Wisconsin, like Minnesota, conjure visions of fishing shacks or huts strewn across large, frozen-over bodies of freshwater during ice-fishing season. It also whets the appetite—be it a winter one—of anglers fond of walleye, perch, pike and many of the species native to Upper Midwest states.
Like its neighbor states, it hosts river drainages that feed large, productive lakes from spring through winter. Though a warming climate plays havoc on the once dependable ice-over of its traditionally fishy waters, Wisconsin remains one of the most reliable ice-fishing havens in the Lower 48.
With the Big Muddy (Mississippi River) forming the state’s western border and many lesser but significant rivers (e.g., Wisconsin, Flambeau, Fox, Yellow, Red Cedar and Chippewa) providing drainages for numerous lake fishing, the dairy state presents almost too many lakes from which to choose for the ice angler.
Given such hard choices, the following handful of lakes should tickle the fancy of any ice angler, beginner, experienced, young or old.
| New to ice fishing? Check out our Beginners Guide to Ice Fishing here….
6 Best Ice Fishing Lakes in Wisconsin
Perhaps because it is closest to the ‘mostest’ in Wisconsin, we first mention the Madison Chain of lakes—fed by the Sahara River—for the pursuit of good ice fishing. But, if you are slightly misanthropic, you might want to choose one of the many other ice-fishing jewels in Wisconsin.
More than half of the state population can get to these waters in less time than it takes to watch the first half of a Green Bay Packers football game.
Once you arrive, though, you will be greeted with plenty of fish in the way of bluegills, crappies, pike and walleyes depending on the lake you choose (e.g., Mendota, Kegonsa, Monona and Waubesa, possibly the best of the lot).
Black Oak Lake
Not among the largest of ice-fishing waters, Black Oak certainly ranks as one of the most scenic of bountiful lakes during a Wisconsin winter. Not only do Black Oak’s surroundings sparkle in winter, but its waters rank among the clearest in the state.
When the ice is bare enough, you might even be able see the northern pike, perch, bluegill and other panfish clustered below. This 564-acre lake, because of its central location in Vilas County, its fish populations and natural allure, serves as a great choice for introducing the family to ice fishing.
If you like to put jumbo crappies on the dinner table in the dead of winter, Alice can’t be beat when the ice first covers the lake. Part of the Tomahawk River drainage, this gem on the northern edge of Wisconsin may sport as many stumps as trophy crappies, but those snags are part of the reasons crappies proliferate Alice.
Walleyes provide a lot of action immediately after first ice as well. After a few weeks the crappie bite dampens a little but then climaxes just before spring arrives, around the first of March to whenever the ice starts to recede.
Tip: Unlike Black Oak, Alice is noticeably more brackish, calling for brighter colors when using jigs or other lures.
Actually part of the Flambeau River, ice anglers wanting to feel the heft of a lunker pike on the end of their tip-up or rod flock to this 1,870-acre reservoir. Walleye and panfish complement the take of this popular ice-fishing destination in Rusk County.
Big Green Lake
A popular recreational lake year-round, the entirety of this Canadian geese haven doesn’t completely ice over as soon as its northern neighbors. However, once the end of January expires the geese depart and the flocks of ice anglers arrive.
Ice fishers can usually count on a mixed bag of pike, trout, walleye and some keeper ciscoes (a freshwater herring eaten by larger sportfish) from this deep lake.
Find most of these fish on its shallower shelves from 20 to 70 feet deep. The ciscoes especially make this lake enjoyable for kids and adults on their first ice-fishing trip.
Another stump-filled wonder, Nelson best suits anglers—especially young ones—seeking action from panfish. Because it’s shallow, this northern Wisconsin lake can easily and safely be ice fished once winter earnestly begins—proving perfect for the little angler.
Bluegills respond well to bait and jigs here, as do crappies. If you want to bing home a gaggle of fish with the family and enjoy a fun winter outing, Nelson produces.
Final words on Ice Fishing in Wisconsin
Wisconsin is not called the Land o’ Lakes for nothing. Each lake freezes over at its own rate, depending on its location (north or south) the severity of the winter and the depth of the lake or reservoir. ‘