Wisconsin is home to over 10,000 lakes (sorry, Minnesota), which provides limitless opportunities for anglers to wet a line. Game species like musky, bass, northern pike, and walleye, roam abundantly in the dairy states rivers and lakes.
I’ve been fishing in Wisconsin for as long as I can remember. First, with my Dad and brothers, then the Boy Scouts, and eventually with my fishing buddies. Venturing north and leaving the urban sprawl of Chicago in the rearview is undoubtedly my favorite way to spend my free time.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Chicago, but variety is the spice of life. Lowering my gears and changing scenery is the quickest way to reset my batteries. Everyone has their favorite places; mine just happens to be cold six months out of the year.
Fishing and soccer were my top priorities as a young buck.
With so many fishing options at my fingertips, deciding where to go and what to fish for becomes a challenge.
Do I jig for Walleyes in the river channel, cast for bass in the backwaters, or run slip bobbers for crappie over brush piles? Thoughts like these run through my head constantly leading up to a fishing trip.
My three brothers and I with a northern pike near Hayward, Wisconsin.
As a multi-species angler, I still have my favorite species and techniques, but I also have to remain logical and remind myself to fish with my head instead of my heart.
What I mean by this is that it’s easy for me to pick my favorite technique or target species and continually run those same patterns. But, it’s also so rewarding to remain adaptable and target as many species as possible.
Over the years, I’ve developed a simple strategy that keeps me on the hottest fishing bite during the Spring.
I caught this northern pike in central Wisconsin while targeting walleye one Spring.
Each fish species I mentioned spawns in the Spring, and like most wild animals, fish become more predictable and easier to pattern when they are trying to find a mate.
Fish spawning activity revolves around water temperature, and each species has preferred spawning temperatures and locations. Fish use an internal thermometer to dictate when their spawning process should begin and this instinctive ability is what keeps their species going. Waiting for the ideal spawning temperatures increases mating opportunities and the chances of offspring survival.
A couple of stud smallmouth from Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.
Knowing the temperatures and locations of where fish like to spawn will help increase your catch rate dramatically.
Here is how I think about targeting each of my favorite species during the Spring. Below is a quick guide to spawning temperatures, locations, and baits for a few of my favorite northern species.
Northern Pike fishing is open on some Wisconsin rivers in the Spring.
This fish was caught jigging along the Lacrosse River in March 2020.
When: 40-48 degrees of water.
Where: Shallow hard bottom areas with gravel, rock, or sand. River eddies, backwaters, and below dams.
What: Crankbaits, jigs and plastic, jerkbaits, and live bait.
Perch fishing on the Mississippi River is one of the hottest bites in Wisconsin each Spring.
When: 42-54 degree water temps.
Where: The shallows of rivers and lakes usually near vegetation or cover.
What: Small swimbaits, crankbaits, jigs, minnows, nightcrawlers
Lake Winnebago, Castle Rock, and Petenwell lake all have epic White Bass runs.
When: 54-64 degree water temperatures.
Where: Creeks, coves, and slack water areas near current.
What: small crankbaits, spoons, inline spinnerbaits, jigs and plastics, live bait.
My biggest smallmouth ever. It measured out to 21” and ate a wacky rigged worm on a secret lake up north.
When: 55-65 degree water temperature
Where: water hard bottom areas in northern lake bays in 1-10 feer of water. River backwaters and slack water.
What: Swimbaits, crankbaits, jerkbaits, finesse jigs, ned rigs
Wisconsin is home to mostly white crappie but black crappie do swim in its southern lakes.
When: 60-68 degree water temperature.
Where: Shallow water brush. Look for docks, wood, reeds, and shallow-water cover.
What: hair jigs, jig, and plastics, live bait
These fish came out of southern Wisconsin’s Lake Geneva. Also, known as the Hamptons of the Midwest.
This is my buddy Alex and I with a nice haul of Mississippi River bluegills.
When: 68-75 degree water temperatures
Where: Bluegills can be found spawning in the same areas as largemouth bass
What: Finesse jigs, hair jigs, soft plastics, and live bait
New Wisconsin laws allow anglers to target catfish with their bare hands.