Wisconsin's Overlooked Muskie Hotspots
September 30, 2010
In our May and June issues, we told you about the hottest muskie lakes across our state. But here are seven more waters that people tend to forget about.
By Ted Peck
Every muskie guide has his "aces" - those little hole-in-the-wall spots reserved for special clients when fishing is tough and the need arises to validate either your mastery over these critters or to confirm that if nothing is moving here, then nothing is moving anywhere.
Top guides always have a "Plan B" ready to go if it gets too windy or if it's right down to the wire for a client who really needs to see a nice fish, or simply to confirm that a client is being guided rather than simply fishing on waters already crowded with muskie anglers.
Following is a handful of great muskie waters in our state that regular anglers tend to overlook.
VAN VLIET LAKE This slightly stained portion of gin-clear Presque Isle Lake in far northwestern Vilas County is so far back in the boonies in this land of many lakes that few folks have the stamina to trailer a boat that far.
These 220 acres are easy to "read" once you get on the water. A couple of islands and a nearly uniform 10-foot breakline at the deep weed edge practically jump out at you after you put in at the new launch on County Highway P just a couple of miles east of Crab Lake Road.
Photo by Pete Maina
All you need to find success here are three lures - a Jake, a Top Raider and a small bucktail - all in some kind of orange or chartreuse hue. If you're looking for bigger muskies - especially on windy days - move offshore, throw out a windsock and just drift, casting perch-pattern Jakes or anything that resembles a bullhead. Big muskies like to cruise just under schools of suspended bullheads on this lake when the wind comes up, with hardly an inkling that anything containing hooks would ever come within a country mile.
If you take a wrong turn and end up on Crab Lake by mistake, don't despair. Crab has 22 islands and a lot more subsurface structure, with the honest potential to hold a 50-pounder in its crystal-clear waters.
Alpine Resort is a great base of operations, offering outstanding American plan cuisine - and solid fishing information.
CONTACT: Alpine Resort: (715) 686-2800; www.alpine-resort.com.
LITTLE TAMARACK FLOWAGE This stained water east of Presque Isle in Vilas County is home to some whopping muskies that see very little pressure. Guide Howie Meyer has boated fish over 30 pounds on these 200 shallow acres, which, he says, comprise a good multi-species fishery.
According to Meyer, the best way to catch muskies here is to go for other species and catch the muskies by mistake. But if you're going species-specific, try winging a Crane bait in the channel behind the closest bog island to the boat launch off of Highway S on Flowage Landing Road.
"Tamarack has lots of cabbage," Meyer says. "Start fishing with the electric right out from the boat launch - one guy with a topwater, another with a Crane bait. And don't forget the camera."
After working around the islands and bogs, head toward the inlet at the southwest end of the lake, where a navigable channel passes into Baker Lake. Baker is only 36 acres, but it's twice as deep as Little Tamarack, with a maximum depth of 36 feet. Muskies use undercut cover on floating bogs as an ambush point. A major key to hooking up lies in casting so that your lure comes churning over the muskie's head from behind. This means pinpoint casting.
Meyer put me on a 50-inch-plus fish relating to cover like this last summer that blew up on a Hawg Wobbler right at the boat.
CONTACT: Seven Islands Guide Service: (715) 686-7155; email: DylnThom@aol.com.
SWEENEY LAKE St. Germain's Brian Siekierzynski can usually be located somewhere between Lost and Found - two great muskie lakes in this part of the cool blue north. But with over two decks of dog-eared aces up Siekierzynski's sleeve, getting him to give up Sweeney Lake - a 187-acre gem east of Woodruff - didn't require much arm-twisting.
"Sweeney is a great lake on windy days," he notes, "and a great place to hide on the weekend when the jet-ski crowd arrives."
There is a good boat launch located off of County Highway J on the lake's northeast corner.
Start by targeting the coontail patch in Sweeney's far north end, then move in a controlled drift along the western shore, pitching toward the lily pads that should be pretty well developed now at about the 6-foot breakline.
When you get near the south end of the lake, work the coontail bed out to about the 10-foot breakline, following this contour around the entire south end. When you start working up along this lake's eastern shoreline, look for rocks, especially the big rock onshore that marks a rockbar on the southeast corner of the lake.
"If you stay a long cast out from shore, it is possible to effectively cover the water column," said the local guide. "When the lake necks down at about the midpoint, you'll notice another weed edge along that 10-foot contour. Follow it behind the island on the west side back toward the boat ramp. Staying away from the east side of the island is a good idea, unless you like replacing lower units."
Bucktails work well on Sweeney, especially purple or black ones with a hammered brass blade. Perch and fire-tiger hues also have their days in this slightly stained water.
CONTACT: Brian Siekierzynski, (715) 542-4774.
WATERSMEET LAKE Located at the confluence of the Eagle and Wisconsin rivers on the lower end of the Eagle River Chain, these shallow waters provide the closest thing to a wilderness experience you'll find on a weekend near this popular northwoods tourist mecca.
George Langley, who's been guiding longer than many muskie anglers have been on the planet, remembers when they planted the trees that eventually ended up being carved into the first Suicks. His years of experience lead him about 1 1/2 miles downriver from the rest of the Eagle River Chain when cars with Illinois license plates start to clog summer streets. He launches at the County Park near the intersection of Hi
ghway 70 and Highway 17 at the mouth of Mud Creek.
Watersmeet is fed by several tributaries, including Mud and Rice creeks, and the Wisconsin River - with current being a major key to fish location when pitching lures here. If there isn't much current, Langley likes to head upstream into the Wisconsin River itself. But if current is present in the lake, he'll target the old river channel, fishing the edges of current.
"Don't overlook the stumpfields," Langley says. "Water is only a couple of feet deep back there, but fish like it."
Langley's weapon of choice for fishin' the stumps - or just about anywhere else for that matter - is a topwater bait, particularly the Top Raider or Tallywacker.
Obnoxious fluorescent colors are the way to go in these shallow, dark, weedy and stump-strewn waters. Because the character of this fishery is so stained, Watersmeet is a great place to chase muskies outside of the traditional dawn and dusk "prime times." There is a good chance you can get hooked up to a fish of substantial dimensions here by throwing a topwater bait at high noon on a sunny summer day.
CONTACT: Eagle Sports, (715) 479-8804; www.justmusky.com; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
LAKE MOHAWKSIN Thousands of boat-towing travelers flying north up U.S. Highway 51 scream over some of our state's best muskie water when they cross over the Wisconsin River at Tomahawk. A long sandbar running out from one of the pillars that support this massive bridge attracts muskies all summer long, with other fish hiding in easy-to-locate spots both upstream and downstream from this point.
Guide Bryan Schaeffer and I doubled up on muskies here one evening last summer, he with a 30-inch muskie that hit a topwater, I with a similar-sized fish sporting a northern pike paint job. In eight hours on Lake Mohawksin in Tomahawk - working up to the King's Dam, which holds back the waters of Lake Alice - Bryan and I moved six muskies, boating that little guy and a respectable 40-incher that hit in the swift water of King Dam's tailwaters.
This flowage of the Wisconsin River, like many other spots on the upper reaches of our namesake river, is a virtually untapped muskie hotspot. River muskies are usually more aggressive than their lake or flowage kin.
Most who launch at the city park near the railroad tracks motor up into Lake Mohawksin. Depending on angling pressure, Schaeffer is liable to go the other way, especially if it's windy. Get upstream from the Highway 51 bridge and you're on a stretch that locals call the "muskie mile," with fish liable to be just about anywhere from here clear up to the dam.
Although you'll certainly be over fish by just casting willy-nilly, targeting weeds and obvious structure is the real key in getting hooked up here. Use your depthfinder to stay in the river channel and work spots where wood or runs of rocky shoreline are obvious - like the flat out from a triad of stumps on the left-hand side of the river on your way up to the dam.
Cabbage patches are fish magnets, especially in this river. One particularly long run of cabbage is found near the mouth of the aptly named Muskie Creek - a great place to "boil" fluorescent bucktails just under the surface of these off-colored waters. Don't overlook inside weed edges in this stained and well-aerated water either.
You only need a handful of lures and a couple of hours to toss them to find consistent success on this part of the Wisconsin River system. The venerable Mepps Giant Killer bucktail with purple hair works great here. Also have a Burt, a Top Raider, a Jackpot and a Suick ready to go, and returning to the boat launch with at least paint missing from the lure is virtually assured.
CONTACTS: Bryan Schaeffer, (715) 453-6388; Chuck's Sports Shop, (715) 453-3101.
WISCONSIN RIVER The Wisconsin River between Tomahawk and Wausau downstream holds some pretty wild and crazy water. With plenty of treacherous rapids, whirlpools and boat-crushing boulders, this is no place to be if you don't understand and respect the awesome power of flowing water.
The best way to experience a lot of this water is by canoe - not exactly the best fishing platform on which to dance with an angry muskie. Those adept in the use of paddle-powered watercraft have a memorable experience waiting for them, once the logistics of float-fishing between the often-crummy boat launches get worked out.
Todd Koehn knows this water better than anybody. His "ace" is a jet-powered outboard on a flat-bottomed boat. Notoriety has somehow passed Koehn by, in spite of the fact that he's written an outstanding book on Mepps lures and is one of the very best anglers and guides I have ever had the privilege of fishing with. Koehn's primary focus is smallmouth bass, with the No. 5 Mepps Black Fury his weapon of choice. But in between the 20 to 40 smallmouths up to 20 inches he tangles with on a typical day are always one or two muskies in a particularly ornery mood.
Koehn has a couple of stretches of the upper Wisconsin where actually fishing for muskies can be a higher-percentage operation than chasing smallmouths, although launching the boat here entails hooking my 4x4 truck to his 4x4 truck to launch and retrieve the boat at the "access" outside of Tomahawk that includes a 2-foot drop between the end of the road and the river.
Koehn boated a really nice muskie on a Flatfish the last time we fished here. And we saw two more, one of which was a real jaw-dropper with no intention of eating. If you enjoy fishing in the wilderness, this is as good as it gets.
CONTACTS: North Country Guide Service, (715) 623-2115; www.rivercatch.com; Merrill View Motel, (715) 536-5555.
MENOMINEE RIVER This Michigan/Wisconsin boundary water is pretty much overlooked by anglers from both states, especially when it comes to muskies. But it's an even-money bet you'll get hooked up with a hefty Esox here if you make a species-specific effort on some of the slower-moving stretches of these stained river/flowage pools separated by power dams along this 84-mile border designated as Class 3 muskie water.
Some of the best water is just above the Hattie Street Dam, which is the last barrier between the river and Green Bay. Catching Great Lakes-strain spotted muskies is a possibility below this point and out into the bay itself.
With a jet-drive-powered outboard on a flat-bottomed boat it is possible to access the more riverine stretches of the Menominee that are typical just downstream from one of several dams between here and Amberg some 25 miles upstream. Some runs of the Menominee are too shallow or fast-running to have much accessibility for anglers, or to appeal to muskies with substantial di
mensions. But there is at least some water fishable from standard muskie boats upstream from the boat launch found above every power dam, with a chance of finding another, less accessible launch upstream in some of the pools.
The waters of Coulter Slough and Wright Slough just downstream are probably the most popular for muskie anglers, who access the river just outside of Marinette on Highway 180.
Few folks make the effort to travel to those waters above the White Rapids Dam - primarily due to access concerns - with even fewer venturing upstream to the two pools separated by County K at a dam just upstream, about 10 miles east of Amberg off of Highway 141. The best access to the upstream pool is just east of the bridge, taking the first road north on the Michigan side of the river upstream about two miles to the boat launch. Getting to the pool downstream requires taking the last road on the Wisconsin side of County K south a couple of miles to the launch just above the next dam. I caught and released muskies up to 40 inches on both of these pools last year. Bet they haven't seen many hooks since then.
CONTACTS: Guide Mike Mladenik, (715) 854-2055; Marinette Area Chamber of Commerce, (715) 735-6681.
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There you have it - a hand with seven "aces." But here's the real deal: practice CPR - catch, photograph and release. Our muskies are far too valuable to catch just once!
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