August 22, 2012

Cast A Fly To Rhinelander

Fly fishing the Wisconsin River (Blake Hamilton)

Editor’s note: As part of Wisconsin Travel Best Bets’ Shift Your Gears campaign, we have asked bloggers, writers and photographers to write about destinations across the state and share their experiences. Today, Blake Hamilton of talks about his recent fishing trip to Rhinelander.

The Rhinelander area is probably most famous for its world-class musky and its endless lakes. Rightly so: Oneida County is home to just over 1,100 lakes, and these waters contain an abundance of some of the most desirable game fish in the entire state of Wisconsin. Smallmouth and largemouth bass, pike, walleye and the world-famous musky are swimming in these waters in plentiful numbers. Throw in the sprawling forests of pine and ash, and tannin waters stained the full spectrum of brown and red, and you really have some of the most unique destination fishing in all of Wisconsin.

One shouldn’t overlook the city of Rhinelander or Oneida County in general as a fly angler’s paradise. Countywide, they boast a whopping 830 miles of river, of which 129 miles are classified as trout water. There are over 50 named streams and rivers, with the Wisconsin River being the largest watershed flowing right through the center of Rhinelander. For the fly angler that prefers wading or floating in flowing water, the opportunities for both warm- and cold-water species are endless.

Wisconsin River brook trout (Blake Hamilton)

The Oneida County warm-water rivers are known for their smallmouth bass fishing, but they contain all of the same species of fish that are found in the lakes. A lot of fish are residents in the rivers year-round, but numbers of fish will migrate from downriver and the connecting lakes upriver to spawn. These seasonal movements are heavily controlled by the weather, water temperature and flows and are very consistent with other spawning migrations found in other rivers all across the state. Fishing below natural barriers such as dams can be dynamite, and fish tend to congregate in these areas. Pools, pocket water, and incoming creeks are also good bets. Anglers fishing the warm-water rivers should be equipped with at least a 5-weight fly rod, unless specifically targeting larger pike and musky. In that case, consider upsizing to an 8- to 10-weight rod. A floating weight-forward line will serve you well for most situations, and streamers like deceivers, clousers, buggers and leeches will take almost every species of fish found in the rivers.

In the land of monster musky, slab smallmouth and mouthwatering walleye, the trout streams of northern Wisconsin are often overlooked. Tourism promotes the plethora of lakes and flowages so heavily that finding any information on the trout fishing is near impossible. Internet searches result in nothing concrete, and it just may be that the best source of information could be the local fly shop or tavern.

Wisconsin River smallmouth bass (Blake Hamilton)

The streams of the Northwoods are much more temperamental when it comes to weather. Harsh winters and summers impact the numbers of fish present tremendously, so look for best fishing after years with more mild seasons. Most streams here aren’t spring fed, so summer’s temperatures will impact the fishery, causing the water to warm enough to shut the bite down. Try fishing spring and fall for the best results. A 3-weight rod in the 6-foot range is appropriate for the smaller, brushy streams. Nymphs, dry flies and streamers are all effective, so don’t hesitate to fish in your comfort zone. Be sure to check out the Wisconsin DNR trout stream classification map for Oneida County; it will give anglers a good head start.

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