Our Powerful Pike Waters

When Wisconsin's general fishing season opens in May, pike enthusiasts will be catching big fish on these waters.

By Gary F. Martin

There are some large northern pike swimming in Wisconsin waters.

In general, a northern measuring over 30 inches in length is considered a trophy by both the Department of Natural Resources and pike anglers, and 40-inch fish are not all that rare. Over the past few years, the Fisheries Management and Habitat Protection Program has been working to improve pike fishing, and some success has been achieved with the implementation of statewide regulations. These regulations include special bag limits and size limits on those waters where pike management is aimed at trophy production.

Keep in mind that today's fishing regulations are complex, since many waters are managed for specific purposes, such as trophy-pike fishing. Check the regulations booklet before you fish any body of water. Current size limits, creel limits and open seasons on certain waters are listed by county to make them easy to find. You can pick up the regulations booklet at any DNR Service Center or download the regulations at the DNR Web site at www.dnr.state.wi.us. In addition, boat ramps and access points on the water will have any special regulations posted for your information.

Big Cedar, a 932-acre lake located a few miles southwest of West Bend in west-central Washington County, was recently added to the very short list of lakes that have a 40-inch length limit on pike. There is a daily bag limit of one fish. These regulations are also in effect on Gilbert Lake, a very small adjacent and connected lake.

Big Cedar is a long, narrow lake that spans about four miles from north to south. This can make it a tough lake to fish when the wind is northerly or southerly. The lake is deep, with a maximum depth of 105 feet and a mean depth of 34 feet. It's a popular panfish and largemouth bass lake, and undoubtedly those fish are feeding the large pike that local anglers report catching, or at least seeing following their baits.

People come from all over to fish for Door County's big northern pike, including these guys from Lake Geneva. Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Two boat ramps on the north basin provide access, but the ramp on the east side is primitive, suitable only for small boats, and parking is limited to the shoulder of the roadway. The ramp on the west side of the north basin is small but was remodeled in 2002 and should be your choice for launching.

One popular pike fishing method is to drift the flats and cast. Another is trolling; motor trolling is permitted on Big Cedar. During summer, when water temperatures rise, look for the big pike to go deep. There's plenty of deep water because nearly 50 percent of the lake is over 20 feet deep. Using deep-running crankbaits and fishing live bait are favorite summer pike techniques.

For travel and lodging information, contact the West Bend Chamber of Commerce at 1-888-338-8666 or www.wbchamber.org.

This Dane County waterbody was the first Wisconsin lake with a 40-inch size limit on pike. The rule was put in place in 1998.

Lake Mendota is the largest of the five Madison lakes. It covers 9,842 acres and has a maximum depth of 82 feet. Lake Mendota is currently managed intensively for pike and walleyes, especially as a trophy-pike lake, and anglers report some 40-inch northerns every year. The program is working, and fish over 20 pounds are a reality, but the exciting thing about fishing Mendota is the abundance of 30- to 39-inch pike. Due to a lack of natural spawning areas, pike are stocked in Lake Mendota.

Fall is the best time to try for Lake Mendota's trophy pike. At that time, the large pike become active and move into the shallows as the water cools, recreational boating traffic ends, and angling pressure decreases as many people switch to hunting. Lake Mendota has a dozen boat ramps to provide excellent launching in all weather conditions.

For information on travel and lodging in the Madison area, contact the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-373-6376 or log on to the Web site at www.visitmadison.com.

Lake Puckaway in Green Lake County is listed by the DNR as a quality pike fishing water, with a 32-inch size limit and a bag limit of one fish per day. There are several excellent boat launches on the south end of the lake that provide access to this 5,039-acre waterbody.

"We've been tracking the 1993 year-class closely," said DNR fishery biologist Dave Bartz in Montello. "That class and the 1994 class are providing the bulk of the pike for anglers out there. We've had good fishing because of those year-classes, and it will only get better in 2003. The pike population density is increasing and the size structure for both sexes is up."

Bartz says that fishing success depends on whether or not the pike are hungry.

"When the shad production out on Puckaway is good, the pike fishing is bad. They're just not hungry." Bartz adds that the shad help the pike grow, and that means a good number of pike reach legal length. "We're seeing more legal fish in the lake every year."

It's a common pattern throughout Wisconsin that well-fed fish are more difficult to catch. The pike anglers who do catch northerns from Lake Puckaway usually catch big, healthy fish.

"There's a lot of pike out there," said Bartz. That means anglers who put in their time will catch some fish even when the shad population is up. The fish have to feed sometime. The anglers who fish the most will catch the most fish. Lures that imitate shad are productive, and since the water averages 3 feet deep, only shallow runners are necessary.

For more information on lodging and guide services in the Green Lake area, visit the Green Lake Chamber of Commerce Web site, which can be found at www.greenlakecc.com, or call them at 1-800-253-7354. You can also visit the Montello Area Chamber of Commerce Web site, found online at www.palacenet.net/montello/ chamber, or call them at (608) 297-7420.

While Green Bay is not listed by the DNR as a trophy-pike water, it is an excellent pike producer, with some dandy fish caught every year.

The problem for pike anglers is that Green Bay is a large body of water that's hard to learn and fish effectively, unless you put in some serious time on the water. The good news is that there is go

od fishing along both the east and west shores of the bay, especially in the spring and fall of the year. At these times the fish are in the shallow nearshore areas and they are very catchable.

Green Bay's pike have had some poor spawns and poor year-classes in recent years because of low water conditions, but for 2003 the fishing will still be good. According to DNR officials, a strong year-class occurring about every five years is all that is necessary to have good fishing. Thirty-inch pike are common in Green Bay, and 40-inch fish are not rare. Recent warm autumn weather means pike anglers can fish open water into November and possibly even December. Pike are roaming and feeding heavily at this time of year and providing plenty of action for anglers willing to brave the cold.

Green Bay's pike season is open all year with no minimum size limit. The bag limit is five fish per day. Due to low water levels in the Great Lakes, some boat ramps may be unusable, but there was a slight increase in Lake Michigan's level in 2002 and that might continue into 2003. Call ahead to make sure there is adequate water where you plan to launch and fish.

Popular locations along the west shore include Peshtigo Harbor, Oconto Harbor and Geano's Beach. In summer, look for weedbeds offshore to hold the most active pike. Retrieve white and black spinners over the weeds to catch pike. Two west-shore tributary streams excel during the coolwater fishing seasons: the Oconto River and the Peshtigo River. Check the current regulations booklet for special regulations before fishing on Green Bay's tributary streams.

The east shore of Green Bay has more structure and bays than the west shore. Fish the shallow bays such as Sawyer Harbor near Sturgeon Bay, Sand Bay, Riley's Bay and Little Sturgeon Bay in cool weather, and move to the structure in summer. Troll the breaklines and structure during warm weather with deep-running crankbaits.

Spring and fall also see the pike moving into shallow water at the south end of Green Bay and in the Fox River. Artificial lures and live bait will take pike from these shallow areas. Look for schools of shad breaking the surface; pike won't be far away. Warmwater discharges attract shad and pike once the water cools in fall.

Green Bay's Metropolitan Boat Launch is a good place to put the boat in. From there you can access both the Fox River and Green Bay. For fishing reports and information on guide services and lodging in the Green Bay area, visit one of the following Web sites:

  • www.titletown.org
  • www.doorcountyvacations.com
  • www.greenbay.org
  • www.packercountry.com

Wisconsin has over a dozen waters managed specifically for quality pike fishing with a 32-inch minimum size limit and a restricted bag limit. In addition, inland waters south of U.S. Highway 10, Lake Michigan waters south of Waldo Boulevard in Manitowoc, and the Lake Winnebago System have a 26-inch minimum limit. Always look for any special regulations and limits on the lake you choose to fish in the current regulations booklet because changes are made from year to year. Here are a few waters that currently have 32-inch minimum limits in place on pike.

Fox Lake
This Dodge County lake is located less than 10 miles west of Waupun. It is moderately large, with 2,625 acres of surface area. It's shallow, with a mean depth of 7 feet, but that means the pike don't have deep water to hide in during the heat of summer.

Fox Lake has several good boat ramps located on the north, west and south shores to provide access during most wind conditions. Contact the Waupun Area Chamber of Commerce at www.waupunchamber.com or (920) 324-3491 for more information.

Lake Geneva
With over 5,000 acres, this Walworth County lake is big. Lake Geneva is located just north of the Illinois-Wisconsin border. It's also deep, with a maximum depth of 135 feet.

Geneva has good boat ramps and is popular with pleasure boaters in summer. Boat traffic and warm weather can mean that the northerns can be hard to find in this longtime pike hotspot. The best fishing is during the coolwater periods of spring and fall when the fish are shallow.

Contact the Lake Geneva Area Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-345-1020 or check out their Web site at www.lakegenevawi.com for more information.

Wisconsin River
The Wisconsin River has trophy-pike potential, and with many miles of water, it offers a wide range of fishing options, including river stretches, impoundments and sloughs. Check the fishing regulations for the particular stretch you intend to fish for special rules and regulations. This is a very scenic area during autumn.

A good starting point for pike anglers is Lake Wisconsin. This 9,000-acre impoundment in southwestern Columbia County is located between Lodi and Baraboo, and has everything a pike fisherman could want. There are many boat ramps, especially on the south side, at which to access this lake.

There are several small towns along the course of the Wisconsin River in Columbia, Portage, Wood, Adams and Sauk counties that can serve as alternative bases for fishing. Contact the Baraboo Area Chamber of Commerce at (608) 356-8333 or 1-800-BARABOO or visit their Web site at www.baraboo.com/chamber/ for fishing, lodging and tourist information.

Big Eau Pleine Reservoir
Located in south-central Marathon County five miles southwest of Mosinee, Big Eau Pleine is nearly 7,000 acres of water, but with limited boat launching facilities. Access the water at Big Eau Pleine County Park on the north side of the flowage, which has two boat ramps.

This impoundment has some deep water, but much of its acreage is shallow and is excellent pike habitat. There is no shortage of bottom structure either. Pike are common and popular fishing targets here, and the reservoir has plenty of fishing options depending on weather conditions and time of year. For travel and lodging information, contact the Wausau/ Marathon County Chamber of Commerce at (715) 845-6231 or visit www.wausauchamber.com.

Devils Lake
Located just a few miles south of Baraboo, Devils Lake is a small yet deep lake.

Two boat ramps provide access to this 369-acre body of water. One of them is in Devil's Lake State Park and the other is on the south end of the lake off South Lake Road. Devils has almost no structure, and pike anglers do best when they concentrate their efforts on the north and south ends of the lake.

Contact the Baraboo Area Chamber of Commerce at (608) 356-8333 or 1-800-BARABOO or visit their Web site at www.baraboo.com/chamber for lodging and tourist information.

Butternut & Franklin Lakes
These two Forest County lakes grow big pike and are located

very close to each other, 12 miles east of Eagle River off Highway 70.

Butternut Lake's 1,292 acres have a maximum depth of 42 feet, and Franklin Lake covers almost 900 acres and has a maximum depth of 46 feet. Franklin contains ciscoes, and that means the pike grow big on a diet of these oily forage fish.

Both lakes have limited but adequate boat ramps. For additional information, contact the Eagle River Area Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-359-6315 or check out these Web sites: www.eagle-river.com or www.eagleriver.org.

* * *
There are plenty of places in which to catch northern pike in Wisconsin. Anglers like pike because the fish are usually willing to bite and stay active most of the year. According to the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame record book, the national-record northern pike was just over 46 pounds and was caught in 1940 in New York. The Wisconsin record pike was 38 pounds and was caught in Lake Puckaway in 1952. The chances of breaking an existing record are slim, but you just never know!

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