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Catching Muskies on the Lower Wisconsin River

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I’ve lived on the Lower Wisconsin River for almost three decades. Yikes, that’s getting to be a long time! My home is about five miles downriver from the Prairie du Sac Dam which is the last dam on the Wisconsin River when heading toward the Mississippi River. From the dam, the Wisconsin River flows unobstructed to the convergence with the Mississippi River at Prairie du Chien, some 85 miles downriver. Above the Prairie du Sac Dam and to the north is Lake Wisconsin, which is basically a flowage of the river that flows south and west from the Kilbourn Dam at Wisconsin Dells. I’m trying to give you a little history on how the population of muskies in the Wisconsin River and the Lower Wisconsin River got there and that their numbers seem to be growing or at least maintaining their numbers.

There is a fishable population of muskies below the Prairie du Sac Dam to the Highway 12 Bridge and in lesser numbers from Highway 12 Bridge downriver (Lower Wisconsin River) to the Mississippi River. Muskies are regularly being caught in this three or four mile stretch below the dam by casting, trolling, and “soaking suckers.” I may not use any live bait this fall because I like to know that I’m helping the fishery and giving others a chance to catch these magnificent fish. Some of the river’s muskies have come from Lake Wisconsin during periods of extremely high water and to a lesser extent other muskies have traveled up from the Mississippi River and joined the local fishery. The DNR in the past has stocked Lake Wisconsin with muskies over the years which gave them a start in the lake and river. Now, muskies are relatively common and anglers who want to try a new body of water should find time to experiment and fish the Wisconsin River. I know of many fish from 36” to 46” caught the last few years with a few even larger and above or close to the “magical” 50 inch mark.

There is a scour hole below the dam from periods of high water in the spring where there are water depths of 30 feet or more. The water is cooler and there is an abundance of forage fish for muskies to grow fat on and find water that is comfortable for them even in the warmer summer months.

As I said, muskies have been stocked in Lake Wisconsin, which is just the other side of the dam, for years. However these muskies came into the river, they have found a home where they are growing due to a good forage base and possibly reproducing. Previously, most muskies were caught accidently by anglers who were fishing for walleyes and saugers during the spring and fall. Now, you can go out and put in at any of the local boat ramps and be muskie fishing in a matter of a few minutes! The boat landing that I would recommend is the new one at the VFW Park which is a mile or so below the dam or the public landing across the “Bridge” near the Quick Trip store and the Highway 12 Bridge in Sauk City. From there, you have a short ride to the Prairie du Sac Dam or start fishing at the “Bridge” and the small island on the east shore just past the canoe landing where there are a couple of spring holes with cooler water for the warm months.

If you launch at the VFW, try starting your fishing on the east shoreline close to the dam. I’d spend some time (at least an hour) casting your favorite muskie baits. Bucktails, jerkbaits, glidebaits, spinner baits, top water baits, and shallow running crankbaits because they will all catch muskies in the Wisconsin River. The Bait Rigs Esox Cobra jigs are catching muskies with their plastic and reaper tail combinations. Other baits that work particularly well in the river’s stained water are; all Smity Baits, Bucher Shallow Raiders, Grandma Baits, Mann’s Minus 1’s Jerkbaits, Lee Lures top-water baits, Bull Dawgs, and Hog Wobblers. The best colors are natural ones like perch, shad, and firetiger. Baits that give off a flash, some sound, and vibrations are the keys for catching these river fish in water that doesn’t allow much visibility!

As I said, the east shoreline is one of the best locations to start your fishing with its rocky shoreline and large back eddy along the golf course. Also, work the willow trees and brush near the islands on both sides of the river which is just a couple hundred yards from the dam. From there, I’d fish both sides of the river all the way to the Highway 12 Bridge which is a few miles downriver. You’ll find slack water areas, some wood, riprap shorelines, bridge abutments, islands, flats, deep drops, rock, gravel, points, and spring holes in this couple mile stretch to the bridge. This entire area holds muskies! Be sure to fish both the east and west shores of the river. One of my favorite ways to fish is to use your Minn Kota bow mount trolling motor (make sure it’s fully charged and that you have good thrust power) to position your boat and slowly drift while casting the shorelines for fish. Recently, the muskies have been very aggressive and are attacking top-water baits and big bladed spinnerbaits like Cowgirls. Maybe, the recent cool weather has them thinking fall is coming earlier this year?

Downriver near the Highway 12 Bridge is the old Ray’s Riverside Resort (now closed and a canoe rental business) and a small island with a small bay. Fish this area because there are springs in the little bay that hold muskies during much of the year. Use the public landing across from Quick Trip store for fishing this spot.

Trolling is also legal in the Wisconsin River and give it a try if you want to cover a lot of territory while looking for muskies! You should be able to have some action on both sides of the Wisconsin River as you travel downriver and motor back upriver toward the dam. Use the normal muskie gear that you would use when fishing for big fish. The minimum size in the river is 40” inches and one fish per day limit. But, I also hope that you release these fish to grow and hopefully reproduce. I was part of a group of local anglers that submitted a resolution in the Spring Hearings some years ago to raise the size limit to a more respectable 50 inches which was shot down at the Hearings. One other suggestion, don’t muskie fish when you have water temperatures over 80 degrees as it can be during the end of August and into September. Fighting fish in water this warm puts way too much stress on these big fish, so be careful if the weather and water get too warm. Try to keep your muskie in the water and your net, while trying to avoid touching them too much (make sure your hands are wet), and if you take a photo try to make it quick before releasing the fish.

  Contacts;

 Guides; Wally Banfi, (608)-644-9823, Lee Tauchen, (608)-444-2180, Ron Barefield, (608)-838-8756, and Gary Engberg, (608)-795-4208.

 Call; Wilderness Fish and Game for bait (suckers), gear, and local information. (608)-643-5229 and ask for Wally.  

 www.garyengbergoutdoors.com     

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