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Wisconsin's Best Bets for Fishing

Wisconsin's Best Bets for Fishing

Do you always fish close to home? That's a good thing, but you can expand your horizons by checking out these excellent angling opportunities just down the road.


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By Ted Peck

Wisconsin is a tough state to fish. With excellent angling opportunities just a few minutes away from any point in our state, many of us seldom venture far from home to wet a line. Why do you think people from Chicago drive all way the up to Minocqua and points north? Besides the Friday night all-you-can-eat fish fry, it's mostly for the excellent fishing. Let's take a lesson from the flatlanders: if we all moved around a little more here in the Land of Cheese and tried fishin' a few different species, there would be the realization that the only reason to leave Wisconsin is for a quick visit to witness another Super Bowl appearance by the Packers.

Between now and next January, why not check out some of these excellent angling opportunities just a little farther down the road in America's Dairyland.

Bluegills at Stoddard
A myriad of weed edges on the Mississippi River's Pool 8 just west of Stoddard in Vernon County hold bluegills by the thousands every winter with a bite that essentially lasts all winter long.

Green, gold, glow or orange Rat Finkees, Demons or Marmooska Jigs tipped with a wax worm and mobility are the keys to a quick limit of 8- to 10-inch fish. Use finesse with no more than 2-pound-test monofilament and a neutrally buoyant float.

Contact: Merfeld's Hardware, (608) 457-2580.

Chequamegon Bay Lake Trout
First ice is the best time to chase lakers, splake and brown trout on this southern bay of Lake Superior. Move with developing ice northward out of Washburn by using your sonar to key on humps and saddles, then set smelt on two tip-ups while jigging a Crippled Herring spoon on another line.


Catfish on Lake Columbia
Use your ice-fishing gear to catch small bluegills close to the rocks in this cooling lake near Portage, then hook the 'gills under the dorsal fin and make a long cast, using an egg-sinker above a barrel swivel with a 10-inch leader and No. 1 hook to keep the bait close to the bottom.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Big Green Lake Lakers
Chasing lake trout on our deepest inland lake is a favorite pastime for many people in southern Wisconsin. Cut bait is the best bet when targeting water less than 60 feet deep at first ice. Ciscoes and the occasional pike are part of the bag early on, with mobility being a major key to success - keep moving until you find active fish.

Don't forget to bring the grill and the brats!

Contact: Guide Mike Norton, (920) 295-3617;

Pike Lake Chain Panfish
This series of connected lakes in Wisconsin's northcountry around Iron River is basically unknown, offering some of the finest winter multi-species panfish action in the state - and a great place to snowmobile!

Eagle River Chain Walleyes
First ice always offers the best action here. Target the breaklines on gravel points about dusk with tip-ups. Cranberry, Catfish, Scattering Rice and Eagle lakes are historically the most productive for winter 'eyes in this nine-lake chain.

East Coast Steelhead
Runoff is the major key to triggering inland movement for steelhead into our Lake Michigan tributaries. The past couple of years, low water in many tributaries has made fishing tough, as a result this fishery has become overlooked.

Wait about four days for waters to clear after rain or considerable snowmelt, and then drift spawn sacs under a Thill River Float trying to keep the bait just off the bottom in the Pike, Root, Milwaukee, Sheboygan, Pigeon, Ahnapee and other rivers that dump into Lake Michigan. More details on this great fishery are available starting on page 17 of this magazine.

Contact: Jalensky's Sports, (262) 554-1051.

Mississippi River Saugers
Saugers stack by the thousands at the "bullnose" below Mississippi River lock-and-dam complexes. Vertically jig a "river jig" or blade bait on a snap. Some fish will be foul-hooked and must be released immediately.

Salmonids at Oak Creek
A mix of brown trout, coho salmon and the occasional rainbow trout will hit minnows drifted on a hook and split shot in the discharge plume of this southern Lake Michigan power plant. Carry a weather radio and fish only if conditions are stable.

Walleyes at De Pere
The Fox River at the south end of Green Bay offers a legendary walleye bite every April, with the best fishing at night.

Remove the front treble from a fire-tiger Storm ThunderStick and target slackwater areas below the fish refuge at the dam. Crankbait fishing is excellent when the sun comes up.

Use a long-handled net to retrieve lost crankbaits on the river bottom to pay for your trip! And you can stop at the Packer Pro Shop at Lambeau Field on the way home!

Wolf River White Bass
When w

ater temperatures reach the mid-40s, white bass by the bajillions move upstream at Winneconne. Try a white RoadRunner horsehead jig. Putting white bass directly on ice and removing red "mud vein" when filleting results in better eating than if you just put the fish on a stringer.

Lake Wisconsin Crappies
It doesn't take long for shallow side channels off of the main body of this southernmost flowage of the Wisconsin River to warm after ice-out. Crappies sense the warm up and move in these side channels in droves. Stealth and finesse are keys to success.

Lac Vieux Desert Muskies
This Michigan-Wisconsin border water may be our best all-around fishery, with big muskies a major part of the mix.

Fluorescent colors work well in these somewhat stained waters. Look for fish to be hanging in fairly shallow water. Work your way south along the 10-foot weedline from the boat landing at the Misery Creek inlet on the Michigan side southwest toward the dam, which marks the headwaters of the Wisconsin River.

Contact: Land O' Lakes Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-236-3432.

Green Bay Tributary Smallies
You'll have less company fishing the Peshtigo, Suamico, Oconto and Pensaukee river inlets for smallmouth bass on opening day than encountered at Sturgeon Bay, with the fish generally running larger, too. Tube jigs and other plastics work best!

Racine-Kenosha Cohos
Charter captains out of our southern ports are hoping this won't be like last spring. If weather is stable, look for these silver salmon to follow the shoreline north during May. Target the top 20 feet of the water column with trolling spoons and dodger/fly combinations for a quick limit and thrillin' grillin'.

Bass on Kentuck Lake
This beautiful lake eight miles east of Eagle River defies conventional wisdom, with both largemouth and smallmouth bass sharing similar habitat.

In June both species are cruising in shallow water in preparation for spawning. Light spinning gear with a No. 4 Mepps Black Fury spinner is a great way to locate active fish that are relating to both docks and rocky shoreline. Find 'em and then get serious with tube jigs, Senkos and other plastics.

Contact: Eagle River Sports, (715) 479-8804;

Sturgeon Bay Steelhead
If you have a boat that can handle the "big pond," set a waypoint in your GPS where the ship canal enters the lake, and start trolling southeast with Flamethower spoons and clown-pattern Rapalas behind planer boards. Be careful! Fog banks can sneak in on little cat feet between fishing areas and the mainland before you know it.

Little Tamarack Flowage Muskies
Guide Howie Meyer says this flowage between Presque Isle and Land O' Lakes is super water on a windy day. Drop the trolling motor right at the launch and toss Crane Baits over submergent cabbage. Howie's e-mail is if you need a good guide.

Wisconsin River Smallmouths
Our namesake river from Wausau up to the Grandfather Dam north of Merrill is some of the wildest bronzeback water in the Midwest.

Giant boulders, whirlpool holes and runs of rocky riffles all hold fish. Canoes and cartoppers provide good access, but you can't beat a jet-driven flat-bottomed boat like the one guide Todd Koehn runs.

Walleyes are part of the mix. And don't be surprised if a muskie decides to eat your shallow-running lure.

Contact: Guide Todd Koehn, (715) 623-2115;

Sweeney Lake Muskies
Launch off of Highway J outside of Woodruff. Target the north side of the island between the boulders and weeds at "the hour glass." Try a brass-bladed bucktail with purple or black hair. Please release the fish after the dance.

Madison Chain Panfish
Crappies and bluegills suspend about 12 feet down on Lake Waubesa. Drift a wax worm on an ice jig at this depth across the main-lake basin from Rockford Heights to the Bible Camp. On Kegonsa, anchor up at the outside weed edge off of Quam or Colladay points and fish hellgrammites or waxies just off bottom for bluegills and real nice perch.

Door County Walleyes
Several reefs around the Strawberry Islands and other reefs farther offshore attract walleyes that will eventually eclipse our state record.

Precision trolling is the key to getting hooked up, dragging Rapala Husky Jerks at 2.4 mph behind planer boards while trolling with the wind.

Fish Creek is destined to become the epicenter of Wisconsin walleye fishing. You might as well be the one to break the record.

Contact Web site:

Butternut Lake Smallies
A great boat launch and classic bronzeback water make this an exciting place to fish. Ease away from shore until you can no longer see the bottom, and then make long parallel casts with tube jigs or in-line spinners, or wait until dusk and toss a clear Heddon Tiny Torpedo.

Coulee Country Trout
There are over a dozen top trout streams in western Wisconsin's Vernon and Crawford counties that approach sure-thing status. Easiest of the bunch is Kickapoo River's West Fork near the little town of Avalanche. Brookies, browns and rainbow trout reside here.

Wisconsin Dells Sturgeon
Prehistoric lake sturgeon are waiting to thrill you in the Wisconsin River. With a 70-inch limit in effect this year, it's essentially catch-and-release. The limit is one a year. A free tag is required before fishing. The season is just a few weeks long.

With all of these restrictions, why would anybody want to fish for sturgeon in this old river? Try it just once and you'll never ask that question again.

Contact: River's Edge Resort (608) 254-6494;

Big Cedar Lake Largemouths
This 932-acre Washington County lake is a two-basin bass factory, with both numbers and big gals present. Concentrate on the north basin and midlake peninsula with Carolina-rigged plastics and spinnerbaits at the deepwater weed edge.

Washington Island Perch
The rocks that surround this island off the northern ti

p of Door County are home to jumbo perch of dreadnaught proportions. Fish crab tails or hellgrammites on a light jighead.

Madison Muskies
The second cold front of autumn brings panfish into shallower water, with both muskies and pike at their heels on the Madison Chain. Follow the 10- to 12-foot weed contour and cast twitchbaits and small bucktails.

For numbers, the south end of Lake Waubesa is your best bet, working from the Goodland Park boat launch around to the east shoreline and up to the Babcock Park boat launch. Don't overlook the weedflat out from Hog Island.

Mendota has bigger fish. Check out the weed edge out from Tenney Park and out from Second Point. And don't overlook the weed edge where the Yahara River enters Lake Monona - the biggest sleeper of this chain.

Contact: Ron Barefield's Fishing Adventures, (608) 838-8756.

Fox River Walleyes
You can almost hear the cheers from Lambeau Field on a crisp October night from the tailwaters of the Fox River's dam at De Pere. The only green and gold that fails to win here wears a fin instead of cleats. Try a No. 9 jointed fire-tiger Rapala and have the net ready.

Chippewa Flowage Crappies
When "The Chip" is drawn down in the fall, head for bays or floating bogs and use tube jigs or minnows. Hit the first slab and more are sure to follow.

Pewaukee Lake Muskies
By far the top muskie water in the state, the highly educated fish in this Waukesha County lake have pretty much moved into deeper water off of points by November. However, any remaining green weeds should be fished hard.

Drag a healthy sucker behind the boat while pitching a lure like the Depth Raider or Ernie at a 90-degree angle from the shoreline. Thanksgiving week brings the first taste of winter. That's the time to be out there.

Contact: Smokey's Bait Shop, (262) 691-0360.

Milwaukee Brown Trout
Those fabled Seeforellen brown trout are within a mile of shore out from the Milwaukee Harbor right now, willing to hit slow-trolled Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnows, clown-pattern Husky Jerk Rapalas and Little Cleo spoons in blue/silver. You won't have much company out there. Be careful.

Big McKenzie Lake Pike
First ice on this Spooner-area lake offers tremendous action for northern pike. Set tip-ups baited with smelt or small suckers along the deepwater weed edges wherever green weeds remain. Noon to 2 p.m. is the best time to be on the ice.

Mississippi River Pike
From Lake Onalaska out from the airport to Lawrence Lake and down to south of the Highway 82 bridge at Lansing, Iowa, big northern pike are on the move in backwaters of Old Man River.

Tip-ups baited with shiners and big roaches are the way to go. Don't be a "deep" thinker - the best holes often have less than 2 feet of water beneath the ice.

Contact: Mississippi Sports & Recreation, (608) 648-3630.

Lake Koshkonong Walleyes
This shallow Jefferson-Rock county border lake should see its best winter walleye action in 20 years. Lake drawdowns have concentrated the fish. The dominant year-classes are now 24-inches-plus. Fish the deepest available water with tip-ups.

Lake Esadore Walleyes
This little lake in the shadow of the High View Inn near Medford is a sleeper for winter walleyes. A perfect Manhattan while waiting to be seated for a prime rib dinner. Whoa! Tip-up!

Now, that's Wisconsin!

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