Wisconsin’s winter climate can be unrelentingly frigid; often, it’s tough for Wisconsinites to find a good reason to leave the coziness of indoors in January or February. Fortunately, winter weather facilitates the sport of ice fishing for avid recreationalists. Along with skiing, ice fishing is one of Wisconsin's favorite winter pastimes. And when it comes to lakes, Wisconsin contains some of the most inland water in the country, trailing only Alaska, Michigan and Florida. For those willing enough to bear the cold, we’ve compiled a list of the best of those lakes.
Where to Ice Fish in Wisconsin
The largest lake within Wisconsin, Lake Winnebago is the state’s go-to for ice fishing. Sauger, walleye, perch and white bass swim throughout the 215.2 square-mile lake, while spearfish are predominant in February. The lake is located in eastern Wisconsin with the cities of Oshkosh, Fond du Lac, Neenah and Menasha along its shores. Winnebago harbors about 40,000 sturgeons, which can grow up to seven feet long and 200 pounds; in 2003, the Wisconsin DNR found more sturgeons in Lake Winnebago than anywhere else in the United States. Ice fishers begin their season in late December and wrap up by the end of February.
And don’t forget to catch the Battle on Bago if you’re in town for the yearly event, a fishing tournament with food, drinks, live music and over $275,000 in potential prizes.
The community surrounding Lake Nebagamon, located in Douglas County in northwestern Wisconsin, is so tiny that if you signed up for the town’s annual 5-mile run, you could see it all. The lake itself, with an area of 14.34 square-miles and a maximum depth of 56 feet, is filled with bluegill, brook trout, pike and bass. Ice fishing season typically lasts from early January through March.
“Fisharama,” a yearly ice fishing contest on Lake Nebagamon, rewards ice fishers with cash prizes for their big catches. Nearby cross-country skiing trails at Pattison State Park and Brule River State Forest tend to attract Nebagamon visitors as well.
As Wisconsin's deepest inland lake, Big Green Lake lives up to its name, covering roughly 7400 acres of water and 29 miles of shoreline with an impressive maximum depth of 237 feet. Located in Green Lake County in southern Wisconsin, Big Green Lake is known for quality fishing opportunities due to its high potential for fish growth and steady regulation from the DNR. Perch, bluegill and walleye are favorites for the ice fishing season. Due to its inherent depth, don’t expect safe ice across the lake until Super Bowl Sunday, according to locals.
For vacationers and locals alike, Green Lake County supplies a selection of live music and entertainment events each weekend, including snowshoeing, children’s theater, “paint and pour” classes and polar bear bingo. And for beginners, Big Green Lake is a solid starting point – given that you bring along a fishing guide.
Known locally as one of southern Wisconsin's best-kept secrets, Lake Koshkonong is a shallow body of water (the maximum depth is only seven feet!) with thousands of acres of fishing. The lake, located in the Southern Savanna Region of Wisconsin, passes through Jefferson, Dane and Rock counties and is well stocked by the DNR with walleyes, northern pikes and bluegills. The shallow lake typically freezes from December through March.
For a brief period in the 1970s, the lake was considered as a site for a billion dollar nuclear plant. The plan was killed due to backlash from environmental groups – and who could blame them? The magnificent 10,500-acre lake is deeply loved by locals, who suggest stopping by the Riverfront Resort on Blackhawk Island for a cup of chili on a cold fishing day.
5. Geneva Lake
Located in Walworth County in southeastern Wisconsin, Geneva Lake – named for the town of Geneva, New York, an apparent likeness according to an 1834 government surveyor – covers over eight square miles with a maximum depth of 144 feet. Along the lakeshore, attractions abound; the Big Foot Beach State Park is a hot spot for camping while the University of Chicago-owned Yerkes Observatory, which is open for public tours every Saturday, boasts the world’s largest refracting telescope.
Throughout the winter, Geneva and its surrounding community make up an exceptional winter travel destination. Trophy walleyes are among the most prized catches in Geneva Lake while northern pikes can reach up to 30 pounds. As a moderately deep body of water, Geneva doesn’t freeze until late January. If you find yourself at Geneva with an armful of ice fishing gear and a half-frozen lake, keep in mind that Lakes Delavan and Como are both under 10 miles away and full of opportunity.
This article was written by Caitlin Klask.