The Must Do – Fishing In Wisconsin

The 12 Step Program To Complete Your WI Fishing Bucket List.

The Must Do Dozen

By: Barb Carey

Wisconsin is one of the most diverse places to fish in the world.  In addition to a variety of species that are available, there are also opportunities to experience unique styles of fishing, some of which have a sub culture of their own. Consider this a bucket list of Wisconsin Fishing Adventures.

1) Fish the Wolf River From a Raft.  The area of the Wolf River between New London and Fremont becomes a favorite place for “River Rats” to place their rafts to prepare for the spring walleye season. These enclosed rafts, complete with sleeping areas and heaters, are secured to the bank via cables and poles. They are put into place to allow anglers to ambush walleye on their path from Lake Winnebago to the spawning marshes and back again. There are no rental rafts that I know of, but taking your boat in the river to see these rafts in place is an experience in and of itself. I got lucky one year, stopping at various bait shops and pubs, and finally met someone who knew someone and I gave it a try. It is a must do. There are many spots to fish from shore, so it’s a great place to get out your map and go for a drive on a sunny spring day.

2) Go Smelting. Years ago, a spring ritual was to go to the feeder creeks of the Great Lakes and net garbage cans full of smelt. Tradition was that you bit the head off the first one, which was always something you passed on to first timers.  From Milwaukee under the Hoan Bridge, to the shore of Lake Superior, various river mouths produced smelt by the thousands. Today numbers are coming back, but it is still not where it was year’s ago. Make a few phone calls to bait shops in Ashland, WI. For the inside scoop, do a quick search on Lake-Link for several options on where to give it a try.

3) Fish the Steelhead Run. Fly anglers rejoice at the thought of the spring steelhead run. Similar to the spring walleye or smelt run, steelhead will make their way from the Great Lakes into the feeder streams in search of spawning grounds. Much of the activity is based on water flow and temperatures. I know some people that follow the run from the south to the north.  They will start in Racine at the Root River, and end up in the Ashland/Bayfield area.  Many areas in Door County hold fish and picking up a good map is a great way to get started.  These fighters are a blast to catch and I have seen both fly and spinning rods used. The timing has to be right, so hiring a guide for this one may be the way to go.

4) Fish the River Mouths that Flow into Green Bay. Trophy size walleye are found at the river mouths as the fish enter and leave the rivers during spawning season. Casting jigs and plastics when the fish are returning hungry from the spawn can provide non-stop action and the possibility of a huge fish. Again, the timing has to be right, but if you get it right, it’s game on. The Fox, Peshtigo, and Menomonee are great spots just to name a few.

5) Fish the Lower Dells. Next time you take the kids to the water park, bring the boat. Launch at the Lake Delton City Park, next to the bait shop at Rivers Edge. The bait shop will provide maps of hazards and provide up-to-date fishing tips. It’s best to go in the late spring or the fall to avoid crowds and the jet boats.  Early spring can be crowded with walleye anglers and midweek trips offer less boat traffic.  Walleye, crappies, pike, and smallmouth are all available. The rock outcroppings make it a scenic journey and you can always follow a duck boat around and listen to the stories of the landmarks that are pointed out along the way.

6) Trout Fish the Driftless Area of Western Wisconsin. The glaciers missed this section and valleys wind through tree covered hillsides creating an earthy atmosphere where trout streams meander through the countryside. Both the Kickapoo and Timber Coulee Systems offer miles of trout fishing heaven. For a starting point consider the West Fork Sportsman Club in Avalanche, WI.

7) The Willow Flowage. Located in the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, visitors will find over 100 islands tucked within the 6400 acres of water surrounded by wilderness. This undeveloped and protected shoreline holds abundant wildlife and the fishing is great. Walleye, pike, crappies, bass, perch and musky are found throughout the system. The islands offer free camping on a first come first serve basis. A new DNR boat landing by the dam has lots of parking and good access.

8) Shore Fish for Salmon. Lake Michigan holds ample opportunity to catch salmon from shore at various times of the year. McKinley Pier in Milwaukee, Port Washington, North and South Piers in Sheboygan and numerous other places up the coastline of Lake Michigan, all have access points to fish from shore. Many anglers will cast spoons or soak spawn sacks under bobbers and catch salmon, steelhead, brown and rainbow trout. Spring and fall are best and off-shore winds create the temperature change, which plays a role whether fish are in or not. Many times, I have been skunked, but other times I have had hook ups with 10 fish. YouTube is a source for good rigging tips. And, watching fishing reports will help you know when to go and give it a try. There are also opportunities to ice fish Milwaukee harbors and trophy brown trout are a good possibility. Ice anglers use Automatic Fisherman to increase the success rate of hooking these massive fish.

9) Mississippi River Barge.  These massive fishing platforms are permanently secured to the river bottom and offer an area to fish that is below the dams.  The Best Dam Fishing Float is located below Dresback Lock and Dam #7 near Lacrosse WI.  Clements Fishing Barge is located below Lock and Dam #8 and is near Genoa, WI. Both provide water taxi rides to fish from the barge for a daily fee. The Mississippi River has over 100 species of fish and you never know what you are going to catch. It’s a great place to take the whole family.

10) Lake Superior, Ashland WI. This is one of my all time favorites. This water holds trophy smallmouth bass. The legal limit is 20 inches and many are caught in the 22-inch range. Early summer, around Long Island and then rock humps off of Second Landing are both places to try. Ice fishing is also very popular with whitefish over 20 inches, coho salmon, herring and a host of other species are caught. You can even hook and line smelt and use them for bait on tips-ups. Late ice offers steelhead opportunities at the mouth of the Onion and the Sioux. The Crest Motel is a great place for anglers, and it looks across to the water. Fishing near the lighthouse is always a treat.

11) Sturgeon Spearing Lake Winnebago. Permits must be obtained by Oct 31st and the season opens for a short time in February. Large holes are cut into the ice and dark shacks are placed over the holes. Each tag holder can spear one sturgeon over 36 inches and all fish have to be registered. The season is short and may close early if the quota has been reached. This event brings the area communities together and a variety of celebrations take place. It is a festive time and bystanders gather at Wendt’s on the Lake in Fond du Lac to watch the catches be brought in to the DNR station. There are DNR registration stations around the lake and it is an experience, even if it’s just to watch. Wendt’s on the Lake in Fond du Lac does rent shacks but you better reserve yours early in the year as they sell out quickly

12) Lake Trout Fishing.  Catching lake trout in deep water thru the ice provides an increase in your heart rate. Fighting these fish on jig poles, in over 100 feet of water, makes for a lovely afternoon. Big Green Lake and Lake Geneva both hold massive fish. Anglers can also head up to Bayfield and fish the deep water of Lake Superior.  These fish are catchable in both open water and ice fishing. Once you connect with one, you will be hooked.

Wisconsin may be known for the Packers and cheese, but we have some of the nation’s best variety of fishing adventures right in our backyard.  Adventures await for anyone willing to try something new. Pick up a Wisconsin DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer. The book will provide a guide to backroads, rivers, boat launches and places of interest. Everyone should keep one in his or her vehicle.

Barb Carey is the president of WI Women Fish and produces fishing events for Women. She is the voice of Wild Barb on The Great Wild Radio show. Information on fishing events can be found at and links to fishing reports and podcasts from “In the Wild” can be heard at


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