Fall is the best time to be on the water, especially if you're chasing that fish of a lifetime! Here are some hot waters for catching cool fish. (September 2008)
I am fortunate to spend in excess of 160 days per year fishing in open water. Spring action may be fast and furious, but toss in a strong cold front and a drop in water temperature, and your targeted species may end up with a case of lockjaw. Summer produces numbers of fish, but locating and catching those big fish is unpredictable.
The author caught a big Menominee River smallmouth.
Photo by Mike Mladenik.
While I enjoy all my time on the water, it's the fall that's most rewarding. Gone are the personal watercraft and pleasure boaters and, most important, the big fish go on the feed. Fall cold fronts cause big fish to stack up and trigger a feeding frenzy. Of course, it helps if you are fishing productive water. While there are many places with exceptional fall fishing in Wisconsin, here are a few I highly recommend.
It's no secret the Menominee River is my favorite fishing hole and with good reason. After more than 27 years guiding people from all over North America and logging hundreds of smallmouths over 20 inches, the proof is in the pudding. When booking dates, my clients often inquire as to the best time to fish the Menominee and my answer is always the same, "While there is never a bad time to fish the river, the fall is the best."
An awesome late-summer topwater bite runs through late September and the further you progress, the bigger the smallmouths are. Catching 20 to 50 smallmouths longer than 18 inches is common. The best action occurs following a few days of stable weather and is usually centered around weeds; however, tossing poppers or prop baits over rocks and shoreline wood is also productive. (Continued)
After a cold front, the topwater bite shuts down and you must refine your presentation. Start with minnow imitation crankbaits to locate smallmouths, and then switch to a tube or soft plastic jerkbait. By October, artificials continue to catch smallmouths, but if you want a hawg, use redtail chubs.
Fish the redtail chubs on a plain hook or jighead. I have caught big smallmouths on the Menominee right up to ice-out.
The walleye population is good and like smallmouths, they also go on the feed. Casting a jig and minnow below a dam or in a deep pool will yield eating-sized walleyes. The fall sturgeon season is also popular on the Menominee, with Bear Point and the Hattie Street Dam being favorite areas to fish. Find a deep hole or river bend, toss out the anchor and soak some night crawlers or cut bait and you are in business. Anglers may also take advantage of the fall salmon run in the lower Menominee.
Finding a boat launch is no trouble, since Marinette County, Wisconsin Public Service and WE Energies all maintain access sites on the river. For information about lodging, contact the Four Seasons Resort at (877) 324-5153 orwww.fourseasonswi.com. For general information, contact the Marinette County Chamber of Commerce at (800) 236-6681 or www.marinettecounty.com, and for guide service, contact me at (715) 854-2055 or www.bigsmallmouth bass.com.
Finding a multi-species body of water is no problem, but finding a place that offers trophy potential for all species is a gem. Bret Alexander of Alexander Guide Service said, "The fishing this past fall was fantastic, and as usual we caught trophy smallmouths, walleyes, northern pike, along with nice brown trout and salmon." Alexander added that the fall bite starts in September and runs through November and on some years through December.
Moose Lake anglers caught a big muskie.
Photo by Mike Mladenik.
"By late September, smallmouths start to move shallow and will chase chartreuse and white spinnerbaits," he said.
To be successful, anglers should refine their retrieve to adapt to conditions. If the water temperature is dropping, slow the retrieve, but if the water temperature rises even one degree, speed up the retrieve. In November, smallmouths move as shallow as 2 feet, with swimbaits being the hot lure. Late-season hotspots include Gills Rock and the bays on the Lake Michigan shoreline.
Walleyes are also a popular target after Labor Day. Alexander said last September walleyes remained in a summer pattern hitting crawler harnesses all month. He likes to troll crawler harnesses on the reefs in the lower part of Green Bay. When walleyes move into their fall pattern, trolling stick baits over the reefs after dark is tough to beat. The best action usually occurs between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m.
The Sturgeon Bay ship channel offers a chance at big pike, trout and salmon. Alexander likes to troll the Lake Michigan side of the channel with large silver spoons on downriggers. On any given day, anglers may expect to catch pike up to 20 pounds mixed in with brown trout and salmon. On the Lake Michigan side of the peninsula, North Bay and Rowley Bay also produce big fall pike.
Recently, the lower Fox River has been producing huge muskies that seem to get bigger each year. You may have to endure crowds as they troll crankbaits, but it's hard to argue with the results. For more fishing information, call Bret Alexander at (920) 851-4241. For accommodations, contact the Door County Chamber at (800) 52-RELAX or www.doorcounty.com.
LAKE DUBAY & WISCONSIN RIVER
Lake Dubay, a flowage on the Wisconsin River, is located 10 miles north of Stevens Point. Other tributaries entering the 6,830-acre flowage include Johnson Creek, the Big Eau Pleine, Little Eau Pleine and Little Eau Claire rivers. The primary fisheries are walleyes, crappies and muskies.
Walleyes have excellent growth rates and 30-inch fish are present. In fall, they put on the feedbag and once you locate them, the action is fast. Minnows and crankbaits are the most popular walleye baits. In fall, most walleyes relate to deeper channels, but some feed on the rockpiles. Look for submerged wood at the edge of river channels to be fall hotspots.
The best muskie action occurs on the north end of the lake near Big Is
land. Many local anglers like to cast orange and chartreuse bucktails and bright-colored crankbaits around timber and in the creek channels. There is potential for a trophy muskie. For crappies, drift in 8 to 10 feet of water with a small minnow under a slip-bobber. Beside crappies, Lake Dubay also has a good bluegill and perch population that gets little fishing pressure in the fall.
The Wisconsin River north and south of Lake Dubay also offers quality fall fishing. Anglers can expect a mixed bag consisting of smallmouths, walleyes and muskies. For more information, contact the Wausau Chamber of Commerce at (715) 845-6231 or www.wausauchamber.com.
EAGLE RIVER CHAIN
The Eagle River Chain has long been a favorite destination. Covering 3,600 acres, the 11-acre chain produces quality fish of all species. It's one of those places where boat traffic may pose a problem, but after Labor Day, anglers usually have the water to themselves.
"The same fishing patterns prevail on all the lakes of the Eagle Chain," guide Mat Hegy said. "The muskie action is consistent from Labor Day through ice-up. Early in September, muskies roam the weedlines with bucktails being the bait of choice. On occasion, there may be a good surface bait bite. By the end of September, Hegy moves from the weedline and casts 6- to 8-inch twitch baits and jerkbaits along the 10-foot breakline. Hegy also suggests fishing suckers on quick-strike rigs.
The key to catching walleyes in the early fall is to fish the weeds in the evening and the deeper breaklines during the day. After Labor Day, use a jig and leech or a jig and night crawler. The top jig colors are chartreuse, orange, white or plain leadhead. Once the water temperature begins to drop, switch over to a jig and fathead minnow. When the water temperature drops below 40 degrees, walleyes migrate to deep holes.
There is also a good fall panfish bite on the Eagle Chain with activity centered on the weeds. For crappies, use a small slip-bobber and a small minnow. Use the same slip-bobber rig tipped with a piece of night crawler to yield bluegills. Cast the weeds with spinners and shallow-running crankbaits and you may connect with a nice northern pike. For additional fishing information, call guide Mat Hegy at (715) 571-7544, and for lodging, contact the Eagle River Chamber of Commerce at (800) 359-6315 or www.eagleriver.org.
MOOSE LAKE & LAC COURTE OREILLES
Dark water flowages are legendary for producing muskies, walleyes and crappies, and Moose Lake in northern Sawyer County fits the mold.
In fall, most walleyes relate to deeper channels, but some feed on the rockpiles. Look for submerged wood at the edge of river channels to be fall hotspots.
Guide John Myhre lives on the flowage and fishes it extensively.
"Moose Lake has good number of muskies in the 40-inch class, lots of walleyes and slab crappies," he said.
Most of the 1,670-acre flowage is less than 10 feet deep but has ample structure, including weeds, stumps, cribs and rocks. Special fishing regulations include a 40-inch size limit on muskies, a 10-fish panfish limit and a five-fish bag limit with no minimum size for walleyes. There are four landings on the flowage.
Myhre said the shallow dark water flowage cools rapidly in the fall and muskies adapt to the change in water temperature. In early fall, muskies relate to weeds, but by late fall, the action centers around rocks and wood. Moose Lake muskies eagerly attack a 12-inch sucker on a quick-strike rig. Casting jerkbaits and plastics is also effective, but because of the dark water, stick with bright colors.
Fishing the cribs and the main-river channel yields both crappies and walleyes. For crappies, use a combination of tube jigs and minnows. Use a jig and minnow for walleyes. However, when using minnows you may expect periodic bite-offs from muskies. Moose Lake is also a sleeper for smallmouths, and each year 18- to 22-inch fish are caught.
If you prefer fishing bigger water, Myhre suggests 5,039-acre Lac Courte Oreilles. Unlike Moose Lake's dark water, the water on Lac Courte Oreilles is extremely clear. Fishing around rockpiles and points can produce a trophy walleye or muskie. Jerkbaits, crankbaits and plastics all produce muskies, but the largest ones are caught with suckers. Walleyes also prefer live bait and won't pass up a redtail chub. When fishing with chubs, don't be surprised if you find a big smallmouth on the end of your line. This smallmouth fishery is another untapped resource. For more information, contact John Myhre at (715) 462-9402 or the Hayward Chamber of Commerce at (715) 634-8662.
MISSISSIPPI RIVER LA CROSSE AREA
The Mississippi River has always been a fish factory and anglers can usually find active fish anywhere. However, in the fall, Bob Bott of TGIF Outfitters in La Crosse said it's better to concentrate on backwater sloughs for all species.
Fall is also an excellent time to catch quality walleyes. Bott's favorite tactic is to cast deep-diving firetiger, chartreuse and orange crankbaits parallel to the edge of the sloughs. Trolling crankbaits in the current where moving water meets the slough is also deadly, especially if the fish are scattered.
Bott also likes to fish lily pads with a 4- or 6-inch ring worm on a 3/8-ounce worm weight. He pitches a worm with a chartreuse or pearl blue tail over the lily pads into a hole.
Northern pike are always present in the sloughs, but more pike move into the sloughs from the main river in the fall. These feeding pike aggressively hit oversized spinnerbaits in white or firetiger.
For more information, contact Bott at (608) 781-8808 or online at www.tgifoutfitters.com. For general information, contact the La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce at (608) 784-4880 or www.lacrossechamber.com.
The lakes of the Madison Chain have their own personality and different dominant fisheries.
"Whether you are after muskies, northern pike, walleyes, bass or panfish, you will find a lake on the chain to meet your needs," Gene Dellinger of D&S Bait, Tackle & Archery said.
If you want nice walleyes, Dellinger recommended trying Lake Mendota at night, as walleyes cruise the shallows to feed on baitfish. Walleyes are accessible to both shore- and boat-anglers. Shore-anglers walk the shoreline and cast crankbaits and suspending jerkbaits. Boaters use the same presentation but use their trolling motor.
For muskies, Dellinger recommends Lake Monona and Lake Waubesa. In early fall, most muskies relate to the weedlines and weedy points. A co
mbination of bucktails and jerkbaits are popular with local muskie hunters. Plastic creatures like Bulldawgs are particularly deadly. By October, most muskies head for deep water, with points adjacent to deep water attracting the largest muskies. Casting jerkbaits and crankbaits over deep weeds will produce but also bring a few suckers along. These same presentations will also take quality northern pike from Lake Mendota, although few anglers tap into the quality northern fishery.
If you are desiring panfish, head for Lake Monona. In the fall, baitfish move out of the shallow bays and panfish follow the migration. The same weedline attracts largemouth bass. For largemouths, try spinnerbaits early and switch to plastics as the day progresses. If you are in search of smallmouth bass, cast crankbaits around the points in Lake Mendota.
For more information, contact D&S Bait, Tackle and Archery at (608) 241-4225 or the Madison Chamber of Commerce at (608) 256-0333 or greatermadisonchamber.com.