Wisconsin walleye swim in the Mississippi River, the Great Lakes, and nearly every lake or river in between. And these fish don't go unnoticed, there are walleye clubs, walleye tournaments, and even a festival called the ''Walleye Weekend'' held annually on the shores of Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin's largest inland lake.
While we can't break down each lake individually, we did reach out to Ben Patschull, a lifelong Wisconsinite and Mississippi river rat with a burning passion for walleye fishing. Ben shares his approach to walleye fishing in Wisconsin by showcasing different methods and techniques based on the waters throughout the state. From seasonal changes to tips, tactics, baits breakdowns, and finally, lake reviews. Together Ben will help any reader feel more confident in walleye fishing in Wisconsin.
Walleye Fishing On Wisconsin Rivers
How To Catch Walleye In Rivers
On larger rivers like the Mississippi, man-made structures such as wing dams are excellent places to find feeding walleyes during all four seasons. In the spring and fall, walleyes can be found in shallow, rocky areas that shore anglers can easily access.
Popular River Baits And Rigs
Jig-heads paired with plastics like paddle-tails or grub-style baits are my go-to for most situations. Jig-heads with a slim profile are a great choice, making it much easier to cut through fast-moving current. Live bait is always an effective way to catch walleyes on rivers. I generally use minnows in the spring and late fall, worms, and willow cats in the summer. I will usually rig my minnows using a slip-float system or a drop shot rig. I will either use a jig head, a river rig, or a Carolina rig tied off to a slow-death hook for my crawlers. I will use a similar Carolina rig approach using small VMC live bait hooks for willow cats and other larger live minnows.
Walleye Fishing Wisconsin's Natural Lakes
How To Walleye Fish On Natural Lakes
In comparison to flowages, natural lakes generally lack man-made structures and tend to be deeper and clearer. Use maps to identify underwater structures like shallow reefs where baitfish will congregate. During the late summer and fall, deep weed-edges can be excellent areas to target big walleyes.
Popular Baits and Rigs
During the summer months, walleyes will avoid the warm water by sticking to 15-30 feet during the day. Depending on the day, I will usually bring along leeches and crawlers since sometimes one will work better than the other. Jigs and live bait are the most common bait for fishing reefs and other underwater structures in depths over ten feet. Trolling crankbaits is also a very effective way to cover water and find feeding fish. I will often troll deep diving cranks like a reef runner rip shad or a Rapala down-deep husky jerk.
Walleye Fishing On Flowages (Reservoirs)
How To Walleye Fish A Flowage
Flowages are man-made reservoirs and will often contain tons of different structures that fish will relate to. Many flowages in Wisconsin have detailed maps that show the location of fish-holding structures such as fish cribs. I like to target these areas in the summer, especially when they are in 10-15 feet of water or near a drop-off. During the fall, I find fish in ten feet of water or less feeding on small baitfish. As most reservoirs were once free-flowing rivers, historic river channels can be identified using depth maps. These river channels are easy to find fish during certain times, especially during the ice season.
Popular Baits And Rigs
During the warmer months of the year, I have had very good luck using jigs and leeches around cribs and off rocky points. I will also troll crankbaits around these areas to pinpoint a depth that the fish are holding at. Once I have identified the right depth, I can often pull in a handful of fish using lipless cranks like the Rapala Rippin' Rap.
Walleye Fishing The Great Lakes
How To Walleye Fish The Great Lakes
My favorite time of year to fish the Great Lakes for walleyes is during the spring, when the fish will move into the tributaries to spawn. This makes locating the fish much easier, as they are funneled into much smaller areas relative to the vast expanse of the Great Lakes. Trolling crankbaits over reefs of 20-30 feet of water is a great method to locate walleyes during the summer. Green Bay is the most common walleye destination on the Wisconsin portion of the Great Lakes; however, the Chequamegon Bay around Ashland is underrated walleye water. The Chequamegon Bay is home to excellent walleye and smallmouth bass fishing and offers some of the best scenery on Lake Superior.
Popular Baits And Rigs
In the spring, the husky jerk and rippin' rap are the go-to baits on the tributaries. Jigs and plastics such as the BFishn' Moxi are also effective weapons. During the summer, walleyes will often feed in depths from 20-40 feet. When trolling deep diving cranks over reefs and around shipping lanes is not productive, using heavy bottom-bouncers and spinner rigs with crawlers can be a great alternative.
Walleye Fishing By The Season
Wisconsin Walleye Fishing In The Spring
The best tip I could give to any spring walleye angler is to get to your spot early or stay late (after dark). Avoiding the walleye-run crowds can be the most difficult part of spring fishing, especially if you like to target these fish from the shore near dams. During very early spring, before water temperatures hit 50 °F, blade baits like Johnson Thinfisher are the first option for many anglers. Once the water temps creep up, husky jerks and jigs with paddle tails are my number one fish producers.
Wisconsin Walleye Fishing In The Summer
Wherever I am fishing for walleyes in the summer, I will always mix in some trolling. This method of fishing is not always the most exciting, but there is no better way to locate where fish are feeding. When I am not trolling in the warmer months, I turn to the live bait. On the Mississippi River, I favor willow cats or even small bluegills for trophy-sized walleye. I will bring both crawlers and leeches on the boat each day in all other parts of Wisconsin.
Wisconsin Walleye Fishing In The Fall
As temperatures begin to fall, the walleye will start to locate in shallower water—walleye transition in the fall from feeding primarily on insects and other invertebrates to minnows and other baitfish. After water temps fall to around 60 ºF, I have my best luck using jigs and grub-tail style plastics along with larger walleye minnows rigged on a drop-shot or under a slip-float. I have found that the significant walleye feeding windows are much more time-dependent in the fall than in other months. Although fish can be caught throughout the day, the first and last half hours of light are by far my most productive times during the fall season.
Wisconsin Walleye Fishing Through The Ice
Live bait is by far my most productive weapon in the winter. For me, being very specific with my live bait choices has been the most significant factor in catching big walleyes through the ice. I have had good luck using the largest rosie red minnows I can find on some rivers and lakes, while chubs or shiners may work better on other waters. By widening your live bait selection beyond walleye minnows and medium golden shiners, you will be able to identify what live bait works best on your water. On the Mississippi River, keeping your boat out of winter storage is the best decision that can be made. The river's main channel will stay open for months after backwater areas are locked with ice if the weather allows. For example, the mild winter of 2019/2020 allowed Mississippi River anglers' boat access to areas around dams throughout the entirety of the winter. During the winter months, I have had very good days on the boat running slow-moving rigs such as a Dubuque rig.
The 5 Best Places To Catch A Walleye In Wisconsin
1) Sturgeon Bay
In general, Sturgeon Bay and Green Bay are some of the best locations in the state to target truly monstrous walleyes. Hiring a guide gives anglers unfamiliar with the substantial body of water the best chance of locking horns with a walleye of a lifetime, as fish movements on the Bay change a lot throughout the year. Fish are generally found near rocky points during spring and fall, and most are caught trolling crankbaits. For shore anglers, the Sturgeon Bay Area also holds one of the best shoreline night-bites around the state.
2) Northwoods Flowages
When fishing the Northwoods flowages during the open water season, lake hop is one of my favorite aspects of fishing in these areas. Larger flowages like the Chippewa, the Turtle Flambeau, and the Dairyland reservoir are great walleye waters with excellent seasonal bites. I can spend several hours on a small lake, and if I find the walleye activity lacking, I can pack up and be at another lake in less than 15 minutes. However, when the fish activity is slower, I like to target smaller bodies of water that can be easily picked apart using a map.
3) Wisconsin River
Although fishing the Mississippi is my bread and butter, the Wisconsin River is a very, very close second. The Spring walleye run on the Wisconsin is the busiest time to fish. However, the angling pressure on the Wisconsin River still tends to be lower than on more popular walleye rivers such as the Fox, the Wolf, or the Mississippi. The ice season is my favorite time to target walleye on the Wisconsin River, specifically the Petenwell and Castle Rock Flowages. On these portions of the river, the most important rule for success on the ice is avoiding the bustling crowds that can easily scare off winter walleyes.
4) Mississippi River
Learning to fish wing-dams is the best advice I could give an angler looking to target walleyes on the Mississippi River. The spring run is certainly an excellent time to target walleye on the Mississippi, but after the water temperatures move up and the spawn winds down, the fishing pressure drops significantly. During the summer and even into the fall and winter, wing-dams are often the most productive structures for walleye fishing. Targeting these rocky structures with crankbaits or jigs and crawlers can lead to some of the best walleye fishing anywhere across the state.
5) Lake Winnebago
The popularity of walleye fishing in the area surrounding 'Bago is second to none in Wisconsin. The busy walleye run in the spring on the various tributaries such as the Wolf and Fox Rivers attract anglers from all over Wisconsin and the greater Midwest. During the warmer times of the year, walleye anglers troll around large reefs that pop up throughout the relatively shallow lake (although Winnebago is the largest inland lake, its max depth is surprisingly less than 30 feet). Winnebago is known for its strong production of eater-sized walleyes, along with the ever-present possibility of a trophy-class fish.
Updated September 27th, 2021 at 9:36 AM CT