Fishing the Wisconsin River, Tips and Tactics for Success
Fishing the Wisconsin River
The subject of this article is fishing the Wisconsin River. It offers anglers excellent fishing opportunities for a variety of species in a great setting.
Abby Heistad is our Fishing Ladies expert for the Wisconsin River. She is 24 years old, the owner of Heistad Communications, Content Writer and Marketing Consultant. She grew up in the small town of White Lake, Wisconsin located in the Northeastern portion of WI. After graduating high school life’s path lead her to Stevens Point for college where she pursued a degree in interpersonal/organizational communications.
Abby was born and raised in the countryside, enjoying the outdoors with her true passion coming from shooting archery and hunting with it evolving into a huge passion for fishing and water recreation. A large part of her goal as an outdoors woman, is to spread the word of conservation and maintaining the exquisite outdoor environment we are able to enjoy.
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“I’ve been living in the Stevens Point, WI area for the past 5 ½ years. The Wisconsin River is about 2 miles down the road from where I reside. I’ve only been a serious freshwater fishing lady for the past 7 years. Before getting into fishing seriously, I wasn’t a fan of catching, cleaning or eating wild caught fish.
Abby fishing the Wisconsin River
“That changed completely when I was introduced to river fishing. The first fish I caught by accident was a sturgeon and then lead onto catching a Muskie, catfish, bass and more. Since first starting, I’ve become accustomed to fishing for bass and Muskie. Fishing for bass can lead to a variety of fish nipping at your line in the river.
“River fishing is unique in the fact that the water levels, temperature and ecosystem are ever-changing. There are many times I am unable to get out due to high or fast-moving water. I push it to the limits with water speed and depth, but I am not overly risky as the river is extremely rocky and easy to lose good footing in.
“Water level is crucial when it comes to river fishing. High, fast, and dirty water will push the fish out of the main river and into protected spots where the water is slower and cleaner. Not only can these conditions be dangerous, fishing can be difficult. Conversely, low water will concentrate fish into the deeper stretches of the river.
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“Understanding the river level, current, and clarity is very important when fishing rivers, and the Wisconsin River is no exception. Add to that the fact that different species are affected differently, and you can see how dynamic river fishing is! River fishing is both challenging and rewarding, that is why I enjoy it so much!
“My experiences on the river have led me to grow a passion for the trial and error experienced day-to-day. With so many variants, I find myself encouraged to embrace trying different lures and techniques. Among the fun of river fishing, I’ve added in fly fishing in the past 2 years to my swatch of skills.
Wisconsin River fishing strategies
“Much of the time spent in the river is off-shore and wading but occasionally I can be found in a kayak or boat. The Wisconsin River begins at Lac Vieux Desert at the northern border of Wisconsin, however I’ve only fished the stretch from Merrill all the way down to Nekoosa. The span of roughly 80 miles has allowed me to see various new territory and experience many different sections of the water with a variety of fish.
“Tackle for fishing the Wisconsin River is pretty basic. Light spinning tackle is the best choice and is quite versatile. I like a 7-foot rod, 2500 series Piscifun reel spooled up with 10-pound test braid line for targeting most river species. That outfit is fine for casting light lures for bass and most other species.
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“When musky are my quarry, I bump up the tackle significantly. These are big fish that take large lures. A 7-foot medium heavy rod, 7.1:1 baitcasting reel and 30-pound braided line get the job done.
“Artificial lures allow me to cover a lot of water in search of fish. Lures are versatile and a lot of fun to fish. Anglers do need to adapt to the ever-changing conditions. I will run through the seasons as far as lures that I like and conditions throughout the year.”
Fishing the Wisconsin River in spring
Anglers will often find the water high and muddy in spring. Melting snow and spring rains will raise the river high. These are tough conditions and care is required when wading or boating. As the water drops and clears, fishing will improve.
My favorite lures for spring fishing are as follows; Livingston Lures Dive Master Jr in Chartreuse Sunrise Shad and the Rapala Husky Jerk in Helsinki Shad.
The best spots to target river fish in spring are below dams, spillways, and in backwater slews as spawning is taking effect as the temps rise. Finding slack water can be key if the river is moving fast.
Fishing the Wisconsin River in summer
River conditions will be mellow as the spring rush subsides, however, high levels of rainfall effect the water as bad as springtime melt-off, so be aware of the river.
My favorite lures for summer fishing are as follows; YUM Dinger 4” Senko in Green Pumpkin Neon, Bomber Square A in Foxy Shad, and the Live Target Frog Popper.
The best spots to target river fish in summer are variant with water temperature. As the water heats up, moving outward from the banks provides a better shot at landing larger fish. Also, depending on rainfall, if the water is low, it is warmer in shallow areas, not ideal for bass fishing so stick to the deeper parts of the river.
Fishing the Wisconsin River in fall
Fall anglers will find falling water temperatures and lower water levels. The best approach will be to hit the areas of moving water, not slack, more. The fish get aggressive as they are trying to pack on the pounds for the colder months of the year. Utilizing larger lures are key to catching larger fish. I do, however, still catch quite a few large fish on smaller baits.
The best spots to target river fish in fall are in moving areas of water, not so much slack water as mentioned earlier. Pockets behind large boulders, rocks etc. are great for finding fish stacked up on occasion.
One thing I really enjoy about casting these lures for bass is that just about every species in the river can be taken on these versatile lures. That is the main reason that I do not go too large when it comes to lure selection.
While I prefer lures, live bait can be very productive. Anglers who prefer a more relaxed approach will do well drifting live baits in the river. The best all-round bait is the nightcrawler. They are readily available at most tackle shops. They catch just about every fish that swims. Leeches are also effective baits.
Wisconsin River species
Anglers fishing the Wisconsin River can target several species of fish. Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, musky, northern pike, walleye, catfish, and other species can be taken. Wisconsin fishing regulations can be found HERE.
Small Mouth bass: Aggressive fish with incredible colors ranging from deep browns to vibrant greens with incredible stripe/spotted markings and ruby red eyes. My ALL-TIME favorite fish to go after on the river as they take great finesse in landing with their ability dart and throw a good fight in the water.
Largemouth bass: Largemouth bass are not as plentiful in the Wisconsin River as it is in local lakes. They do not like the current as much as smallies do. They are found in the more sluggish back-waters and will take a variety of lures and baits.
Walleye: This species is fished for a ton in the Wisconsin River because of their high quality flakey white flesh when cooked. One of my least favorite to catch, but I catch a ton of, I find them to not throw as much of a fight as other fish in the river. Sometimes coming across as feeling like you’ve snagged a stick or line in the water.
Catfish: When they get aggressive in the summer months, catfish will go after any type of lure and put up a big fight! I’ve caught many channel cats and they are feisty. Not my favorite eater, but they are delicious deep fried!
Muskie: My second favorite fish to land! Impressive, toothy, fighters, the muskie is known for their length, overall size and elusiveness. Many say they are the fish of 10,000 casts, but if targeted at the right times of the year, they can easier to land. River muskies are built and respond differently to techniques used for lake fishing making it a bit tougher.
Northern Pike: Similar to the muskie, pike are known for their aggressiveness. I find the pike to be a fun fish to fight also as they don’t give up easily. Finesse is needed in landing both pike and muskie due to their sharp teeth and power to snap lines.
In closing, this article written for the Fishing Ladies blog by Abby Heistad should help anglers experience success when fishing the Wisconsin River as well as other area rivers!