Plan to Fish and Fish a Plan


Drop a pin anywhere on a map of Wisconsin. Within one, but surely within a two-hour drive of that point, any enthusiastic angler will be able to find quality fishing.

In the southern part of the state, anglers look to such inland waters as Geneva, Delavan, the Milwaukee metro area lakes, and the Madison chain. For river fishermen, there are the lower reaches of the Wisconsin River, and the boundary waters of the Mississippi River. Trout anglers have the streams of the unglaciated southwest. Everyone has the lower end of Lake Michigan as a big-water option.

Along with a number of trout streams, the main draw in central Wisconsin is the Wisconsin River and its major flowages. The real good news for anglers in this heart of the state is that, being centrally located, theirs is the shortest drive to anywhere else in the state they may want to travel.

Take a little trip down the Mighty Mississip’

The hills of western Wisconsin are home to some remarkable trout fishing. But it’s The Big Muddy… the Mighty Miss… with its boundless opportunity and unique challenges, that steals the show for anglers based nearby.

Though there are plenty of small lakes, ponds, and streams in northeast Wisconsin, it’s fair to say its big waters attract the most attention. The western shore of Lake Michigan with its storied trout and salmon fishing boasts of some of the big lake’s historically most-visited ports. The Bay of Green Bay’s walleye, smallmouth, and muskie fishing is nothing short of world class. And the Winnebago system offers what is arguably the most consistent year-round walleye fishing in the state.

Up north

Last but not least, there’s The Great Up North. Laced with rivers and streams from The Menomonee on the east to The St. Croix on the west, it’s blessed with more game and panfish-rich natural lakes and flowages than could be fished in several lifetimes. Then add in the south shore of Lake Superior, and there’s really nothing more an Up North-based angler could ask for.

Now, with all this said, there’s no way Wisconsin anglers stay home. Because there are just too many destination fisheries in the Badger State to take advantage of.

Since the mid-sixties, it’s fair to say the Wisconsin waters of Lake Michigan have led the way in this regard. Yeah, a lot has changed on The Big Pond. While it’s not often the slam dunk it once was, Lake Michigan continues to offer anglers that “fish-of-a-lifetime” potential on every outing. Just how special is that?

Packers country

Green Bay’s trophy walleyes, smallmouth bass and muskies are another phenomenon. There might be, but we don’t know of another fishery within a reasonable proximity that gives an angler a better shot at an honest 10-pound ‘eye, or 5-pound brownie. Plus, the Bay’s muskies are huge. They don’t come easy. When they do, fish in the mid 50-inch range are a real possibility.

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The muskies of The Up North remain a draw, as well. If an angler wants to take a swing or two a year at muskie fishing, his or her chances are nowhere better than in Wisconsin’s north country. Where, thanks to some great management and the modern day “catch and release” ethic, there are more toothy critters than ever before.

Sleeper destination

The south shore of Lake Superior remains a sleeper as far as destinations are concerned. Anglers who visit enjoy a different, less-pressured, less-metropolitan experience than that of Lake Michigan. With the appeal being the wildly beautiful surroundings. Most of its salmonids (with the exception of an occasional monster laker), though running smaller than those of Lake Michigan on average, are naturally produced.

Maybe the most understated advantage to being a Wisconsin-based angler is our relative proximity to so many renowned out-of-state destinations.

Whether it’s northern Minnesota’s big lake country and Lake of the Woods, Ontario in general and northwest Ontario in particular, Lake Erie, Upper Michigan’s Bays De Noc, the Glacial Lakes of South Dakota, or North Dakota’s Devils Lake, they’re all no more than a long day’s drive away.

So much to do!

So, it’s all good for the Wisconsin angler. Except for the fact that, with so much to do, there’s so little time to do it. Which means we weekend warriors better have a plan going into each new open-water season. Let me use ours for this year as an example.

First off, my fishing buddies and I want to make sure we get as much as we can from the prime time on our local waters. That for us means concentrating on our home lake, Winnebago, in May and June. Then targeting lower Green Bay in July and August. We interrupt either effort to fish The Big Lake whenever the near shore bite is on. Late summer and fall will find us wherever current intel tells us something is happening.

Sandwiched into the more-or-less local fishing scene will be at least one week in Ontario. Since we’re retired and every day is Saturday, we’ll roll with any other opportunities—near or far—that come along.

So, with the possible exception of having to sort through so many options… so much opportunity… it’s a pleasant dilemma we and fellow Wisconsin-based anglers face each season. But it’s one we can work through because whatever the case, we plan to fish and fish a plan.