Musky (and salmon) mania take Wisconsin autumn by storm
If you thought you had to fly to Canada for big-time musky action, or head to the Pacific Northwest to catch Coho and Chinook, think again.
Both angling experiences can be had in Wisconsin – and fall is the optimal time to do it. From September through November, these marquee game fish become highly active, moving in closer to shore and feeding voraciously prior to winter or to spawning. What's more, the reduced angling pressure during fall means that almost all species become easier to catch, regardless of their seasonal patterns.
"Fall is really a premier time for fishing," says Mike Staggs of the Wisconsin DNR's Bureau of Fisheries Management. "People tend to quit thinking about it – they put their boats away, kids are back in school and it's almost hunting season. But it is a great season for anglers -- the fish are hungrier and they aren't as many people going after them."
Musky Mania in the Northwoods
No doubt about it -- fishing for Wisconsin's state fish, the muskellunge, reaches its peak in the autumn. Though muskies are active all summer long, their appetites grow when the water temperature dips below 60 degrees, typically in mid-to late September. As lake temperatures drop, these "freshwater barracudas" go on a feeding binge that lasts through November, fattening themselves up prior to winter on ciscoes, white suckers and yellow perch.
It is during this season that the biggest fish of the year are typically caught, such as the 53-inch, 51-pound monster Tom Gelb pulled in last November in Vilas County (one of the only 50+ pound muskies caught in the U.S. in recent years.) Fall is also when most major musky tournaments are held, including the Greater Wisconsin Muskie Tournament in St. Germain and the Sawyer County Fall Musky Tournament in Hayward (both in October).
While live bait is fairly common, most musky insiders use artificial lures such as bucktails (in colors mimicking perch or cisco) or various jerk baits -- and the bigger the better. While musky waters can be found across the Wisconsin, they are most plentiful in the Northwoods region, particularly Vilas and Oneida Counties; the greater Hayward area in Sawyer County; the Mercer area in Iron County; and the Spooner area in Washburn County.
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