On May 3, Wisconsin’s gamefish season opens. If you’re an angler, it’s the most exciting day of the year. Make plans to be out on the water that weekend in a place that offers great fishing. These five destinations are your best bets for the opener.
The walleye fishing is incredible in Vilas County. Most of the county’s 1,300 lakes are home to good populations of walleye. The biggest, deepest, clearest lakes, such as Trout Lake, harbor some enormous fish. But, during the first days of the season, look for smaller, shallower lakes, which warm up earlier and provide more action. Anglers can target smallmouth bass, but they must be released between May 3 and June 20. Largemouth bass are fair game. Vilas County is also one of the best musky destinations in North America – their musky season begins May 24. Vilas County’s 12 resort communities offer lodging as well as shopping and dining.
Just south of Vilas County, you’ll find Oneida County, home to hundreds of lakes and a beautiful landscape of towering forests. Anglers targeting walleye in Oneida County will find plenty of excellent lakes, including Boom Lake, a flowage on the Wisconsin River in the heart of Rhinelander. Boom Lake is also famous for its musky and smallmouth bass. Oneida County shares the same season dates as neighboring Vilas County (see above). Anglers will find eight friendly communities in Oneida County offering hotels, resorts, cabins and cottages.
At 6,700 acres, Lake DuBay is big. This flowage on the Wisconsin River has a fishery to match its size. Big bass, fat walleye and hefty northern pike all swim in these waters. During the first days of the fishing season, a wise angler will turn his attention to some of the shallower backwaters and bays where the water will be the warmest. Anglers shouldn’t overlook the panfish that call Lake DuBay home, particularly crappie. And, this lake is one of the state’s premier musky lakes (the musky season on Lake DuBay begins on May 24). After a day of fishing, take a tour of one of the Stevens Point area’s four breweries, including the famous Stevens Point Brewery.
Lake Winnebago, Oshkosh
Unlike the other destinations on this list, bass and walleye fishing is open year-round on Lake Winnebago. The 138,000-acre lake’s walleye fishing is second to none. The natural reproduction on the Winnebago System is outstanding. The lake is also becoming well known for its bass fishing, with good numbers of both largemouth and smallmouth. Panfish are plentiful on the lake, with perch being the most targeted species. Trolling is the most popular method for catching walleye and yellow perch. Bass can be found close to shore in weeds and around docks and other structure. You’ll find hotels and numerous boat launches in Oshkosh.
The Flambeau River is home to a wide variety of fish species, from panfish to sturgeon. But, smallmouth bass are what put this classic riverway on the map. The Flambeau boasts huge smallmouth bass. Anglers will find smallies in all sections of the river, from the flowages (Ladysmith, Big Falls, Dairyland, Thornapple) to the wild river stretches. During the spring, look for smallmouth bass in the shallow sections of the flowages and in deep pools along the river. Canoeists and kayakers will have a distinct advantage when it comes to accessing some of the Flambeau River’s most secluded pools. It’s an exciting place to fish. Ladysmith is Rusk County’s hub for lodging, shopping and dining.
These are just five of Wisconsin’s many fantastic fishing opportunities. Find more great places to fish this spring.
For complete fishing regulations, visit the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Hook and Line Fishing Regulations.