Fall is the prime time to fish for most fish species in Wisconsin and all of the Upper Midwest. Here are some of my top Wisconsin locations and techniques to use for catching fall salmon, muskie, walleye, smallmouth, and northern pike.
Chinook salmon make their annual fall migration to shallower water and the harbors that dot the Lake Michigan shoreline in October and November. These are 4-year old fish that are completing their life cycle and soon going to perish. You’ll find some 2 and 3 year old fish, but the vast majority of fish are the older ones that are changing color as they reach the end of their lives. Anglers can catch salmon in both the harbors and off the piers from Racine to Sheboygan. My top choice for salmon is Sheboygan, where an angler can fish off the North and South Piers or fish the harbor area (the Gap) in a boat.
The pier techniques are two-fold; an angler can cast and slowly retrieve spoons and crankbaits. Good spoons are Little Cleo’s and Crocodiles in green, glow, and chartreuse. Salmon can also be caught by casting Rapalas and Storm Junior Thundersticks in the same colors. The other technique to use is to soak spawn sacs just off the bottom, using a No. 4 red treble hook attached to the spawn sac. Use Styrofoam balls or marshmallows pinched to the hook eye to keep the bait off the bottom.
Boat fishermen slowly troll spoons, cranksbaits, and spawn in water 15 to 30 feet deep. The “Gap” between the piers is the area that you want to fish from a boat.
The best place to check on conditions is the Wharf (920-458-4406), located right at the harbor or contact Dumper Dan’s Charter Fishing which is the largest charter fishing fleet on the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan. They have quality boats, top-notch equipment, and some of the best captains and guides on the lake. Dumper Dan’s also has lodging and may be contacted at 920-457-2940 or check them out at http://www.dumperdan.com. If you want to hire a charter these are the people to see.
Wisconsin is also muskie country.
Trout Lake is a true trophy lake and holds muskies in the 30 to 40 pound range. The lake is in Vilas County, located east of Highway 51 and west of Highway M. Its depth (115 feet) and size (3870 acres) can make it a difficult lake to fish in the wind, but its well worth fishing if looking for a trophy muskie.
Trout Lake deserves its trophy reputation. Big baits like the Eddie or Smity jerkbaits work well as do most bucktails. The best colors are black, yellow, and natural for all of your baits. There are many deep drop-offs, so weighting your bucktails and crankbaits can help put your bait in the fish zone which often is suspended over deep water. Always, have a good-sized sucker (12 to 16 inches) on a quick set rig close to the boat for follow ups and be sure to always do a figure eight at the boat side.
For good locationse:
Try the southeast shoreline of North Trout Lake before the “Narrows” because it has numerous rocky and steep break lines. Cast parallel to the breaks with bucktails and deep-running crankbaits.
* Both shorelines going through the Narrows have deep breaks that hold muskies. Be sure to thoroughly cast both sides.
* Work around the South Trout Lake islands (Miller, Haunted, and Zimmerman) because they both have bottom structure that will attract fall muskies.
Good electronics (Lowrance) are important because Trout Lake has structure that can vary dramatically. There are dozens of submerged islands, reefs, rock bars, underwater points, and steep drop-offs that quality electronics can find and these are the locations where you’ll find big muskies.
Guides: Russ or Jake Smith (715-356-5565) are excellent muskie guides for both Vilas and Oneida Counties lakes.
Lake Dubay is located south of Stevens Point and west of Interstate 39 in Marathon County. An angler can catch both numbers and trophies from this Wisconsin River flowage. This coffee colored lake is my fall pick for walleyes.
The fishing pros at the Mosinee Gander Mountain (715-355-5500) say that “the walleye size averages above the 15” minimum and the overall size is outstanding. There’s numerous walleyes caught over 10 pounds throughout the year.”
Good locations to fish include;
* The area around the DuBay Dam at the south end is a good bet for walleyes with its deep water and nearby sand flats.
* In the lake’s middle, there are three distinct “stump fields”. One is just south of the boat landing off Highway 34, another north of Koss Point, and the third is north of Goose Point. Try to fish them all.
* The lake has a distinct river channel which should be fished along with the abundant flooded timber. The lake lacks weeds, so wood is the main structure that you’re looking for.
* The best way to catch fall walleyes here is the standard jig and minnow combination with blue and glow being the best colors. Casting jigs with plastic (Gulp) also works well when casted and slowly retrieved. Try trolling the channel edges with bright-colored crankbaits (Shad Raps, Flicker Shads, and Wally Divers).
Lake Dubay is less than 100 miles from Madison, 10 miles from Stevens Point, and 120 miles from Milwaukee. Good guides are available at Hooksetter’s Guide Service, Phil Schweik, (715-693-5843). Phil and his guides know the area well and are well worth hiring for a day.
Madison’s Lake Mendota is my pick for smallmouth bass. This lake is large (10,000 acres) and deep (90 feet). Lake Mendota has great structure and a very good to excellent smallmouth population.
Lake Mendota has numerous points, rock bars, islands, and sharp contours. The later in the fall you fish Lake Mendota, the better the fishing. Once the water gets below 55 degrees, smallmouth will start bulking up for the “hard water” months. Live bait will catch the most fish, but you may end up gut hooking too many fish.
If you use big minnows (chubs, fatheads), set the hook quickly before the bait is swallowed and use circle hooks to prevent killing the fish. Good guides are Wally Banfi (608-644-9823), Ron Barefield (608-838-8758); and Tony Puccio (608-212-6464).
Top locations include:
* The steep drop-offs near Governors Island where water can quickly go from 10 to 70 feet. Jig up and down these steep breaks.
* Work the contours and breaks off Maple Bluff and Warner Bay concentrating on depths from 5 to 20 feet deep.
* Also, try fishing off Picnic and Second Point on the lake’s south end. There are numerous humps and bars off these points to go along with the deep water. Rocks and green weeds are the key to fall smallmouth on Lake Mendota.
As the fall progresses, smallmouth will move shallower. Smallmouth’s go on a feeding frenzy before the cold water sets in and they then go dormant. Lake Mendota allows trolling, so pulling large crankbaits can also mean big smallmouth.
Contact Gene Dellinger at D and S Bait and Tackle (608-241-4225) for the latest information. Dellinger also guides and is on top of the Lake Mendota fishing scene.
Madison is only 70 miles from Milwaukee, 125 miles from Chicago, and 70 miles from Rockford, Illinois.
My top location for northern pike is Lake Puckaway. This shallow lake is large with a surface water area of 5,039 acres. The stained water has a maximum depth of only 5 feet, but contains many big fish. The state record northern pike (38 pounds) was caught here in the 1950’s. Fish over 25 pounds are always possible. The trophy potential on this lake has been maintained with a 32-inch size limit and a I fish daily bag limit.
Daryl Christensen, a pro angler and fishing guide from Montello, (608-296-3068) says that the best fall locations are the Fox River area and the whole west end where the Fox River enters the lake. The reason to fish here is because the shad forage base moves into the river system to spawn in the fall. Fish any green weed beds with spinnerbaits and crankbaits in white, black, and orange colors.
Christensen said to follow the scattered weed edges along the west shoreline while casting your spinners and cranks. He also said that the big fish you see in the weeds on your electronics are not carp, but big pike. Big spoons casted and quickly retrieved will catch pike and even the occasional muskie.
Lake Puckaway is located in Green Lake County about 75 miles north of Madison. Take Highway 51 north from Madison until it runs into Highway 22 and continue to Montello. From Montello, take Highway C to the lake.
Contact Holiday Shopping Center, Montello, WI. Call 608-297-7170 for bait, licenses, and information.