Eagle River, WI
The state of Wisconsin has the good fortune to be located along the coastlines of two of the Great Lakes, with many fishing charters available on both Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. On top of that, the state has over 15,000 inland lakes, including the famed Lake Winnebago, which at over 130,000 acres, would be considered huge in any state that didn't border the Great Lakes. With this much aquatic access, Wisconsin has fish — lots and lots of fish. And it also has boats — lots and lots of boats.
Along with all of the charter boats, there's a huge number of private pleasure boats and fishing boats for rent. Wisconsin ranks third in the nation for the number of boats per capita and fifth for the total number of boats registered in the state. So, if you want to get out on the water for a day of fishing here, there's plenty of opportunity.
Thanks to that mix of Great Lakes and inland waterways, those angling opportunities are incredibly diverse. Whether you want to troll for big game like king salmon, jig for the famed walleye, or cast lures to bass, you can do it in Wisconsin. This diversity is one of the reasons why many visitors to the state will fish with a charter guide. Each waterway and each season offer different hot bites, so it's good to have a local on your side who knows which species are running when and where at any given time.
Since Lake Michigan is a huge body of water, most of its charter boats are relatively large vessels that will take up to six people fishing. They generally have full cabins with protection from the weather, restrooms, all the gear you need, and a professional mate to help you set the lines or bait the hooks. Green Bay enjoys a bit more shelter, so you'll find some guides there who run open boats, take fewer anglers, and charge lower rates.Browse Wisconsin fishing charters
Six-person charters on relatively large cabin boats are also the norm on Lake Superior, where there's a concentration of guides on the Bayfield Peninsula jutting out into the lake. This provides easy access to the scenic Apostle Islands, which offer fertile fishing grounds and protection from the wind. Many people enjoy fishing here for the views or to visit the secluded beaches as much as for the salmon, walleye, and lake trout.Browse Wisconsin fishing charters
Fishing charters are usually a bit different on the inland lakes since many guides run relatively smaller trailer boats, allowing them more flexibility in where to fish. Parties of two to four people are the norm, and when you book the charter, you may be asked if you'd prefer to target smallmouth bass, walleye, muskellunge, or another species. Then the guide may pick a lake best for the specific fish you hope to catch.Browse Wisconsin fishing charters
When fishing in Lake Michigan n or Lake Superior, the target quarry will change with the seasons, but no matter the time of year, it's a long list. King salmon, coho salmon, lake trout, brown trout, steelhead, walleye, northern pike, muskellunge, smallmouth bass, splake, and perch can all be possibilities. On charter fishing trips, salmon, trout, and walleye are usually the prime targets — but you just never know what will bite.View fishing boats
Although this lake is huge, the nearby Great Lakes notwithstanding, Lake Winnebago is quite shallow, with a maximum depth of just 21 feet. Still, it has healthy walleye, northern pike, bass, catfish, and perch populations. The lake is best known for its unusually large sturgeon population, but these are commonly caught via spearfishing through the ice during winter.View fishing boats
Wisconsin's inland lakes are known for producing unusually good muskellunge fishing. With a good guide who knows specific waterways, it's possible to get multiple shots at musky — the fish of 10,000 casts — in a single trip. The International Gamefish Association world-record musky, a 67-pound, eight-ounce fish, was caught in Wisconsin. Many of the state's lakes also have excellent fishing for walleye, northern pike, largemouth and/or smallmouth bass.View fishing boats
Unless you're under 16 or were born before 1927, you'll need to purchase a Wisconsin fishing license before making a cast or reeling up a fish on a charter boat. Wisconsin also has inland trout, Great Lakes salmon/trout stamps, and special sturgeon fishing licenses. Annual, one-day, four-day, and 15-day licenses are all available.
Bait and gear are generally provided when chartering on the Great Lakes or an inland lake. In and around the metropolitan areas and in places where rental fishing boats are readily available, you'll find plenty of bait and tackle shops, but many of the state's inland lakes are rather remote, and the nearest amenities may be hours away.
Most of the larger charter services will clean your catch, though an added fee may be involved, and if not, a tip is certainly expected. Some resorts and full-service facilities may offer shipping services, which is relatively rare. If you plan to pack and ship the fillets yourself, see the UPS webpage on How to Ship Food or the Fedex webpage on How to Ship Perishables.
Although it isn't the easiest nor the most common catch, muskellunge is certainly one of the top sought-after fish in Wisconsin. Musky are known for their vicious strikes and rod-bending fights, and many dedicated anglers consider them the ultimate freshwater gamefish. The muskellunge is also the official state fish of Wisconsin. Many methods can be used to target them but casting enormous plugs, and swimbaits is very popular.
Salmon, both kings (Chinook) and coho, are a prime target of the charter fishing fleets. Thanks to their large size (the state record is a whopping 43 pounds, three ounces), awesome fighting abilities, and fantastic quality as a food fish, Chinook are a top-ranked sportfish. Cohos are more common and easier to catch. Most salmon are caught while trolling, often with specialized gear like downriggers and dodgers.
Thanks to its quality on the plate and large populations in the Great Lakes and inland lakes, walleye merit a high ranking among the sportfish in Wisconsin. Walleye can also be caught with a wider range of gear and tactics than some other types of fish, and some anglers enjoy trolling for them while others are dedicated to catching walleye on light tackle while casting or jigging lures or baits.
Many hands-on sport anglers enjoy casting plugs. This tactic can be used for several popular species, such as muskellunge, largemouth bass, or smallmouth bass, and allows for relatively light tackle. It's generally most effective when targeting species entering shallow water or hunting along the shorelines during certain seasons.
Jigging is often favored by anglers who enjoy applying a bit of finesse to their fishing. It allows for light tackle, and depending on the type of lure and species of fish, it can be applied in various depths and different types of waterways. Jigging can be highly effective for the majority of the sportfish species in both the Great Lakes and on smaller bodies of water at one time of year or another.
Trolling is one of Wisconsin's most common fishing methods, especially aboard charter boats. It's a very effective way to get the fish biting, and many charter captains and mates favor it because once they've set out all the lines and lures properly, it doesn't require too much skill or experience for their customers to reel the fish in. Plus, using downriggers while trolling allows them to present the baits very deep and at exact depths.
Ice fishing season.
Ice fishing (and, in some areas, sturgeon spearing) season.
It's still ice fishing season some years, though rivers may begin to open up, and walleye and sauger may be available in some areas (while closed to harvest in some others). Where rivers feed into Lake Michigan, steelhead can also be caught.
This is a month of transition; fishing in the rivers can be good, and in some places, the steelhead run may be peaking, but others may still have some ice. Walleye are closed in some waterways but are open in the Great Lakes, and in Green Bay in particular, some very large fish are caught in April.
The first Saturday of the month, the regular inland season opens up, and with post-spawn walleye feeding heavily to recover from all their activity, the bite can get red-hot. This is also when species like bass, musky, and crappie get more active as water temperatures rise.
On the Great Lakes, salmon fishing is in full swing. While the season usually begins in mid-May, by June, limit catches combined with good weather make for ideal salmon fishing conditions. Meanwhile, it's also prime time for bass anglers as largemouth and smallmouth end their spawning and aggressively try to fatten back up.
If you want to catch multiple species on one trip, this is a good time for charter fishing on the Great Lakes as Chinook, lake trout, and steelhead move to deepwater areas. At the same time, summer perch fishing kicks into high gear.
As summer brings warm weather, August offers similar opportunities as July. This is also when some of the largest lake trout of the year are caught, along with some massive Chinook.
The walleye action heats up as the water begins to cool off. September also begins the season when anglers can hook-and-line fish for sturgeon in certain areas (note that a special harvest tag is needed to take one home).
Walleye will feed hard this month as they try to pack on the pounds before winter sets in and peak fall action is in store. Some anglers will also target muskellunge this month since this species is just as interested in preparing for the cold ahead by fattening up.
As a serious chill creeps into the air, salmon, and trout fishing can still be good, but this is when splake starts biting jigs and minnow with abandon. In inland waterways, walleye remains a prime target.
It's time to winterize the boats and break out the ice fishing gear once again.