11 Top-Rated Fishing Lakes in Wisconsin

Jan 3, 2017

The state of Wisconsin, with its tranquil landscapes and more than 15,000 lakes, is an angler's haven. While Boulder Junction is the self-proclaimed Musky Capital of the World, there are also thousands of hot fishing spots for large and smallmouth bass, crappie, northern pike, and walleye.

Wisconsin has one of the largest concentrations of natural lakes in the world, even more than Minnesota. Vilas County alone boasts more than 1,300 lakes. Beyond the trophy size fish that flourish in Wisconsin's natural waters, anglers can reconnect with nature as eagles fly overhead, and the only sound on the water is the activity of the fish in sync with the morning sunrise. Your biggest challenges while fishing in Wisconsin are figuring out what species to target and which lakes to navigate first.

1 Big Saint Germain Lake

Anietra holding a musky on Big Saint Germain Lake
Anietra holding a musky on Big Saint Germain Lake | Photo Copyright: Anietra Hamper

The prized fish of Wisconsin is the musky. The musky is called the fish of 10,000 casts because it is not an easy catch, but you can up your chances by hitting waterways like Big St. Germain Lake in northern St. Germain, Wisconsin. The 1,600-acre lake is larger than most in the area, meaning there is more room for muskies to grow to bragging sizes.

"This is a trophy lake. It has big fish in high numbers. The population, food, and habitat are all bigger here," said Rob Manthei, who has been an expert guide in the area for several decades.

Musky season runs from the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend through November 30. The two best times of the year to target trophy musky are mid-August to early September, and October to ice-up on the water. Boat fishing is best on Big St. Germain Lake versus fishing from the shore, as it is mostly surrounded by private property. Due to the lake's size, hiring a guide for this body of water who knows the topography and depth changes will up your chances of landing the elusive musky.

2 Lake Winnebago

Ice road and fishing shacks on Lake Winnebago
Ice road and fishing shacks on Lake Winnebago Royal Broil / photo modified

Lake Winnebago, in East-Central Wisconsin, is the state's largest inland lake. The cities of Appleton, Fond du Lac, and Oshkosh are located directly on the lake for easy boat access or fishing from the shore. Lake Winnebago is known throughout the country for its lake sturgeon-spearing season, which runs for 16 days every February. It is one of only several lakes in the country with regulated sturgeon spearing. License requirements are strict, and licenses must be obtained by October 31 the season prior.

Lake Winnebago's self-sustaining lake sturgeon population is rated as one of the finest in North America. The success rate for landing a sturgeon is only about 13-percent, but those who do might find one weighing more than 200-pounds on the end of their line. Lake Winnebago is also known for its large population of walleye, mostly in the 12-to 23-inch range, as well as northern pike, largemouth bass, perch, and bluegill.

3 Eau Claire Chain of Lakes

The Eau Claire Chain of Lakes is a remote chain of waterways in northwest Wisconsin. It consists of 11 connected lakes and streams that span 10,000 acres. The largest lakes in the chain are Upper Eau Claire, Middle Eau Claire, and Lower Eau Claire, which are the most popular for recreational fishing. The additional smaller lakes are more difficult to find, but some anglers choose to spend a day navigating through the entire chain.

Anglers have the opportunity to land musky, northern pike, walleye, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, perch, crappie, and bluegill. The deep, clear water in this chain of lakes is one reason many of these species are trophy-sized fish.

Due to the remote nature of these waterways, they are best navigated with a local guide to save you the time an aggravation of getting in the right spot. The towns of Cable and Drummond are your closest towns to find food, lodging, and bait shops.

4 Jute Lake

Jute Lake, in Boulder Junction in Vilas County, is a quiet 191-acre lake that turns out impressive largemouth and smallmouth bass. The water depth is eight to 23 feet, and the water is mostly clear. With 194 lakes within a 10-mile radius in this area, Jute Lake is a gem, but it is best navigated with a guide because it is so remote. Other fish found in the lake include musky and various types of panfish.

Professional guide Marty Clauson says, "The smaller lakes have less pressure and very good fishing. Jute Lake is one that I enjoy, as the bass are plentiful and willing to take most baits. The solitude is what the northwoods is all about."

Once you get to Jute Lake, the time of year will determine if bass are lingering around the perimeter or located in the open water around the rock piles. Be sure to look up to the sky when the fog lifts in the early morning as you are likely to see eagles flying overhead.

5 Kickapoo River

Kickapoo River
Kickapoo River briandjan607 / photo modified

Trout anglers flock to the Kickapoo River in southwest Wisconsin for one of the best spots for trout fishing in the country. Touted for its world-class fly-fishing, the river and its tributaries are surrounded by hilly countryside, stunning cliffs, Amish farms, orchards, and produce stands. One of the hallmarks of this waterway is the baseflow of coldwater springs that creates a pristine natural environment for trout.

The Kickapoo River West Fork trout fishing location is a 24-mile spring-fed waterway in Wisconsin's unglaciated Coulee Country near La Crosse. The cold waters sustain natural populations of brook and brown trout and this is the primary location to target. Gays Mills is a town right on the river, but Viroqua, which is 15-miles away, is a good option for lodging and food.

6 Mississippi River Pool 10


Another hot fishing location in southwest Wisconsin is at the Mississippi River Pool 10, near Prairie du Chien and Lynxville. This stretch of waterway spans 32.8-miles and is home to more than 119 species of fish. There are plenty of islands, backwaters, and side channels alongside limestone bluffs that support a diverse aquatic habitat.

Anglers come here to target walleye, sauger, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, northern pike, bluegill, and crappie. There are also healthy populations of more unusual species like blue sucker and paddlefish. Besides the large number of species to target, this location is ideal because you can fish by boat, shoreline, or fishing pier, depending on your exact location and time of year.

7 Black Earth Creek

Trout on shoreline
Trout on shoreline

Black Earth Creek is a prime waterway to fish because it has been protected from urban sprawl. Conservation groups have worked to maintain a quality habitat, making this a top trout fishing spot. Located in south-central Wisconsin, the creek is fairly remote. The towns of Cross Plains and Black Earth are directly on the creek, but most anglers prefer to stay in nearby Madison, which is 20 minutes away.

The cool, clean, clear water winds through woods and prairies featuring healthy populations of brown, rainbow, and brook trout. The 27-mile creek, just west of Madison on Highway 14, has entry points that are marked with roadside signage and parking in some areas.

8 Barge Fishing Mississippi River

Mississippi River at La Crosse
Mississippi River at La Crosse

Some of the best fishing action in the Midwest takes place from Mississippi River fishing barges in west Wisconsin near Alma, La Crosse, and Trempealeau. The floating platforms, also known as fishing floats, are located on some of the best fishing spots on the river. Anglers can expect to catch walleye; bass; pike; sturgeon; bluegill; catfish; perch; and occasionally, sauger.

The barges are stable, making for a safe and easy way for kids to experience fishing on the river. A shuttle service that transports you from the town dock to the barge is included in the float fee. Several floats are available in different locations along the river, and they offer rod rentals and bait supplies as well as restrooms and food service. The best times of the year to fish from the barges are March through November.

9 Eagle River

Fishing lure, Eagle River
Fishing lure, Eagle River | Photo Copyright: Anietra Hamper

Eagle River is a chain of waterways made of up 10 lakes and boasts some of the best musky fishing in Wisconsin. Professional guides, like musky tournament champion Bill Jacobs, hit this chain of lakes regularly. The lakes have ideal musky waters that are clear, shallow, and have weed beds. Jacobs says targeting musky in ideal water conditions like those at Eagle River is important, but you have to combine it with proper technique. To perfect technique, Jacobs suggests practicing your cast, watching behind your bait for the musky that may be chasing it, and keeping your bait moving.

While muskies are the big draw, this chain of lakes produces large northern pike, walleye, bass, bluegill, and crappie. Catfish Lake is the largest on the chain, but many anglers prefer to cruise several lakes in a day since it is easy to navigate between them.

10 Chippewa Flowage

The northwest Wisconsin waterway of Chippewa Flowage near Hayward is notable for its floating bogs. These bogs range in size from a few acres to larger than 40 acres. The bogs flow freely in the water, so wind and ice continually change their locations. The bogs are prime fishing spots for anglers, especially those who are after a trophy musky. In October, 1949, the world-record musky was caught from the Chippewa Flowage, weighing in at 69 pounds, 11 ounces, and was 63.5 inches long.

Much of the land that surrounds the Chippewa Flowage is owned by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, so there are many preserved wilderness areas and shorelines, making water access easy for recreational anglers.

11 Lake Wisconsin and the Wisconsin River

Lower Wisconsin River
Lower Wisconsin River

Lake Wisconsin and the Wisconsin River are popular with anglers and are convenient fishing locations due to the large number of resorts, campgrounds, and tourist attractions in the south-central areas of Baraboo, Portage, Prairie du Sac, and Sauk City.

Walleye fishing is popular in late winter through early spring and in the late fall, when fish move up the Wisconsin River toward the Wisconsin Dells dam. These are prime waterways for largemouth bass and crappie. Anglers who specifically target white bass have the greatest success in spring, when water temperatures warm to about 55 degrees, and in the late summer.

Lake Wisconsin and the Wisconsin River have convenient fishing options and plenty of nearby accommodations. These are ideal waterways for the weekend angler, who does not want to rely on a guide for fishing. There are plenty of sandbars and islands from which to set up base and plan a weekend around fishing.

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