Pike fishing across Wisconsin is always good, but there are some waters that are better than others. Here are a few where tangling with water wolves will be good this year. (March 2008).
Photo by Greg Keefer.
Northern pike waters abound in Wisconsin, but some are more productive than others. Trophy pike are found in predictable places as well as out-of-the-way spots where an angler can have the entire lake for himself.
Border waters and the Great Lakes offer liberal opportunities for tagging bragging-sized pike this month. The season on inland waters is closed to pike fishing most of March and all of April to protect the spawners. The inland season opens the first Saturday in May and closes the first Sunday in March.
Here's a look at some pike waters where you'll want to be first in line at the ramp.
"I'd pick Lake Six for northerns," fisheries biologist Jeffrey Roth said. "The lake is managed for pike with a special 26-inch minimum length regulation and a two-fish bag limit. The average size of pike is better than most lakes, as it's shallow with excellent pike habitat and is an ideal lake to try fly-fishing."
Lake Six, in the center of Iron County, covers 148 acres and is just what the doctor ordered when it comes to spring fever. Catch-and-release is encouraged to maintain the excellent fishery, Roth said.
Depths range to 15 feet with plenty of weedy areas in the main-lake basin. There is a remote boat launch.
This is a small lake but carries a punch because of the special regulations. There won't be many pike, but the ones that are caught can make the trip worthwhile. Pike as long as 39 inches were found during the last DNR survey.
Additional information is available from the Bureau of Fisheries Management at (715) 476-7603.
"Pewaukee has some good northern pike fishing, but the muskies get all the attention," said. Susan Beyler, inland fisheries team supervisor. "There are decent numbers of pike in Pewaukee and occasionally a big one is produced."
Thick weedbeds in the bay and in scattered locations surround Chester Island -- a good place for a northern pike just after ice-out.
A floating Rapala minnow with or without a small sinker is an excellent early-season bait for northerns. The slow wobble imitates lethargic prey fish that haven't yet shaken off the cold water temperature. Rapalas don't perform well on heavy line, but anglers can get away with using 10- or 15-pound monofilament or an equivalent line without a problem.
The lake is only an hour from Milwaukee, so it does get some fishing pressure.
Pewaukee Lake covers 2,493 acres in Waukesha County in southeastern Wisconsin. Boat launches are located near County Road E on the west side of the lake, near Ash Road on the southern shore and Park Road on the eastern shore.
For more information, call the Bureau of Fisheries at (262) 574-2121.)
ST. CROIX FLOWAGE
"The St. Croix Flowage is a sleeper lake with good pike numbers and decent sizes that anglers should consider tapping into this year," fisheries biologist Scott Toshner said.
Good numbers with some lunker-class fish thrown in is always a nice combination and is not always the case at other area lakes. There are numerous keeper-sized northerns in the flowage and they're eager biters in early spring. Look for green vegetation near the natural shoreline areas that have served as spawning areas.
With depths reaching 28 feet, pike have a coldwater refuge. Hammer-handles can live in shallow, weedy water all summer long, but as they grow, they need cooler water to avoid heat stress. Start casting or trolling shallow and move into deeper water to locate the bigger pike.
St. Croix Flowage is in Douglas County and covers 1,913 acres. For more information, call the Bureau of Fisheries at (715) 635-4162.
"My first thought for good pike waters in my area is Franklin Lake," fisheries biologist Tim Simonson said. "There aren't any muskies in the lake and that makes life a lot easier for the northern pike."
Muskies are major competitors for available prey fish and a big muskie thinks nothing of munching on a smaller pike for lunch. Northerns are at the top of the food chain in Franklin Lake and can afford to throw caution to the wind.
"We tried a 32-inch minimum length limit on Franklin Lake in Forest County for a number of years," fisheries biologist John Kubisiak said. "Franklin Lake always had a reputation for lots of pike with an occasional very large fish. The population of small pike exploded and may have started impacting the bass and walleye populations and we haven't seen many large northern pike being produced. There was poor angler compliance with the regulations and larger fish were illegally taken. As a result, we now have a high density of smaller pike. Franklin Lake is back to a no-minimum-length regulation, so our anglers can thin out the smaller fish."
Franklin Lake covers 161 acres in Oneida County. For more information, call the Bureau of Fisheries in Rhinelander at (715) 365-8919.
This great pike water is another of Simonson's picks and on the opposite end of the scale from Franklin Lake. Grindstone has the sizes lacking in Franklin, but anglers can't expect to catch many of them.
Fisheries biologist Frank Pratt Jr. also tags Grindstone as a great place to try for larger pike.
"There is a very low density of northern pike in Grindstone, maybe one for every 5 to 10 acres of water, which is a similar density maintained by muskies in our waters," Pratt said.
"These pike, however, have demonstrated the potential to get very large. I would go to Grindstone for a shot at a 20-pounder but not to catch a lot of pike."
Heavier-than-normal tackle is called for to land one of these lunkers. Large spoons, crankbaits and in-line spinners are all good possibilities to tempt one of these big pike into a springtime bite.
Grindstone is a deep, clear lake in Sawyer County. It averages about 30 feet deep with a maximum depth of 60 feet.
dditional information, call the Bureau of Fisheries at (715) 634-9658.
Escanaba in Vilas County yields pike year 'round with no size limit or bag limit. The lake is part of a five-lakes research project with no closed pike season. A free permit to fish for the day is required. There is a small station located at the boat landing where a permit can be obtained.
Safe ice is generally present through early April, so ice-fishing for pike would be the method of choice and targeting vegetation in the near-shore areas is key. The northerns are moving up into the shallow, marshy areas for the rigors of spawning and can be taken with a little finesse.
"Tip-ups and large shiners seem to work best if there's still ice," fisheries supervisor Mike Vogelsang said. "Jigging with pimples and ice-jigging Rapalas will also work."
There are some nice-sized pike that come out of Escanaba Lake, but anglers probably won't catch many of them.
Escanaba Lake is eight miles east of Boulder Junction. It covers 293 acres with a maximum depth of 26 feet.
The Bureau of Fisheries Management at (715) 358-9239 can provide more information.
"Nelson has some nice-sized pike for those who don't mind catch-and-release under a relatively new 32-inch minimum length limit," said Dave Neuswanger, the Upper Chippewa Basin fisheries team leader.
The management direction here is to aim for large pike with as many big fish as the lake will hold. So far, things are looking good. Northerns are the top of the food chain and are exhibiting good growth and the potential to reach some enormous sizes.
Though not a legal requirement, conservation hooks are a good idea to avoid injury to the fish. Lures without conservation hooks can easily be made barbless with a pair of needle-nosed pliers.
Many Wisconsin lakes receive enough pressure that larger pike are removed on a regular basis and trophy-class individuals are lacking entirely. The DNR is attempting to reverse the trend with special regulations on lakes like Nelson that will allow big pike to remain in the lake.
The lake isn't the only up-and-coming trophy fishery. Largemouth bass are growing fast, and in years past, two 8-pounders were documented.
Nelson Lake is an impoundment covering 2,503 acres in Sawyer County. For more information, call the DNR in Hayward at (715) 634-9658.
The last DNR fisheries survey indicated two to four fish per acre with an average length of 23 inches. For more information, call the Bureau of Fisheries at (715) 635-4162.
The Wisconsin River downstream of the Rhinelander dam offers all the impoundments and sloughs that provide river pike with ideal habitat.
"The northern pike's reproductive system develops all through the winter months in preparation for spawning," Vogelsang said. "This takes a fair amount of energy and is a possible reason why they seem to bite best during the late-ice period."
Northerns spawn at very cold temperatures, usually in the upper 30s and many times, if there's an inlet or an outlet from a lake, they will run up or down the water corridor to spawn even though there's still a lot of ice. After spawning, pike hang around in shallow water and areas with weeds because this is where they do their best hunting. The only exception is on lakes that have ciscoes because pike will then suspend over deep water to chase ciscoes.
Fishing below the spillways may usually provide open-water opportunities if anglers prefer to cast. There are several dams along the way, but Bradley Dam, the outlet from Lake Nokomis, is a fairly popular and productive spot.
Vogelsang recommends tying on a jig-and-minnow, a floating Rapala or a small spinnerbait to get these early-spring pike.
"Work these baits as slowly as possible without getting snagged," he said.
For additional information, call the DNR at (715) 358-9239.
Perhaps the most overlooked pike fishery in the state is Lake Superior. The sheer size is intimidating on the best of days and especially when the cold winds are blowing.
The pike sizes are nothing to shake a stick at either.
"All of these pike are healthy and robust," said senior fisheries biologist Mike Seider, who manages this spectacular lake. "During our spring survey in one of the smaller sloughs in Chequamegon Bay, nearly 20 percent of the fish were greater than 30 inches and we had a few that passed the 40-inch mark."
These fish are old, Seider said. Superior is less fertile than the other Great Lakes waters, so it takes the fish longer to reach trophy sizes.
"Spring and early summer are the best times to target northerns on Lake Superior when they're more congregated," Seider said. "In summer, northerns spread out and move into deeper water. They are more difficult to locate."
Seider recommends trying the sloughs along the Wisconsin shoreline, especially those in Chequamegon Bay. Sand Cut and Kakagon sloughs in the eastern portion of Chequamegon Bay hold good numbers of northerns. The pike move out of the sloughs into the western portion of the bay along the Ashland shoreline. A few pike will hold around the marinas in the area throughout the spring and may stick around the rest of the summer.
According to Seider, the Chequamegon Bay fishery has a nice mix of pike, big smallmouth bass, walleyes and an occasional trout or salmon. The vast waterway receives less fishing pressure than other waters.
Another good spot is the St. Louis River harbor. Fishing the big lake here is the same as in Chequamegon Bay. Target any weeds, woody cover, marinas and other shallow habitat that might draw spawners close to the shoreline.
"It's big water up here and unless people know where they're going, trolling covers a lot more water than casting will," Seider said. "Spoons, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits and live bait are all good. Find schools of prey fish and you should be finding pike if they're not up shallow."Studies have shown that Lake Superior pike eat a variety of smelt, perch, sculpins and sticklebacks. Green-and-brown or silver-and-blue colored baits are good choices.
Lake Superior is a trophy-class fishery. Smaller pike have been increasing in numbers over the last 20 years and that means the spawning population is healthy and on the upswing. Seider said anglers shouldn't expect to hook up with many pike, but if they do find one, it will probably be a big one. Catch-and-release is a great way to preve
nt overharvesting this incredible fishery.
Lake Superior is open to fishing year 'round; however, there is a 26-inch minimum length restriction and a two-fish bag limit.
For more information, contact the Lake Superior Fisheries Team at (715) 779-4035, or visit the Wisconsin Bureau of Fisheries online at www.dnr.state. wi.us/fish. For tourist information, contact the Wisconsin Department of Tourism at (800) 432-8747, or at www.travelwisconsin.com