Fabulous year of fishing
Anglers can enjoy a fantastic brown trout fishery in the open waters of Lake Michigan’s tributaries and harbors. When the weather gets cold, concentrations of warm water, either in the river mouth or one of several warm water discharges, attract baitfish such as gizzard shad and round gobies — and the hungry browns that feed on them all winter long. Unlike steelhead that prefers to run upstream, browns tend to stay in the river mouth, the harbor, or near-shore areas with warmer water. The early catch-and-release season for inland trout on certain waters begins on the First Saturday of the month.
February brings North America’s largest winter spear fishery, with an average annual harvest of 1,400 lake sturgeon from the Lake Winnebago system and an annual economic impact of more than $3 million to the region. The sturgeon population, estimated at 12,000 adult females and 25,000 adult males, is the world’s largest and reflects DNR’s successful century-old sturgeon management program and citizens’ commitment to sustaining this prehistoric species.
The inland game fish season closes the first Sunday of the month, with anglers often taking advantage of the last few days. In northern Wisconsin, ice fishing for panfish continues, with bluegill and crappie activity often picking up. Ice is often gone or in poor conditions in other areas of the state. As Lake Michigan tributaries open up, fishing for steelhead and brown trout picks up. Walleye and sauger catch often pick up in those river systems open year-round for game fish. Find which rivers open early.
The end of the ice season in northern Wisconsin is very near. The majority of fishing action is usually on river systems, especially Great Lakes tributaries where steelhead runs are near the peak, and on those rivers that remain open for walleye fishing. Rains often trigger fresh runs of steelhead on Lake Michigan tributaries in April. Walleye angling is often excellent on various rivers with open seasons, including the Menominee, Mississippi, Fox, Wolf, Rock, and Crawfish rivers, and portions of the Wisconsin River. Lake sturgeon are expected to begin their spawning run on the Wolf River and other large rivers in the state by mid to late April. Some spectacular viewing of these fish can be done this time of year.
The regular inland season for game fish opens statewide the first Saturday in May. Walleye fishing across the state is usually good as walleye begin to feed heavily after spawning. The start of the regular trout fishing season is a great time to get out on your favorite stream or explore new ones. Most of the stocked trout lakes and spring ponds should provide some excellent fishing for opening weekend anglers. Crappie, bluegill and perch become more active in shallow, warm bays of lakes. Northern pike are more active after their spring spawning. Largemouth bass fishing in the northern zone begins with the general opener (First Saturday of the month), but smallmouth bass fishing is catch-and-release until the third Saturday in June. The northern musky zone does not open until the Saturday nearest Memorial Day.. White bass runs on several rivers provide great fishing opportunities early in the season and can happen any time from late April to early June, depending on water conditions.
Bass and panfish opportunities are plentiful across the state, as they move into shallow water to build nests and spawn. Large and smallmouth bass are usually well into their spawning period in northern Wisconsin. Northern pike action picks up with the warming water temperatures. The harvest season for smallmouth bass in the northern zone opens the third Saturday of the month.
Bass and panfish opportunities are plentiful in lakes across the state. This is also a good time for smallmouth bass fishing in streams and rivers, trolling in the Great Lakes for trout and salmon, and perch fishing on Green Bay and the Winnebago System. Walleye fishing tends to slow down in the warmer months of July and August after higher catch rates in May and June. Walleye catch rates pick up again in September and October.
Fishing can be very good for bass and panfish in August. Bass fishing is often best in early morning and evening. This is usually a slow time for walleye. Chinook salmon and brown and rainbow trout are available to pier fishers along Lake Michigan cities. Musky fishing is popular in northern lakes. Lake Winnebago may be the best bet for walleye fishing in August. Lake Michigan fisheries for trout and salmon have been tremendous in July and August for the last couple of years.
September brings the hook-and-line season for lake sturgeon. All anglers who plan to harvest a sturgeon must buy a harvest tag before they fish. Lake sturgeon are found in the Wisconsin River, Lake Superior, Mississippi River and Lake Michigan drainages. September is also when walleye fishing picks up. Bass fishing is still good before slowing down with the cooling of lakes and streams.
October brings cooler weather but great opportunities for walleye and musky fishing across the state. Typically, September to October is when walleye put on much of their growth for the current year. Fall movements of walleye up rivers can provide good fishing opportunities. Inland trout fishing season ends October 15, so make a last visit or two to your favorite streams.
Musky fishing is often challenging but rewarding in November, whether on inland lakes or the Fox River. Recent years have seen very large musky caught at the tail end of the musky fishing season, which closes the last day of November in northern Wisconsin.
If the ice hasn't covered the southern lakes, you can still fish for muskellunge until the end of the month. Ice fishing starts to pick up in mid-December in northern Wisconsin. Early ice can bring good fishing for walleye and panfish, but anglers need to be very careful about ice conditions.