Wise old anglers will tell you that fishing is a state of mind; a chance to get away and relax amid the simple pleasures of boat and water, and something tugging on the end of your line. There’s no better place to do that than Wisconsin’s lakes and streams.
Wisconsin is a freshwater fishing paradise. We count 15,057 inland lakes – nearly a million acres of water inside the state’s borders. Wisconsin also boasts 2,444 coldwater trout streams totaling 9,235 miles. Add 238 miles along the banks of the Mississippi River and 860 miles of Great Lakes shoreline along Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.
Each year nearly two million people fish in Wisconsin’s waterways. They catch about 72 million fish of various species.
Inland Lakes for Fishing
Wisconsin divides into four inland lake regions: Northern Lakes & Forests, North Central Hardwood Forests, Southeast Wisconsin Plains, and the Southwestern Driftless Area.
Northern Fishing Lakes & Forests
One of the nation’s largest concentrations of natural lakes is found in the northern third of Wisconsin. The ecoregion contains 10,979 lakes covering 466,129 acres of water. Most of the land remains as forest and woodland; its pristine beauty makes it a popular area for tourists and anglers. The northern fishing lakes support walleye, muskellunge, northern pike, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, sturgeon, panfish, lake trout, cisco, whitefish and stocked stream trout. Most fishing lakes and impoundments more than 200 acres in size host self-sustaining walleye populations.
North Central Hardwood Forests
Clusters of shallow lakes and impoundments set in a wide, sandy plain characterize the fishing lakes of the North Central Hardwood Forests. The ecoregion contains 2,960 freshwater lakes covering 211,553 acres.
Although similar in many respects to the Northern Fishing Lakes & Forests, this ecoregion is markedly different due to the diversity of agricultural use. Increased lake fertility allows these waters to support more adult gamefish and panfish per acre. Substantial plant growth provides an excellent fish habitat. Warm water temperature and an abundance of food typically result in higher fish growth rates.
Southeast Wisconsin Plains
The ecoregion contains 844 lakes covering 560,529 acres of water. Fishing lakes here range from large, shallow impoundments to deep, glacial lakes. There is a concentration of older, nutrient-rich lakes that support substantial amounts of aquatic vegetation and an abundance of fish. With plenty of vegetation, these fishing lakes naturally support large numbers of panfish, perch, largemouth bass, catfish, carp, bullhead, and northern pike. Walleye are stocked in many lakes.
The region includes Wisconsin’s largest fishing lake – Lake Winnebago at 137,708 acres. The Lake Winnebago System is recognized as one of the nation’s most productive walleye waters. The lake also offers other fish species including perch, whitebass and sauger fishing as well as a unique sturgeon fishery.
The Southwestern Driftless Area
The southwestern corner of Wisconsin includes that portion of the state not bulldozed by glacial ice 12,000 years ago. It is an area of steep ridges and valleys with outstanding coldwater trout streams on nearly every valley floor. The ecoregion contains 345 lakes covering 36,005 acres of water. Many of the great fishing lakes are impoundments created by the damming of freshwater rivers and streams. The impoundments of the Driftless Area offer good bluegill, crappie and largemouth bass fishing. A few also offer stocked muskellunge and walleye.
Great Lakes Fisheries
Wisconsin’s Great Lakes waters are some of the most productive in the world with tremendous potential for trophy fish. Species of fish include 10-20 pound Rainbow and Brown trout as well as 20-30 pound Lake trout are common, as are limit catches of Coho salmon. Consequently, Wisconsin is the home of a vibrant sport fishing industry. Seventeen port cities on Lake Michigan and anothe r seven on Lake Superior harbor 240+ charter fishing operations. You’ll find experienced captains and fully-equipped boats ready to take you on the blue-water fishing adventure of a lifetime. Wisconsin’s Great Lakes fishery is sustained by the annual stocking of more than 4.5 million salmon and trout.
Stream Management Program
Wisconsin has more than 9,000 miles of coldwater trout streams. We lead the nation in miles of high quality trout streams – those with naturally self-sustaining trout populations – with 3,500 miles of Class I trout streams. That mileage reflects the state’s approach to building and protecting healthy, self-sustaining trout communities by improving habitat and using wild trout as brood stock.