think the time between hookups would be more frequent. Obviously, most angling efforts are concentrated on the acreage that holds the back half of the fish!

Oconomowoc doesn't get as much species-specific pressure as Waukesha County's other two top muskie lakes, perhaps because sparse vegetation and ultra-clear water conditions make it tougher to fish. Muskies that are "sunning" are notorious for disinterest. If you just want to go muskie "looking" in the spring, check out the water below the Okauchee dam upstream from Oconomowoc. A number of muskies migrate downstream from Okauchee every year, with most Esox hooked in this 767-acre lake taken by trollers over the deeper basins at either end. Beyler reports many fish over 40 inches are swimming here. On opening day and for several weeks thereafter, the Okauchee dam tailwaters and the saddle between Oconomowoc's two deep basins are high-percentage spots for muskie anglers.

Beyler reports many fish over 40 inches are swimming here. On opening day and for several weeks thereafter, the Okauchee dam tailwaters and the s

addle between Oconomowoc's two deep basins are high-percentage spots for muskie anglers.

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

SILVER LAKE

This 500-acre Kenosha County lake is a popular destination for muskie fans from all over southeastern Wisconsin, and probably a third of the boats have Illinois registrations on any given day.

DNR biologist Doug Welch stocks Silver at essentially two muskies per acre every year, with most of the muskie biomass 30 to 38 inches -- and generally lacking in typical muskie restraint when a bait comes whizzing by.

Probably the best way to attack Silver's muskies is with a trolling presentation at 4 to 5 mph, short-lining the baits almost in the prop wash. These fish have a great affinity for weeds. Whiz around the lake just past the deep-water weedline and watch the look of awe on your kid's face when a 34-incher eats a speed-trolled ShadRap and goes airborne!

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

DELAVAN LAKE

Welch also manages Walworth County's Delavan Lake, which is one of the most diverse fisheries in southern Wisconsin. Crappies here are huge. Walleyes are abundant. Both smallmouth and largemouth bass are present and wondering why more folks don't throw a lure their way. Some near-trophy-sized pike swim in Delavan. And then there are those muskies!

According to Welch, most muskies are caught by folks chasing northern pike. This 2,072-acre lake receives a stocking of muskies at the rate of one to two fish per surface acre annually. Since Delavan has proved to be such an exceptional environment for fisheries management, Welch plans on introducing two different strains of muskies in these waters in 2006. There will be close monitoring of growth rates and other parameters. About 2,500 fish of "non-vulnerable" size were stocked last month to kick off this study that could chart muskie management philosophy for the foreseeable future.

Contact: Delavan Chamber of Commerce, (262) 728-5095.

GREEN BAY

Great Lakes-strain muskies with that unique spotted paint job continue to grow in size, with truly exciting prospects in 2006 and beyond. The key to growing big muskies centers on the forage base, and these toothers have a vast and readily accessible buffet to chow down on.

Odds of hooking up during summer months aren't that good. Most fish are out there cruising the vastness of Green Bay, relating to their forage base, which could in turn be relating to water around the islands or offshore reefs. The best fishing for these spotted predators is now and again in the fall when they migrate into tributaries like the lower Fox and Menominee rivers, and places like the Sturgeon Bay ship canal.

Several years ago, I saw a dead pike about 40 inches long floating near Potawatomi State Park with a big bite out of its side. This avulsion was probably the result of a muskie attack. DNR biologists regularly sample spotted muskies in excess of 50 inches, with surveys done in the spring or fall when fish are concentrated in the rivers and the ship canal.

Even these fisheries encompass miles of water, making trolling your shortest odds presentation for hooking up. As the population continues to disperse in these vast waters, a few fish are bound to take up residence in the sheltered bays and around the islands on the bay side of the Door Peninsula during warmer months.

With all the water in Door County, I never cease to be amazed by the lack of intelligent fishing pressure for all species. This is especially true for muskies, and will likely continue until Muffin -- the little Yorkshire terrier -- goes swimming off the back of a yacht and disappears in a malevolent boil.

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

GREEN LAKES

Big and Little Green lakes in Green Lake County are more than a long cast away from Green Bay. No spotted muskies swim here, but you have a legitimate chance of hooking both tiger and pure muskies in 466-acre Little Green Lake. But like Door County, Green Lake County is a tourist mecca, with pleasure boaters and personal watercraft eager to closely monitor your passage around the lakes.

Big Green holds only pure-strain muskies. Because of its depth and size, waters warm up slower than they do on Little Green. Time on the water now is best spent on the smaller lake, but you may want to write Big Green in on the fishing calendar to target after the second cold front of autumn pushes tourists away and muskies into the shallow water that rims this lake to feed.

Little Green has a good fall bite, too, but the best action of the year will be happening here over the next couple of weeks. The major key to fish location is developing weeds. Follow the 13-foot contour and cast shallow-running jerkbaits and bucktails over the weedtops. Don't be surprised if you tangle with fish in excess of 40 inches.

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

MADISON CHAIN

The Madison Chain is close to home for me, with the potential for hooking into several fish in the mid-30-inch range in a few hours when it all comes together.


Little Green has a good fall bite, too, but the best action of the year will be happening here over the next couple of weeks. The major key to fish location is developing weeds. Follow the 13-foot contour and cast shallow-running jerkbaits and bucktails over the weedtops. Don't be surprised if you tangle with fish in excess of 40 inches.
 

Weed edges at the south end of Lake Waubesa and up around Hog Island hold an incredible number of muskies now and again in the fall. That stuff about a bucktail being a hot-weather lure goes right out the window here. Bucktails are always good choices, especially a Mepps Giant Killer in rainbow trout pattern or with a purple tail -- with a 3-inch fluorescent yellow twistertail added to one of the hooks just for grins.

Kegonsa and Waubesa on the chain's south end warm quicker and are more fertile than Mendota and Monona. Tiny Lake Wingra has plenty of muskies and probably sees more fishing pressure per surface acre for Esox than the other lakes combined.

Kegonsa is essentially a weed-ringed donut with one little rocky hump in the middle and Strawberry Point. These are the only two exceptions to simply following the weedy contour and casting away.

Waubesa has a little more structure, but weeds are still the key to muskie location -- most of the time. Spring and fall, you're never more than a long cast away from muskies if you follow the 12-foot contour near the weeds. When summer arrives, you want to think much shallower. Waubesa has a number of

coldwater springs, especially at the south end. These springs usually reveal themselves as a hole amidst an otherwise verdant weedbed. Baitfish relate to the cool oxygenated water during summer's heat. Muskies are almost always cruising nearby.

Monona probably holds the largest muskies on the chain, with weeds again an important part of the matrix when warmer weather arrives. Weed edges in Monona Bay and the long weedbed out from the Yahara River entry point are popular. Right now, water temperature is a driving force in fish location. Two years ago, we had an exceptionally cold spring. Literally dozens of adult muskies were cruising near the warmwater discharge off John Nolan Drive.

At almost 10,000 acres, Lake Mendota has it all -- weeds, springs, humps, transition zones, forage base and good numbers of eager muskies. Warmer water temperature and developing weed edges are attractive to many fish now, with drops off main-lake points like Governor's Island holding several species of game fish, especially at transition zones in weed species and bottom composition from smaller to larger rocks.

Dunn's Bar off the tip of Governor's Island always holds a couple of good fish. Big toothers also locate off the hump off Second Point, the shoreline out from Picnic Point and popular "community" spots like Commodore Bar. Because there is so much structure, orienting your boat for the optimum angle with a casting presentation can make a world of difference.

Kegonsa and Waubesa on the south end of the chain warm quicker and are more fertile than Mendota and Monona. Tiny Lake Wingra has plenty of muskies and probably sees more fishing pressure per surface acre for Esox than the other lakes combined.

The Madison Chain is also known as the Yahara Chain because the Yahara River flows between these waters. On an acre-per-acre basis, more fish probably swim in this river than in the lakes proper when water temperatures are below 62 degrees. Please make a note of it.

Contact: Madison Chamber of Commerce, (608) 256-8756.

* * *

Crappies will be moving into the shallows to spawn across southern Wisconsin about mid-May, with bluegills scraping out shallow moon-crater nests in the weeds about Memorial Day. Between now and June, the best muskie locator is a pair of polarized sunglasses to spot panfish spawning nests -- or boats with successful panfishers. If you're a muskie angler, keep a respectful distance away from other anglers. If you're a panfish angler, keep a muskie rod rigged with a big lizard or plastic tube, because when opportunity meets preparedness, the muskie is a fish of just 10 casts, not 10,000.

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