Mike Rowe with a nice bluegill. / Submitted by Gary Engberg
Wally Banfi of Sauk City with a nice gill. / Submitted by Gary Engberg
D and S Bait and Tackle in Madison. (608)-241-4225.
Wilderness Fish and Game in Sauk City. (608)-643-2433.
Southern Wisconsin is blessed with having many bodies of water that hold good size and numbers of bluegills. All of the lakes that are recommended in this article are within an hour’s drive of Madison in southern Wisconsin. The Madison lakes can be crowded on weekends, but all these lakes can provide good action most of the time, if you put in the effort and time.
• Around Madison, fish the downtown area around the “Triangle” of Brittingham Park and Monona Bay for bluegill numbers. You’ll have to sort through smaller fish for your keepers, but you can get some 8 inch or better fish and it’s a great place to take the children because of the action. Most of the water is five feet or less.
• Lake Mendota, the largest lake in the Madison Chain, freezes last, but has big bluegills. Marshall Park on the west end on the lake, has a small lagoon near the boat landing which is a proven producer for bluegills. Mendota has some of the largest ‘gills in the area with fish over 9 inches.
• Warner Bay on Mendota’s north-east corner, is a quality location throughout the season. There’s a distinct break line and plenty of green weeds. While bluegill fishing, put out a few tip-ups with shiners for the big pike that inhabit the lake.
• Lake Wabesa, south of Madison, has good fishing at the north end and around Hog Island. There’s also good panfish action straight out from the Lake Farm boat landing in water 7 feet deep and less.
• North of Madison, about a half an hours drive, is Fish and Crystal Lakes, near the town of Roxbury. Both of these lakes provide good bluegill fishing throughout the winter. Fish Lake is weedy and the water level has recently been lowered, but it contains plenty of fish that readily bite. This is another “action” lake, meaning that you’ll catch fish. But, again you will have to sort through them for your meal. Crystal Lake has larger fish and also has a good population of crappies and perch. The deepest water is 10 feet deep. One of the better locations to fish is the east end, where you’ll find many stumps and trees which seem to hold the good size fish most of the season. Keep moving around till you contact fish.
• Gallus Slough, on the north end of Lake Wisconsin and about 7 miles outside Sauk City, requires a little walk to get there. The slough is just north of Lake Wisconsin’s Moon Valley and off Highway’s 78 and 113. There’s parking along Highway 113 and a ten minute walk to the slough. This walk may scare a few anglers, especially if there’s some snow on the ground, but the walk is well worth it! Gallus is shallow with all water less than five feet. The bluegills that you’ll find are some of the larger in the area and I’d definitely put this on my “must fish” list. Bluegills over 8 inches are the norm and there are many 9 inches and larger.
• Devils Lake, south of Baraboo, though known for its trout fishing has a sizeable population of quality ‘gills. The best locations are at the south and east end of the lake. There’s plenty of parking and the walk is not too long, but you need a state park sticker. You can buy daily and yearly stickers at the park’s office on the lake’s north end. You’ll catch bluegills, crappies, and sunfish. I suggest looking for the green weeds (as always) and fishing near the creek mouth on the south end.
• The last spots that are recommended are all the sloughs along the Wisconsin River. Highway 60 runs from Sauk City to Spring Green and there are numerous backwaters that hold most fish species and particularly bluegills. Traveling west from Sauk City, the sloughs will be on your left where the Wisconsin River flows. There’s been enough fall and early winter precipitation, so there’s been enough moisture to fill these backwaters. Rainbow, Badger, Jones, and Helena Sloughs can all be productive. Remember, to be extra careful here because there is flowing water from the Wisconsin River in these areas.
You now have numerous good spots to fish and catch bluegills in southern Wisconsin.
The other suggestions that I have are:
1. Use a quality monofilament (Berkley Ice) in 2# test. The smaller diameter line really makes a difference.
2. Make sure that you are using a spring bobber (Frabill makes a new one that’s great) to detect the slightest bite.
3. Have a good selection of jigs in all sizes and colors (Bait Rigs Cobra is a panfish killer and Custom Jigs and Spins make great panfish gear). Change jigs and colors till you find what the fish want that day.
4. Try using some of the new plastics for bluegills. I know many good fishermen who use nothing but plastics with great success.
5. If using live bait, wax worms seem to work best, but spikes and golden rods work too.
6. Trust your electronics, especially if fishing in water deeper than 5 feet. The new color units (Lowrance) are great and easy to use.
7. Drill all your holes before you start fishing, so that you don’t keep spooking fish. Keep moving and experimenting till you find the active fish.
Now, be careful, dress warm, and get out and try these bluegill waters! As I write, anglers are fishing on the Fish Lake, the Madison Triangle, Lake Waubesa, and Cherokee Lake, but there is only 2-3 inches of ice which is a little bit too small for me!
The month of December can provide some of the year’s best hunting if you don’t mind colder weather and hard walking. But, the rewards of bagging a beautiful rooster, not to mention the exercise, are well worth it. Many of the stocked pheasants have been shot, but there still are roosters (as I said earlier) on public land in the hard to get at places, where most hunters won’t go or on neighboring lands. Some of these “spots” may also require the hunter to wear waders or hip boots, but they will hold pheasants.
Some other factors that help add to the lure of December pheasant hunting are:
1. Most row crops have been harvested, so there’s less cover for birds to hide in.
2. Most hunters have put their guns away for the year, which means little competition.
3. If there’s snow on the ground (and there is), you can see if there have been pheasants where you are hunting and where they’ve gone by following their tracks.
A few more suggestions;
• It’s better to hunt in small groups or alone because pheasants have seen and heard it all by now. Noise is associated with danger, so a quiet and stealth approach is mandatory for success.
• Walk slowly and allow your dog to work scent. Walk and stop now and then because smart roosters will sit tight and often let the hunter walk by them.
• Hunt the edges of cover instead of trying to cover big fields. I like to have my Labs work the heaviest cover that I can find for pheasants that would rather run than fly.
• Isolated islands of cover, even if small, can hold pheasants in December. Cover is at a premium now, so try to hunt anything that looks “birdy”.
• Get out early in the morning before sunrise to catch the birds feeding and picking grit on roadsides.
• Hunting before weather fronts move in and during bad weather can be hot hunting!
• Drive around the counties with good cover that I’ve suggested and look for any CRP land or land enrolled in any government programs. Knock on doors and ask farmers and landowners if you can hunt their land. This isn’t South Dakota, so you can often gain permission to hunt pheasants by just asking the owner. Finding any existing CRP land is still one of the single most important factors in late season hunting because there will be cover and food during the harsh winter months. Any corn or other crops left standing is a bonus and be sure to be quiet before starting to hunt these lands because roosters will be running the other way at the first truck door being slammed, any loud talking, and any yelling at your dog! Being quiet is of utmost importance if you want to harvest late season pheasants.
Dress warm and keep hunting till the end of the month. You’ll be surprised at the birds you can harvest and how peaceful and productive a December day hunting pheasants can be!
Visit the Wisconsin DNR website for more information at www.dnr.state.wi.us.
Gary Engberg is a professional tournament angler, fishing guide, and writer. He began fishing tournaments in the early 1990’s and has fished the In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail (PWT), North American Walleye Association (NAWA), Masters Walleye Circuit (MWC), World Walleye Association (WWA), FLW, and Mercury Nationals in the years since. Gary has hosted the Outdoor Horizons radio show weekly for 14 years in Madison on WTDY 1670 AM and WTDY 106.7 FM Saturdays at 8:05 am. and is also a correspondent for the Wisconsin State Journal for the last 12 years. Visit http://www.garyengbergoutdoors.com for more from Gary Engberg.