Despite interstate highways and population centers, southern Wisconsin is home to the finest muskie waters in the Badger State. (May 2009)
With the arrival of summer, Lake Pewaukee's diverse fish habitat supports muskie-fishing tactics of all options. In 2008, muskie anglers here registered 170 fish in the state records, which recognizes Pewaukee muskies larger than 35 inches.
Photo by Bret Alexander.
There is much to be said about listening to loon music spreading across a pristine northern Wisconsin lake at dawn, your nostrils filled with the pungent aroma of dew on balsams while you casually tune in to the "slurp, slurp, slurp" of your Surf Roller lure gliding slowly across the lake's surface . . . until the lure disappears in the violent surface attack of a 30-pound muskie infuriated with an intrusion in its watery domain!
Heaven, indeed, may be painted this way for a number of Dairyland anglers at some of southern Wisconsin's best muskie waters. For others -- at Pewaukee Lake, for example -- it's the crashing of "Big Momma" destroying your topwater bait while the sound of a trucker engaging his engine brakes combines with the pungent aroma of diesel exhaust wafting off Interstate 94. Not only is the region home to Wisconsin's finest muskie fishing waters; it's also laced with highways and interstates that support the state's most dense population centers.
And the muskie fishing persists!
Pewaukee Lake takes the top spot on the list of Wisconsin's finest muskie waters for both numbers and big fish. It might also top the list for fishing pressure, too.
This means you may have to wait a few minutes at Pewaukee to launch your boat or to fish a certain point, where one of the biggest things you've ever seen with fins haunts the lives of anglers and forage in the shape of fish, mice, snakes, ducks and more -- minor demerits in an otherwise perfect world where the muskie eats when, where and what it wants to.
Fisheries biologist Sue Beyler of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says Pewaukee holds one adult muskellunge for every 2 1/2 surface acres of the 2,400-acre lake. The data reveals Pewaukee holds almost twice as many adult muskies as its "competing" waters, lakes Okauchee or Oconomowoc, which average one adult muskie for every 4 to 5 surface acres.
"For size (of individual fish) I would recommend Okauchee. The average adult measures 36 to 38 inches, compared with 32 to 34 inches on Pewaukee," Beyler admits. "But Pewaukee is still the best place in southern Wisconsin to tangle with a muskie of respectable dimensions."
Fishing guide Capt. Mike Koepp of Mike's Extreme Guide Service in Pewaukee practically lives on Pewaukee from opening weekend until the arrival of summer. He points to Pewaukee's diverse fish habitat as the secret to success for muskie anglers.
"With all the options available to a muskie angler," he says, "you can usually come up with some kind of pattern (for taking fish) out there just about every time you launch the boat."
Koepp often starts his spring muskie fishing at the west end of Pewaukee, targeting the waters of the fast-warming marsh area and shoreline just north of the public boat launch.
"If I move a muskie here, there is a good chance (more) fish will be active in Taylor's Bay," he predicts. "Both of these areas have a peat bottom that transitions into sand and gravel areas where the muskies like to spawn."
Koepp points out a couple of other spring hotspots: Trestle Bay and the Pewaukee River, east of Waukesha Beach, where the current attracts numerous fish species, including muskies. If you don't see him at these sites, check Rocky Point, Walks Island, the shoreline out from the lakeside condos, or the Rock Bar, which lies just a long cast from Koepp's main base of operations -- Smokey's Muskie Shop (phone: 262/691-0360).
"Color and bait presentation can be critical," Koepp says. "Sucker colors, fire-tiger, golden shiner, and oranges and reds are good (lure color) choices at low light and on overcast days. If it is sunny, I'll usually throw something bright green or yellow."
Koepp mixes up his presentations, as well, especially when he has two anglers in his boat. One will throw a bucktail, while the other pitches a glide-bait, most likely a Reef Hawg (by Fudally Tackle Company) or Undertaker (a lure built locally by Brian Shaeffer in his garage shop).
Keopp might also have his anglers fishing twitchbaits. "Slammers, Cranes and Shallow Raiders all have their days," he says. "The key is finding the right twitch-twitch-pause cadence that makes 'em want to bite."
And live bait is not out of the question.
"Live bait is flat-out deadly in the spring," Koepp says. "A few years ago, I had a three-fish frenzy with small suckers on Pewaukee. We had three muskies on at the same time!"
For more information about muskie fishing on Pewaukee Lake, contact Capt. Mike Koepp of Mike's Extreme Guide Service in Pewaukee, phone: (414) 640-1642 or online at www.mikekoeppe.com. Travel information is available through the Pewaukee Chamber of Commerce, phone: (262) 691-8851 or online at www.pewaukeechamber.org.
It's live bait -- large suckers --Koepp says he prefers fishing with when chasing muskies at Okauchee Lake, about 30 miles west of Milwaukee.
In 2008, only 10 muskies from Okauchee were "registered" on the local brag board, but Koepp points out that Okauchee anglers don't post their catch unless it measures 40 inches long.
WDNR fisheries biologist Ben Heussner agrees with Koepp that Okauchee is the best lake for taking big muskies in southeastern Wisconsin.
"There is a world of difference between a 35- and 40-incher," adds Heussner. "Okauchee has my vote as the big muskie lake in this part of the state." He attributes their size to the lake's huge forage base of ciscoes and plentiful panfish.
"If you're looking for a trophy muskie downstate, now is the time, and Okauchee is definitely the place," Koepp suggests. "Besides going with larger suckers, I like to up-size to larger Slammers and Jake baits. But my first choice here would be the Weagle and Wabull glide-baits by Muskie Mojo Tackle if I was looking for a lunker."
Koepp adds Okauchee's muskies also hold an affinity for soft-plastic baits. He says the top getters include the Bull Dawg, Mag Dawg and Twin Fin
from Musky Innovations. Top color patterns include white, walleye and black with an orange tail.
To learn more about the Jake bait, go to www.muskymania.com/products/jake.php.
To learn more about the Slammer, go to www.slammertackle.com.
For more information about Okauchee's muskie fishing, contact Mike Koepp through the details listed above. Area travel information is available through the Oconomowoc Chamber of Commerce, phone: (262) 567-2666 or at www.oconomowoc. org.
The Madison chain of lakes in Dane County has something for every muskie angler, according to WDNR fisheries manager Kurt Welke. Fish Lake Wingra if you want action. Fish Lake Waubesa if you want numbers. And fish Lake Monona if you're looking for a big, fat fish.
The WDNR classifies muskies over 30 inches as adult fish. Welke says muskie populations in Lake Wingra currently include 1.2 adult fish per surface acre; .55 adult fish in Waubesa; and .46 adult fish in Lake Monona. Welke reminds anglers across the Madison chain the WDNR enforces a one-fish daily creek limit, with a 45-inch minimum-length limit.
WDNR fisheries personnel conduct spring surveys on the lakes shortly before opening day on the first Saturday in May. Collectively, the surveys prove most of the muskies in the chain lakes are found along the warmest shorelines -- typically the south and west sides of the lakes where the bottom is dark. At Lake Monona, Welke says, look for the action to be best in Turville and Sqauw bays. Spring muskies often fall to anglers at Lake Wingra who fish the arboretum side of the lake, he adds. And on Lake Waubesa, look for warming water near the railroad trestle around Hog Island and near the boat launch at Goodland Park.
"The afternoon sun really warms these areas," Welke explains. "A very small thermal difference in the spring impacts fish location drastically. Target areas with dark bottoms where waters flow and mix."
The biggest muskie I've ever seen on the Madison chain was cruising along the weed edge in Monona, near the channel that joins it to Lake Mendota. The most muskies I've ever seen in a single day on any water were sunning in Lake Monona, near the warmwater discharge off John Nolen Drive, just before opening day several years ago. My daughter and I counted more than 40 fish. Some of those had to be very close to 50 inches long!
Because you could find you or your family fishing the lakes from time to time for the great panfish populations it holds, a muskie might be "hooked" by someone reeling in a small walleye, bluegill, perch or smallmouth bass. Don't let your guard down! Keep a muskie rod handy and rig it with either a Mepps Giant Killer, with a purple bucktail, or a 6-inch Jake bait in the orange-tiger color pattern.
Welke adds that muskies do not reproduce in the chain. The lakes are stocked every autumn with advanced fingerlings (11 to 14 inches long) at a rate of 0.5 fish per acre. Anglers do well to practice catch-and-release fishing to help sustain and improve the lakes' muskie fishery.
For more information about muskie fishing on the Madison chain of lakes, contact D&S Bait, Tackle & Archery in Madison, phone: (608) 241-4225. Area travel information is available through the Greater Madison Convention & Visitor Bureau, phone: (608) 262-4636 or online at www.visitmadison.com.
BIG GREEN LAKE
Big Green Lake is Wisconsin's deepest inland lake -- 235 feet deep -- and it covers a bunch of real estate, too. Its muskies find plenty of areas to hide and ambush prey across its 7,325 surface acres. It's a textbook example of the predator-prey relationship. Anglers who find the lake's forage fishes will also find its muskies not far away.
Huge schools of ciscoes enable Big Green's muskies to grow to substantial dimensions. Starting in mid-June, until the muskie season closes in November, the fish will be dogging the schools of ciscoes. Look for the ciscoes on your electronics and jig magnum blade-baits for what WDNR fisheries manager Dave Bartz says is a low-density population of trophy muskies over 40 inches (the minimum-length limit). Most of these muskies will be hooked next month, he adds, around the shallower rim of the lake. Two obvious spots to probe are the shoreline along Big Green's east end and the diverse matrix of humps, bars and weeds between Lone Tree Point and Dartford Bay.
For more information about muskie fishing at Big Green Lake, contact North Bay Sport & Liquor, in Green Lake, phone: (920) 294-6462. For more information about area lodging and other travel services, contact the Green Lake Chamber of Commerce, phone: (800) 253-7354 or online at www.greenlakecc.com.
Between Memorial Day and Labor Day Delavan Lake in Walworth County is a 2,072-acre recreational lake in an extreme sense during the daylight hours. And the boat traffic doesn't quit after dark. When the sun goes down in summertime, muskie anglers take to the water with lures like Gooch's Tally Whacker and the Hawg Wobbler (designed by Terry Moulton of Chippewa Falls), retrieving these with an audible "chop, chop, chop" over the weedbeds, trying to seduce one of Delavan's monster muskies.
Since before it was drawn down and rehabilitated more than a dozen years ago, senior fisheries biologist Doug Welch of the WDNR has been managing Delavan Lake. Welch says a 40-inch minimum-length size limit is in place on Delavan with "muskies swimming in this lake a good 25 percent longer than that."
And Delavan's muskie population is entirely dependent on stocking efforts. Welch says in 2009 the WDNR will stock 4,144 muskies in Delavan Lake, double the standard rate of one muskie per surface acre. In 2008, the WDNR stocked 2,267 large fingerlings in Delavan -- more than 1,000 muskies than were introduced in both 2006 and 2007. According to the WDNR, the stockings collectively are expected to support an adult muskie population of just less than one fish per surface acre.
Muskie anglers will do well getting onto the water during the week, between now and Memorial Day, targeting the shallows around Brown's Channel and Willow Point with bucktails. Have a throwback lure handy, like the Lindy Tiger Tube, if you get a serious follow or see a good fish simply cruising here.
Memorial Day weekend anglers will fight boat traffic. If you can't find another time to fish, target the steep breakline out from Cedar Point during the day with a Squirrely Ernie crankbait or a Bucher Depth Raider.
For more information about fishing for muskies at Delavan Lake, contact Brian Gates at Geneva Lake Bait & Tackle in Williams Bay Lake, phone: (262) 245-6150 or online at www.lakegenevatackle.com. Area travel information, including lodging and accommodations, is available through the Delavan Chamber of Commerce, phone: (262) 728-5095 or online at www.delevanwi.org.
Any muskie larger than legal dimensions that remains in Silver Lake will probably be caught at least several times this month. In fac
t, the 500-acre lake, located 20 miles west of Kenosha in Kenosha County, has cranked up muskies longer than 48 inches, according to Welch, but the lake may hold the shortest odds of any water in southern Wisconsin for producing a legal muskie; the minimum length limit is 34 inches.
Recognized mostly for its put-and-take muskie fishery, Silver Lake was not stocked in 2008, Welch says, but the popular recreational lake is due to receive 1,032 large muskie fingerlings in fall 2009. More than 200 fish were stocked in 2006 and 612 were introduced the year before. Collectively, these fish should be close to legal length this fall or by opening day 2010.
For more information about fishing at Silver Lake, contact Jalensky's Sporting Goods in Kenosha, phone: (262) 654-2260. Area travel information is available through the Kenosha Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, phone: (800) 654-7309.
Yellowstone Lake -- a manmade 450-acre lake near Argyle in Lafayette County -- has suffered with siltation problems since it first filled in the 1940s. But the turbid water is home to whopping big muskies (and whopping big walleyes, as well), in part, because local fishing regulations prohibit the taking of any muskie!
This is not the place to fish if you have a heart condition. Rousing strikes can come at any time. Because Yellowstone's muskies are essentially blinded by the muddy water, they have honed their feeding skills by responding to noise, intercepting vibrations along the lateral line on their sides.
So, it's noisy baits that successful muskie anglers typically use at Yellowstone. A magnum Rat-L-Trap is my personal favorite for all game fish in this state park lake. Topwater baits also work, especially those designed to be most effective with a steady retrieve.
The best fishing conditions seem to fit into the midday hours when the sun is shining. Muskies can be cruising anywhere in this shallow lake. Drifting across the main lake basin and casting can produce a strike, as well as fishing close to the numerous fallen trees along the shore or casting along the dam.
Muskies in Yellowstone tend to be pretty fat. Specimens in excess of 50 inches swim here.
And don't forget the crappie rod and a mesh bag. In May, crappie action is almost a sure thing fishing along the dam in May, and those Lafayette County hills are laden with tasty morel mushrooms.
For more information about fishing at Yellowstone Lake and the lake facilities, contact Yellowstone Lake State Park in Blanchardville, phone: (608) 523-4427.
Like I said, "And the muskie fishing persists" in southern Wisconsin's best muskie waters.