Fishing in Wisconsin: All You Need to Know
Oct 25, 2021 | 9 minute read
Reading Time: 9 minutes

The Badger State is blessed with over 15,000 lakes and around 150 species of fish. There’s everything a freshwater angler can dream of, from rivers and lakes to gorgeous backwaters. The best part is, fishing in Wisconsin is a year-round pleasure. 

Wisconsin is home to two of the Great Lakes, along with the mighty Mississippi River. If that’s not enough for you, there are also over 2,500 Trout streams across the state. With such generous waters, hardly anyone can resist a fishing trip to check what’s biting. In fact, it’s estimated that around 25% of adult Wisconsinites go fishing, not to mention all the visitors that come here each year.

Capt. Scaffidi from Milwaukee Offshore Fishing Charters, Llc.
Capt. Scaffidi from Milwaukee Offshore Fishing Charters, Llc.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about fishing in Wisconsin, from the best catches and spots to techniques and regulations. So, without further ado…

Top Catches in Wisconsin

There’s truly no shortage of freshwater fish in Wisconsin. What to pick from the fishing menu depends on when and where you’re fishing, and, of course, your preferences. Let’s see the top catches that Wisconsin has to offer, starting with the star of the show. 

Musky

A smiling angler holding a Musky caught with Captain Hooks Fishing Adventures in Wisconsin

Musky is actually the official state fish of Wisconsin, and it’s here where you can find arguably the best Musky lakes on the planet. The largest Musky on record was also caught in Wisconsin. If you’re curious to learn more about it, check out this guide

Musky fishing in Wisconsin is a rewarding experience. These fish are incredible fighters that require a lot of patience. In fact, Musky is often called the “fish of ten thousand casts.” It’s best to look for these monsters in smaller and shallower lakes with a lot of vegetation, such as Rainbow Flowage, Big St. Germain, Boom, and Boulder Lakes, and Lake DuBay, to name a few.

Walleye

A male angler holding a trophy Walleye

Walleye are undisputed superstars of various lakes throughout the state, including the famous Lake Winnebago. Anglers enjoy fishing for Walleye in Wisconsin because these fish are tasty and feisty, making great opponents for any type of angler. 

Walleye are caught during the spawning season in spring, then again in summer, and, of course, during the winter months under the ice. Summer Walleye hang around underwater structure nearshore, while spring Walleye usually spawn in reefs. Find a lake with cooler waters and low light and hit the waters with your family, friends, and a local guide. 

Panfish

Three anglers on a boat holding freshly caught Crappie with Captain Hooks Fishing Adventures in Wisconsin

Lakes all across the state teem with a variety of tasty Panfish. Yellow Perch is the most famous target here, along with Crappie and Bluegill. You can fill your cooler with these fish even during the colder months – Wisconsin is a true ice fishing paradise – more on this in the following section. 

Catching Panfish is especially exciting for younger anglers. If you’re looking to teach your kids to fish, consider a quick trip to one of Wisconsin’s lakes for a dose of Panfish. Pack bright flashy lures or live bait for Perch, and minnows, worms, and grubs for Crappie and Bluegill. 

Bass

Steve Mortenson from Wisconsin's Anglin' Adventures Fishing Guide Service holding a giant Smallmouth Bass

Bass fishing in Wisconsin allows anglers to target both Largemouth and Smallmouth. The opportunity to catch not one but two Bass lures anglers to Wisconsin year after year. And fishing for Bass in Wisconsin is good in practically any clear water lake or rocky stream. 

We mean it! Offshore reefs, such as those in Lake Winnebago, shallow grassy waters, shorelines, coldwater columns – there are various places throughout the state where you can find your Bass. In order to pick the best spot when Wisconsin Bass fishing, local anglers follow a simple rule. The bigger the lake, the bigger the Bass. And, of course, if you hook a big one, you know you’re in for a ride!

Pike

A happy angler standing on a boat holding a Pike caught with Captain Hooks Fishing Adventures in Wisconsin

Even though these monsters can be found throughout the year across the state, ice fishing for Pike is especially popular. They are top targets for ice anglers during the winter months, although some prefer fishing for Pike after ice-out. 

Pike are sight hunters and love deep, cold waters, so planning a trip during the day is the best way to go. Locals and tourists look for Pike in Lake Superior and its tributaries, the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers, Lake Michigan, and Green Bay. 

…and More!

The list of potential catches in Wisconsin doesn’t end here. There are various fish species you can add to your list, including Salmon. Pink and Kokanee can be found in numerous lakes around the state, and even King Salmon can appear at the end of your fishing line. 

Wisconsin’s lakes and rivers are also home to Sturgeon, Catfish, and Trout. You can find Brook Trout in warm waters outside of bends in streams, in areas with surface turbulence, and around underwater structure. Plus, there’s the chance to reel in Brown and even Rainbow Trout – if you know where to look, of course. 

Types of Fishing in Wisconsin

Fishing in Wisconsin can be done in so many ways, you just have to pick what suits you best. You can try various techniques depending on where and when you’re planning to fish. Let’s see the most popular types of fishing that both visitors and local anglers can enjoy in Wisconsin.

Fishing with a Charter

The Hook Up Guide Service's 19’ Lund Boat by a dock in Wisconsin

It goes without saying that having a local pro onboard makes all the difference. Fishing in Wisconsin is much more productive if you have a local guide by your side. They’ll show you how and where to fish for Walleye, Musky, Pike, or whatever else you have in mind. 

There are numerous fishing charters available on Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, as well as the Mississippi River and Green Bay. The same goes for Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin’s Trout streams, and many of the state’s inland lakes.

The best part about fishing with a professional guide is that you won’t have to worry about anything but having fun and catching fish. They’ll know what’s biting and where, how, and when to catch it. You can tailor your fishing trip to your needs, from half-day family outings to an all-day fishing bonanza. 

Fly Fishing in Wisconsin

A man casts a line in a clear river on the fly

Wisconsin is a dream come true for many fly fishing enthusiasts. There are over 10,000 miles of prolific Trout streams with cold, clear waters, where you can get your hands on Brown, Brook, and Rainbow Trout, as well as many other game species. 

It’s a haven for those who haven’t held a fly rod before, along with seasoned anglers. Outstanding professional Trout fishing is done in Castle Rock Creek, one of the most challenging spots in Wisconsin. Less experienced anglers can head to the Big Green River, Black Earth Creek, and the West Fork of the Kickapoo River. 

First-class fly fishing is also done in the Kinnickinnic River, the St. Croix Headwaters in Solon Springs, and Pike River in Marinette County. Before you hit any of these spots, however, it’s always a good idea to check with the locals so that you know what to expect. 

Ice Fishing in Wisconsin

Ice shanties scattered around a frozen lake

Ice fishing in Wisconsin is its own religion. Thanks to thousands of miles of shoreline, Wisconsin is one of the best locations for winter fishing in the US. You’ll see locals and visitors on the ice as soon as it covers the lakes – fishing and enjoying the holidays. 

Each ice fishing season here is different, and can even last up to five months. That gives you enough time to fish for Walleye, Perch, Pike, Crappie, and many other exciting fish species. What exactly you’ll find at the end of your line will depend on where you go.

If you’re up for an adventure on a bigger lake, nothing beats Green Bay and Lake Winnebago. Winter anglers also visit Boom Lake and Daily Reservoir, along with Black Oak Lake. In addition to that, you can check one of the state’s smaller lakes or even hit the ice on the Mississippi River. 

It’s important to not head out on the ice alone since the conditions can be unpredictable. Always check the weather and ice thickness in advance. The safest option is to hire a local ice fishing guide, who’ll take care of the transportation and equipment. 

Top Fishing Spots in Wisconsin

Whatever fishing experience you’re hoping to get, there are many amazing places to explore in Wisconsin with not one but two Great Lakes at your disposal. Finding a spot to hit is easier than you’d think, with over 15,000 lakes at your fingertips. Whether it’s ice fishing for Walleye or a summer hunt for Muskies, you’ll have a generous selection of hotspots to consider. 

Lake Michigan 

A view of Milwaukee lighthouse on a sunny day reflecting onto the water

Who wouldn’t want to check what’s biting on one of the Great Lakes? As any freshwater angler would like to explore Lake Michigan fishing from Wisconsin, the only question is where to start.

Hundreds of miles of shoreline offer anglers easy access to the lake. Milwaukee is a great place where something is always biting, be it Lake or Brown Trout in spring, Chinook Salmon in summer, or all of them in September. Aside from Milwaukee, you can head out of Kenosha, Sheboygan, or Racine

Lake Superior

An aerial photo of Lake Superior with a boat on the water during sunset

There are various towns in Wisconsin overlooking Lake Superior. Superior is an excellent starting point for those who come to fish the lake for the first time, although locals also love it here. You can fish for Walleye, Trout, Salmon, and many other prized Great Lakes fish species. 

But that’s not all. The beautiful St. Louis River flows into the lake here, creating excellent spawning waters for Walleye. Once you’re done with fishing the Great Lake and its tributary, you can hit one of nearby lakes. 

Green Bay

An aerial view of Green Bay, Wisconsin

Green Bay, which dominates Lake Michigan’s western shoreline, is even more fertile than Lake Michigan, with plenty of exciting fish species available for anglers. There’s premier Trout, Salmon, and Bass in the mouth of Fox River, with Brown Trout in Marinette, and Perch, Walleye, Musky, and Pike in the rest of the bay. 

Green Bay fishing is great no matter the season. In fact, you may enjoy the bay even more during the colder months – ice fishing here is quite popular, with Yellow Perch and other species on the winter menu. 

Mississippi River

An aerial view over the bridge on the Upper Mississippi River in La Crosse – one of the best fishing spots in Wisconsin

The second-longest river on the continent doesn’t need an introduction. Whether it’s a summer trip for a hard-fighting Walleye or an ice fishing adventure in the middle of winter, Wisconsin’s portion of the Mississippi River never disappoints. 

One of the best places to explore the Mississippi River in Wisconsin is La Crosse. Nearby, the river creates many deep pools and smaller channels and islands, creating a healthy environment for many fish species. Other well-known spots include the stunning Mississippi River Pool 8 and the slightly warmer Mississippi River Pool 10

Lake Winnebago 

Sunset along Lake Winnebago's rocky shoreline

The largest inland lake of the state, Lake Winnebago is known for its amazing angling opportunities throughout the year. The superstar catch here is Walleye, which holds anglers’ attention even during the colder months. Besides Walleye, you can also target Musky, Bass, Pike, Trout, and Perch.

You can start your Lake Winnebago adventure in the southernmost point, at Fond du Lac, or the Neenah Dam, which is located right where the mouth of the Fox River meets the lake. Kelly’s Point and Reef is another great spot for anglers fishing from a boat. 

…and Many More!

Of course, it’s hard to beat Lake Michigan and Lake Superior’s fantastic fishing opportunities. However, there are multiple other lakes, rivers, and streams in Wisconsin that can keep any angler busy. 

If you’re looking to explore Northern Wisconsin, the Eagle River Chain of Lakes is a good place to start. Aside from being one of Wisconsin’s most productive Musky fisheries, it’s also home to Bass, Northern Pike, Walleye, and Perch. Lake Geneva offers Bass fishing in a resort town atmosphere, and Lakes Mendota and Monona are also prime spots. 

Learn more about top places in Wisconsin in our guide here

Fishing Rules & Regulations

"Fishing in Wisconsin, Rules & Regulations" infographic with a boat icon on a clear blue background

Every angler over the age of 16 needs to possess a Wisconsin fishing license before they can head out to fish. This applies to both residents and visitors, although the fees and the type of licenses you’ll get depends on where you’ll be fishing. There are several options to choose from, depending on what your plan for fishing in Wisconsin is. Check out our detailed guide for more information.

As well as all the necessary permits, you’ll need to be familiar with the local regulations. Make sure to check those on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website

Fishing in Wisconsin – The Ultimate Something

Wisconsin offers not only amazing fishing opportunities but also incredible scenery to match. There are relaxing destinations to cast a rod and reel from the comfort of a boat and then there are wild Trout streams to brave the elements. All you have to do is pick what type of fishing in Wisconsin you want to try first, find a local guide, and get ready for a real adventure! 

Have you ever been fishing in Wisconsin? Do you have a favorite spot or species to target? An amazing story to tell? Share your experiences and advice with us in the comments below!

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