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Stories from the River

Muskies on the Madison Chain of Lakes

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Over the years, I’ve given you information and data on the muskie fishing and stocking done in parts of southern Wisconsin. I’ve told you that it isn’t necessary to travel to northern Wisconsin for big muskies. Remember, the muskie season opens weeks earlier when you fish south of U.S. Highway 10.

There is no known reproduction by muskies in the Madison Chain of Lakes which include lakes; Mendota, Monona, Waubesa, Wingra, and Kegonsa. These five lakes form an excellent urban fishery that besides muskies include trophy walleye, northern pike, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, catfish, and all species of panfish. In other words, there is something for all anglers no matter what fish species they choose to fish for in the Madison Chain of Lakes. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has done an outstanding job in taking care of this fishery with constant research and a stocking program for muskies, walleye, and northern pike on the five lake “Chain”. Between the work done by the State DNR and the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center of Limnology (the study of inland waters), the Madison Chain is one of the most studied and researched group of lakes in the country.

The Leech Lake strain of muskies has been stocked in Lake Monona for years. It will be a few years before the stocked fish reach the minimum size of 50 inches. Though, I have “heard” of a couple this big. The Leech Lake muskie strain is known for being able to reproduce in most Midwestern waters and their rapid rate of growth. Wisconsin’s muskie hatchery in Spooner, Wisconsin has proven that they can raise this strain of fish if given the opportunity. Once the eggs are in the hatchery jar, the rearing cost is no more than that of the Wisconsin or Thompson muskie strain that has stocked for decades in the states many lakes and rivers. The State of Wisconsin hopes that once natural reproduction takes place on these “test” lakes (hopefully) stocking may no longer be necessary. In a period of tight budgets and layoffs, reducing hatchery costs with a better muskie strain is the obvious way to go in the future.

The Leech Lake muskies will be compared with the Wisconsin strain of barred muskies to see which strain is best suited for the state’s waters.  The previous Wisconsin D.N.R.’s southern fish manager, Kurt Welke, says that this Leech muskie strain is the beginning of a “thorough and comprehensive multi-year experiment.” The mixing of the two different strains shouldn’t be a problem or threat to the fish populations and environment of Lake Monona. The muskies were tagged with passive-integrated-transponders (PIT) which allow fish technicians to record data for research when a “wand” is passed over the fish. From the data collected from the wand, a technician can write down the number of the fish, the measurables, and the age of the netted fish. This research will take many years before any solid data is available for the fishery managers to compare and then decide what is the fastest growing and most economical muskie to raise and stock in the state’s waters. Hopefully, the stocking will be minimal if the Leech Lake muskies reproduce in our waters.

The future looks bright for the Madison Chain of Lakes if the Leech Lake fish reproduce on their own and minimize the amount of stocking while still maintaining a quality fishery. Muskies over 50 inches have now been caught and verified with photos. Previously, there have been numerous fish in the high 40’s caught in all the lakes with the exception of Lake Mendota. Back in the 1970’s, tiger or hybrid muskies were stocked in the Chain and a few large fish may still remain. Lake Monona and Lake Waubesa have the biggest muskies. Lake Wingra has the highest ratio of fish per acre, but the majority of the larger muskies are in the deeper and larger lakes. I’ve been lucky to accompany the DNR spring netting technicians and see the fish that the Chain lakes possess and anglers dream about. A few years ago, I saw some 30 pound plus muskies netted in both Lake Waubesa and Lake Kegonsa. Lake Wingra also gets some big fish that come up the creek from Lake Monona during the spring and manage to get into Lake Wingra where they do a mock spawning run.

Now that 50 inch muskies are lurking in the waters of Lake Monona and Lake Waubesa and with the lake being only a few hours from some of the Midwest’s larger cities, there will be more muskie hunters coming to these southern Wisconsin waters. If you are able to fish during the week, you’ll usually have little competition and or boat traffic. Night fishing and fishing during low light conditions are also important times when looking for Lake Monona or Lake Waubesa muskies.

Here are a few suggestions for those who want to come to the Madison area and fish for these 50 inch “hawgs.” When fishing Lake Monona, fish the rock humps, points, and deep weeds (particularly the green weeds if you can find them). Jerk baits, bucktails, glide baits, top-water baits, and deep diving crankbaits all work this time of the season. Good colors on these stained waters include; chartreuse, orange, and natural (walleye and perch) hues. There are a couple of rock piles and humps that you’ll find on your maps or LakeMaster chips where casting a big crankbait over shallow water and retrieving over the steep drop-offs works excellently. The nice thing about fishing Lake Monona is that you have deep water (over 70 feet), the Yahara River runs through it giving some current, there’s plenty of weeds, a good forage base which includes ciscos, steep drops, and some good main lake structure. The city side of Lake Monona from the Monona Terrace Convention Center to the Yahara River is good for both casting outside the weedline and contour trolling.

The “Chain’ lakes allow motor trolling, which is the rage these days. Trolling lets the angler cover much more water than just casting and gives the muskie hunter a chance to catch the suspended muskies that you’ll find at times over the lake’s main basin and often miss when casting shallower water. Muskies can be caught with regularity on both Lake Monona and Lake Waubesa by trolling. The same is also true for Lake Kegonsa, but Lake Wingra allows only bow and transom trolling motors on weekends and main motor trolling with no wake during the week.

Out-of-state anglers now have waters closer to home where they can go and fish for a day or a few days and have an opportunity to catch a personal best fish. All of the Madison lakes have great access with county and state parks for camping and launching on and close to all of these lakes. You now can fish for trophy fish without spending a fortune and driving for hours when you could be fishing. You may always go to my website for more information and contact me at .

     Local Information

Wisconsin DNR website,

     State Staff Specialist, Tim Simonson, (608)-267-7498 or

      Guides; Ron Barefield, (608)-235-7685 and . Wally Banfi, (608)-644-9823 or

                    Jeff Hanson, (608)-848-3906, Google Madison musky guide, or

       Bait Shop, D and S Bait and Tackle, Madison. WI. (608)-242-4225 and ask for Gene.       



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