Hook your catch with these tips
There’s always good fishing in Wisconsin – you just need to know what’s biting when and adjust your sights, techniques and bait.
Crappie fishing is popular in spring when aggressive males strike at almost anything that comes near their nests. Summer and fall are more difficult, as crappie seek out deep holes or deeply submerged brush for shelter. Ice fishing for crappie is also popular on some lakes, as crappie remain active all winter. Anglers are almost certain to have their best success near submerged structures. During spring spawning, fish near vegetation close to shore. In summer, try deep holes or river channels, especially ones with sunken logs or brush piles. Light tackle is preferred for fishing crappie. The more sensitive the rod, the easier it is to detect a crappie's light bite. Small fathead minnows, sometimes called "crappie minnows," are the most popular crappie bait and are often used with a light jig. Crappie also hit on worms, insect larvae and artificial lures such as spinners and spoons. Wet and dry flies are popular when crappies are on their spawning beds. Small teardrop-shaped hooks make good winter bait used alone or in combination with grubs.
During summer, anglers have the best luck fishing bluegill from a boat in water six to 15 feet deep. Although worms are the most common bait, bluegill are not fussy and will bite at small bait like insects, insect larvae or other invertebrates. Because of their small mouths, anglers should use small hooks. Bluegill suck in prey rather than striking at it, so a bobber helps signal a bite. Fly casters can have fun with poppers, especially in spring and early summer, when nests are concentrated in shallow water. Wintertime jigging in weed beds with grubs or mousies also produces excellent results. Ice anglers find the best fishing among weeds in deeper water, but gills can also be found in shallow waters, sometimes as shallow as two feet, usually near sand/weed borders. Ice anglers use short, light jig poles, lightweight line and small tear-shaped jigs. Small hooks usually are baited with grubs.
Largemouth bass fishing is best early May to late-June, and early September to mid-October, when the water temperature ranges from 55 to 75 degrees. Largemouth bass call “structure” home: inflowing or out-flowing streams, points, reefs, submerged trees, docks, rafts, tree stumps, vegetation beds, sunken islands, rock and rip-rap, and drop-offs. When fishing shallow, visible structure, look for spots slightly different from the rest of the cover. In cattails along shore, for example, cast near pockets or points of cattails, or by patches of other vegetation within the cattails. Live bait, surface plugs, underwater plugs, poppers on a fly rod, streamers, and almost any other type of bait will attract hungry largemouth bass.
Pound for pound, smallmouth bass are the scrappiest Wisconsin fish. Smallmouth are common in medium to large rocky streams and in large clear water lakes where crayfish are abundant. The best lake fishing is found in June just after the spawning season, and in early fall. Baits like hellgrammites (dragonfly larvae), and crayfish imitations are effective in early morning and late evening. Light tackle is ideal. Fish quietly, casting toward rocks or logs, keeping the rod tip up and the line tight.
Thousands of walleye are caught during their annual spring spawning runs where the season allows. Walleye primarily feed on minnows, but leeches, small bullheads, night crawlers and small plugs also are favorite baits. In clear waters, walleye stay in deeper areas during the day and move into the shallows at night. In more turbid waters, walleye can be caught throughout the day. Try fly casting with streamer flies or poppers on quiet, calm nights near the edges of rocky bars or weed beds. Ice fish with tip-ups, jigs and medium-sized minnows.
Yellow perch are primarily found near the bottom. They eat almost anything but prefer minnows, insect larvae, plankton and worms. Tackle may be as simple as a cane pole or as complex as a graphite rod with an ultralight, open-faced spinning reel — as long as it is sensitive. Use a small, fine wire hook with live bait and a small bobber with just enough buoyancy to break water. It will signal even the lightest bites. Because perch prefer cooler water, the best fishing is usually in deep water. Perch move about in schools, often numbering in the hundreds. If one spot is unproductive after a few tries, it is best to move to other spots until a school is located.
Brook and Brown Trout
Fishing guides say 80 percent of trout are found in 20 percent of the water. Because trout instinctively seek cover from predators, knowing where to look for fish cover can increase angling success.
Deep water on the outside of stream bends, pools, undercut banks, areas with surface turbulence, and structure like large rocks and logs are preferred trout habitat. Another way to increase success is to imitate a blue heron, which carefully moves to avoid spooking fish. Brook trout are found in the coldest and cleanest streams and spring ponds. These fish feed most actively when water temperature ranges from 57 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Brook trout are voracious predators of aquatic and terrestrial insects and worms, and freshwater shrimp. Brook trout actively feed during low-light conditions of early morning and dusk when aquatic insects emerge. Brook trout tend to be less wary than brown trout, and worms, small spinners and various fly patterns are effective lures.
Brown trout are longer-lived, grow larger and often inhabit waters too warm or enriched for brook trout, actively feeding in water temperatures that range from about 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Small brown trout have diets similar to brook trout’s, but as they grow, the brown trout’s diet increasingly is made up of minnows and crayfish. Anglers interested in catching trophy brown trout should try using minnow and crayfish imitations. Anglers fishing Wisconsin’s early artificials-only catch-and-release season should try a different tactic. With colder water temperatures, trout congregate in deep slow moving water typically found in pools. Concentrate on fishing baits slow and deep.
During open water season, northern pike anglers should come equipped with a sturdy rod; medium-weight line with a wire leader (to avoid cutting a line on the northern pike’s sharp teeth); a full complement of spoon-type lures, streamer flies, and other bait impostors such as large crankbaits. If live bait is preferred, small suckers and chubs up to eight inches long suspended under a sturdy bobber or pulled slowly behind a spinner work well. During ice fishing season, tip-ups rigged so the fish can run with the live bait work well under the ice. Marshy areas and weed beds hold pike when the water is cool — late spring and early summer, late summer and early fall, and in winter soon after the ice forms. If you’re hoping to hook a northern when the water is warm, fish the cool depths. As ambush predators, northern pike feed by sight and bite best during daylight hours; keep the bait moving and you’re sure to get a strike.
Patience is the most important item in a musky angler’s tackle box. Other elements of traditional musky gear include a heavy bait-casting rod; substantial level-wind reel; 20- to 35-pound test line; and a variety of large artificial lures such as plugs, bucktail spinners and spoons. Some anglers prefer to cast or drift with live bait — usually a sucker 10 to 14 inches long on a quick set rig. The musky’s natural home is in northern lakes and rivers. It is a solitary fish and often lurks in weed beds or another protective cover. Anglers usually have the best luck fishing during the daytime, although musky are often active after dark and action can be heart stopping. For calm nights, large surface baits are often best while large plugs, spoons, and bucktails are the best artificial baits for daylight hours along with a live sucker 10 to 12 inches long. Musky generally strike bait that has considerable “action,” so keep the bait moving. When a musky hits, set the hook immediately and firmly in its hard, bony jaws, keep a tight line and hold on for the ride of your life.