Some of us don't have time to drive all the way up north for its awesome muskie fishing, but there is a solution. You can hit these downstate waters during the day and still be home in time for dinner! (July 2006)
Urban-area muskie hunters don't have to go far for great Esox fishing. As a matter of fact, some of Wisconsin's best muskie waters are within a short drive of our most populated metro areas.
Muskies are hard to catch, and they survive the urban sprawl quite well. Anglers can spend years learning how to consistently catch these predators. Just because a lake is heavily pressured by anglers doesn't mean there aren't plenty of muskies around. As a matter of fact, waters like the Madison Chain stack up very well against the more famous muskie lakes that are hours away to the north.
Here's a look at waters where city dwellers have an excellent shot at a muskie just an hour or two from home.
"There are lakes in the urban Madison area where anglers have excellent chances for muskies," said Kurt Welke, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fisheries manager for Dane County. "Four of the lakes are interconnected on the Yahara River. Mendota covers 9,287 acres, Monona 3,274 acres, Waubesa 2,080 acres and Kegonsa 3,209 acres. Lake Wingra, at 345 acres, is separate, but there are muskies in there, too."
Lake Mendota lies at the head of the chain and is relatively clear. Lake Monona is the next in line downstream and has more fertile water, and so on through Waubesa and Kegonsa. The last lake in the chain has such a high level of fertility that in the summer it has a distinctive green color, as like in a putting green.
"Lake Monona has a verified reputation for being able to produce large heavy-bodied muskies in the 40- to 50-inch range and larger," Welke said. "A 30-pound fish in Monona is not unheard of. Based on DNR surveys, the density rate is one muskie for every two acres of surface water, and the lake is known by local anglers as being the place to go for a trophy muskie."
Monona muskie hunters favor the areas outside Olin Park and Turville Point. A ramp is available off Lakeside Road in the park. The combination of deep water, weedlines and available forage are a tempting haunt for big muskies. Another popular spot is Squaw Bay on the southeast side. The nearest ramp is off Tonyawatha Trail north of Tecumseh Park.
"Lake Wingra is at the other end of the spectrum," Welke continued. "It's known for numbers and has a density of about one muskie per acre. That's at the high, extreme end of muskie population densities in Wisconsin lakes. As a result, Wingra muskies are skinny. Their forage is limited due to the lake's size."
Wingra has a diversity of depth and structure in spite of its smaller size. There are springs on the south end, and most muskie anglers troll around the outside edge of the weedline that rings the lake. There is a little pocket of deeper water on the south end with a more distinct weedline that holds summer muskies.
"Lake Wingra is where you want to go when you want to catch muskies, even if they're smaller," Welke continued. "Monona is where you want to go for the sizes."
The railroad trestle at the north edge of Waubesa concentrates baitfish and brings in the muskies. Serious muskie hunters spend a lot of time in this area, as well as on the north and west sections of the lake.
"We have a healthy muskie fishery," Welke said. "The pressure has increased, and the Madison Chain has become a muskie destination. Many Illinois anglers will come up and fish in the summer since they don't have anything like this. The local Madison anglers hit Monona and Wingra early in the season and then again in the fall when the muskies are more active and easier to catch."
The muskie population is maintained by the annual stocking of 10- to 12-inch fingerlings. In order to improve the fishery, the DNR is experimenting with the simultaneous stocking of 700 Leech Lake-strain muskies from Minnesota and 700 Wisconsin-strain muskies to compare their survival and growth rates. Each muskie will have a PIT tag implanted into its body. When the fish is caught, a scanner will determine the particular muskie's identification number, and statistics will be compiled on its growth. Every time the fish is scanned, it can be compared with other marked fish in the study. Time will tell if the DNR switches to stocking the Leech Lake strain or sticks with the tried-and-true Wisconsin muskies.
"We've got it pretty good when you can go downtown in Madison and catch a muskie," Welke said. "I don't have to go to northern Wisconsin or Canada if I want to catch a trophy-class fish."
Contact D&S Bait and Tackle at (608) 241-4225 for more fishing information, or try the DNR at (608) 273-5946. For trip-planning information, contact the Greater Madison Convention & Visitor's Bureau at 1-800-373-6376.
Lake Michigan's hotspot for big muskies is Green Bay.
"Several 40-pound-class fish have been caught," said Kevin Kapuscinski, the DNR's Green Bay muskie expert. "We have been conducting a Great Lakes muskellunge reintroduction program on Green Bay since 1989, which was the first year of stocking. The goal of the program is to establish a self-sustaining population of this once-native predator. So far, our efforts have produced fair numbers of muskies in southern Green Bay, its larger tributaries and the Sturgeon Bay area."
Anglers enjoy success after the opener, but even more success later on in the fall.
"This is a growing muskie fishery primarily because of the trophy potential," Kapuscinski said. "The largest muskellunge captured in our survey efforts was over 51 inches and weighed 47 pounds. The current minimum-length limit for Green Bay muskies is 50 inches, and the season is the same for the Northern Zone, which runs from the fourth Saturday in May to Nov. 30."
According to Kapuscinski, anglers are most likely to find muskies near the stocking locations around the mouths of the Peshtigo, Menominee and Fox rivers, along with the Sturgeon Bay area. Some anglers troll the breaklines and offshore structure, while others cast the weedbeds and smaller structures. Trolling and casting depths should correspond to baitfish locations, and lures should mimic the local forage of suckers and gizzard shad. Use lures to "match the hatch."
There is a good deal of water to cover, and electronics can be helpful. It should also be noted that Green Bay waters are not for smaller watercraft. The lake can swell and get rough quickly. A good GPS system can not only help anglers get back to shore bu
t also can record productive spots on otherwise featureless water.
Fishing should continue to improve because stocking rates were increased in 2002, Kapuscinski said, and fisheries biologist Richard Rost agreed.
"I've seen some of the muskies at the south end of the bay, and there are some quality fish," Rost said.
For more fishing information, contact the DNR at (920) 662-5480. The Packer Country Visitor & Convention Bureau can be reached at 1-888-867-3342 for lodging info.
Many avid muskie hunters prefer waters smaller than Green Bay. One such water is Random Lake in Sheboygan County.
Random Lake covers just 209 acres, but it can have a lot of muskie activity when the feedbag is on. The DNR started stocking muskellunge and northern pike hybrids in the mid-1970s to control panfish populations, and then switched to pure muskies. The Between The Lakes Chapter of Muskies Inc. stocks Random Lake -- with the DNR's blessing.
"Random is a relatively shallow and fertile lake with a big population of slow-growing panfish," said John Nelson, the DNR fisheries biologist who manages the lake. "The stocking didn't solve the panfish problem, but it has turned out to be a pretty good muskie fishery, especially after we changed over to true muskies."
According to Nelson, Random Lake is going through some changes. It used to harbor vast areas of milfoil, so a "whole lake treatment" of herbicides to reduce the vegetation was conducted twice over the last five years. As a result, there was very little submerged vegetation last year.
"The vegetation situation is very important to the fishing activity," Nelson said. "It was tough to find muskies last summer. There have been times in the past when muskie action has been very good with plenty of follows and catches. A few fish in the upper-40-inch range have been caught, and all in all, the lake would better be considered an action lake, especially in the spring."
Anglers should check the reeds and cattails in the northeastern section of the lake. Locals like to use perch-colored lures there. Depths only drop to 21 feet, and the bottom is muddy and featureless.
Random Lake has a village launch ramp that charges a $7 fee. The ramp is located in the Lake View Park on the southwestern section of the lake.
This lake is perfect for Milwaukee-, Sheboygan- or Fond du Lac-area anglers looking for a quiet day on water that has the potential for a muskie or two.
Additional fishing information is available from the DNR office at (920) 892-8756. Call the Random Lake Area Chamber of Commerce at (920) 838-1726 for information on lodging and other local amenities.
Elkhart is another smaller lake that offers up some excellent muskie fishing about an hour's drive north of Milwaukee.
"The water is generally very clear and there is limited vegetation," Nelson said. "Some of the best muskie action is on suspended fish over deep water, or during the night, which also seems to be pretty good for fishing. This is probably because of the clear water conditions. There are times when the bottom of the lake can be seen down in 20 feet of water. Elkhart is a cisco-based lake, so the potential to grow big muskies is there."
The muskies in Elkhart have been stocked by the same club that stocks nearby Random Lake. The smaller size of Elkhart prevents the DNR from stocking fish, since the policy is not to stock waters that are less than 3,000 acres in size.
"People see a fair number of fish on Elkhart, but they don't seem to hook very many," Nelson said. "I'm sure it's related to the clear water and the fish being able to see the bait from a long distance. The fish are curious, but they're also able to see what they're chasing. We get a fair number of complaints on the lake from walleye and panfish anglers who have their catches attacked by muskies."
An eyewitness confirmed Nelson's assessment.
"Elkhart is a good muskie fishery, and the biggest was a 54-incher taken last summer," said Robert Cheney, owner of the Marshland Bait Shop.
According to Cheney, soft- and hard-plastic combination baits like Muskie Invaders work wonders, especially in green and chartreuse colors. Targeting the shoreline docks and piers can be productive in the summer months. Anglers will also find muskies near the sandbar east of the boat ramp and in the nearby weedbeds.
There is a restriction on gas boat motors on Sundays during the summer months. The lake covers 286 acres and reaches 119 feet, which makes it the fourth-deepest inland lake in Wisconsin. Anglers can launch for free at the public ramp on the far west end.
For more information or to book a guide, call the Marshland Bait Shop at (920) 876-2925. Additional information is available from the DNR at (920) 892-8756. Contact the Elkhart Lake Area Chamber of Commerce at 1-877-355-4278 for lodging and dining information.
"Muskies have done well here," said DNR fisheries biologist Tim Larson. "The muskies have been stocked about two per acre, usually in alternate years, with a few extras in between. Stocking began in the early 1980s, and the muskie population is just right to be compatible with other species in the lake."
Larson noted 50-inch muskies have been taken out of Redstone, and that a 40-inch minimum-size limit is in effect.
Judy Kosh of Four Season Sports remembers a 48-inch muskie being taken through the ice by an ice-angler. "There are some big muskies in Redstone, and there are quite a few of them," Kosh said.
The dam area and the county park are among the more productive areas to fish. Three ramps serve the lake and offer good access. Lake Redstone is roughly 60 miles northwest of Madison in Sauk County. It covers 622 acres. Depths range to 36 feet in the southern tip of the lake near the boat ramp off East Redstone Drive.
For more info, contact Four Season Sports at (608) 985-8201, or the DNR at (608) 635-8122.
"Shawano Lake is an up-and-coming muskie fishery and would be my main recommendation for anglers," said DNR fisheries biologist Al Niebur. "Since 1993, the DNR has actively managed the lake for muskies and has stocked just over 24,000 fingerlings. In addition, the local muskie club has contributed to this effort by stocking large fingerling muskies for several years. I don't have hard numbers on the muskie population, but anglers who avidly fish the lake say the muskie fishing has been very good."
According to Niebur, the 6,063-acre lake is large enough for muskie anglers to roam without feeling crowded. Shawano is a big lake and is producing plenty of trophy-class muskies.
"Muskies from 45 to 49 inches have been common, with a few 50-inch-plus fish just starting to show up," Niebur said.
Shawano isn't alone in the area as far as good muskie waters go. Smaller fisheries include the Cloverleaf Chain, Wolf River Pond and the Wolf River downstream from the Shawano Dam. Over the past couple of years, muskies have been stocked by the DNR into the upriver lakes and lower Wolf River.
Depths range to 40 feet and provide deep-water refuge. In the warmer months, active fish will be feeding in the cabbage patches and along the dropoffs on the east end. Weedy humps between the northern shore and Shawano County Park are also good. The westside outlet can also be a hotspot when baitfish concentrate there.
Traditional muskie weapons work here. Spinnerbaits, in-line bucktail spinners and crankbaits all do the job.
A total of 10 ramps are available to boaters. For more fishing information, contact the DNR at (715) 526-4227. Local tourism information is available from the Shawano Country Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-235-8528. Also, for trip planning assistance, contact the Reedsburg Area Chamber of Commerce at (608) 524-2850.
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Do you live in an urban area and have to budget your time? If you do, these lakes are close enough to day-trip for muskies!