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Fishing Tips for Northern Wisconsin Lakes

Fishing Tips for Northern Wisconsin LakesIt's a good idea to know what kind of fish you are hoping to catch so that you are better prepared when your line hits the water. Here are a few tips and tricks for catching Walleye, Smallmouth Bass, Northern Pike, and Lake Trout.



Walleye are a much sought-after fish for their exceptional eating qualities, and can be found in a variety of locations throughout the year. They spawn in the spring usually shortly after ice-out. Walleye seek moving water or windswept shores in order to spawn. Due to the colder water temperatures of Spring, fish are sluggish and tend to chase food sources that are easily caught. Individuals should use smaller lures at this time of year.

Productive baits during this time of the year are live bait rigs, lead head jigs (1/16 to 1/8 oz) in combination with 2" to 3" twister tails or grubs. These may be tipped with a minnow, leech, or nightcrawler. Casting smaller minnow baits or slow trolling in shallow bays are effective techniques for picking up cold water walleye.

Once the spawn is complete, walleye will seek the warmer areas of the lake (shallow bays) to feed. The reason for this is that minnows begin to congregate in these warmer areas to spawn. Also, insect activity increases (i.e. dragonflies, mayflies, etc.) due to water warming trends.

As long summer days begin to warm the water throughout the lakes, walleye start to move toward the cooler water of increased depth. Heavier lead head jigs (1/4 - 3/8 oz) will continue to produce fish that are now holding around 12 to 21 feet in depth. Choose lures that are designed for fishing in these deeper waters (spinnerbaits, deep running crankbaits, spoons, live bait rigs, etc). Keep in mind you may still have to check the shallows, or go even deeper as these fish move to varying depths in order to find their food sources.



Smallmouth Bass

The key to finding canoe-country Smallmouth is understanding their patterns, and that breaks down to these basic periods: the spawn, post-spawn, summer, and late summer/early fall.

The Spawn

Border country bass typically spawn about the first week of June. As soon as the water hits 59 degrees, the bass move into the shallows to spawn on gravel beds. The males prepare and guard the beds, so you're fishing mostly males during the spawn.

The most productive tactic for those nest-guarding males? The tiny Torpedo or similar surface plug with propeller-like spinner blade behind the body. Cast to where the water meets the shore and work it out 5 or 6 feet. You can also use floating Rapala or other plugs worked in the same fashion.

Keep in mind, calm conditions work best for surface fishing. If you get some chop, go to shallow-running minnow baits. If the bass are real finicky, go to the old reliable: a 1/16 oz or 1/8 oz lead-head jig with a 3 or 4 inch twister tail.

Post Spawn

After  spawning, bass do the only other thing they do in life - Eat. Now, you should be fishing in 8 to 12 feet of water. Go with topwater baits in early morning and late evening when the water is calm.

Otherwise, you're looking for that shoreline drop into dark water, preferably with some weeds coming up. Throw Shad Raps and crankbaits to get down where the fish are. A guide favorite for working this depth: twister tail grub on a plain jig head. Tip the jig with a leech or nightcrawler and you've got a combination that is hard to beat.

Females are starting to bite now. Work the edges of bays, but not the shallow back ends of them. You're looking for a gravel-boulder bottom, but not large boulders.

The bass aren't feeding on crayfish yet.


When the bass have moved out of the 8 to 12 foot water, it's time to move out to the submerged rock humps. This is roughly from June 15 to July 15.

You're looking for rock piles with humps topping out at 12 to 18 feet, sloping into deeper water. The bass rest on the sides of these rock piles, moving up on top to feed.

Anchor off or over the rock pile and throw jigs, rattle baits, and spinnerbaits. These bass are feeding on crayfish, you're trying to imitate something popping out of the rocks.

A very productive technique is to cast a jig with a twister tail body and walk it back across the top of rocks.

Late Summer

It's getting warmer, and the bass are now holding on the sides of rock piles and humps, 21 to 28 feet down. The late summer period usually extends from mid-July to mid-September.

Now, the Smallmouth are starting to go on a cisco (feeding) base. Lures of choice include jigs with twister tails tipped with live bait, as well as spinnerbaits. Although the fish are deep, don't use too much weight in your jigs.

The biggest mistake people make is using stuff that's too heavy. Everything you observe in the water drops slowly. Mimic nature.

You may get fewer hits this time of year but this is when you can expect to get larger fish.



Northern Pike

Northern Pike are one of the most explosive fish found in North Country lakes. Their sheer size and power-producing body structure make the Pike an angler's dream.

Northern Pike are very opportunistic and seek out concentrations of baitfish. This feeding pattern can work to an angler's advantage especially during the spring and early summer pattern.

Walleye and Smallmouth Bass are usually found in the shallower water at this time. Drifting large sucker minnows, casting minnow baits, spoons, or spinner baits along shorelines and near emerging vegetation should produce plenty of action.

During midsummer when the majority of fish are located in deeper water try fishing the breaks along shorelines or submerged rock piles and points. There are no absolutes in fishing. Be versatile. Keep checking different depths until you find success.



Lake Trout

This dweller of cold water roams many of the area's lakes. After you've tasted this fish broiled over the coals of an open fire you will see why this member of the char family is so sought after.

Lake Trout can be readily caught all year long. As an angler you have to keep in mind that Lake Trout prefer water temperatures in the high 40's to low 50 degree range.

The time to catch Lake Trout in shallow water is in early Spring or late Fall when the water temperatures are colder.

During the summer you will have to cast or troll baits 60 to 100 feet deep on average. The most productive lures for catching Lake Trout include spoons, heavy spinner baits, Rattletraps, or Bucktail jigs.

Minocqua Lake Facts

Oneida County Lakes

443 fishable lakes
72754 acres

Vilas County Lakes

574 fishable lakes
99225 acres

Total Lakes

1017 fishable lakes
171979 acres