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Fly fishing Wisconsin and the northern Midwest is extremely underrated. The tributaries off of the Great Lakes provide countless fishing opportunities that most people outside of the Midwest never even bother to consider.
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Wisconsin is bordered by both Lake Superior and Lake Michigan and holds 13,000 miles of classified trout streams, making it one of the best fly fishing destinations in the US.
It’s the perfect location for a die-hard fly angler. You’ll find all of the trophy fish your heart desires in the midst of gorgeous landscapes.
Growing up in Minnesota, I wasn’t a big fan of Wisconsin football teams, but I appreciated their fisheries. I’ve spent countless hours exploring the entire state in search of trout, bass, salmon, and many other types of fish.
I’ve caught fish on the fly in small streams up north, along the shores of Lake Michigan, and even in the Milwaukee River in downtown Milwaukee. The quantity of fish and the variety of water in Wisconsin is truly awe-inspiring.
It’s a state I’ll always visit when I’m looking to fish. There seems to always be another pristine lake or creek waiting around every corner in Wisconsin.
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Why Are People Fly Fishing in Wisconsin?
Anglers in Wisconsin will never run out of water to explore. The thousands of places to fish usually means you never feel crowded.
In Wisconsin, I’ve encountered the seclusion many fly anglers desire and have never had to venture too far into the wilderness. And on top of Wisconsin’s exceptional fishing, there’s access to some of the country’s best cheese curds and breweries.
What to Pack for a Fly Fishing Trip in Wisconsin
Here are a few of the essential items for any fly fishing trip. I bring all of these along on my fly fishing expeditions in Wisconsin, as there are so many different styles of fishing in the state.
- A fly fishing vest: Pack your leader, line, nippers, and flies close to your chest.
- A fly fishing pack: Whether it’s a sling or a backpack, these are good for packing even more gear.
- Fly fishing waders: Ideal to get into those difficult spots in the river
- Fly fishing boots: Keep the feet on your waders protected from sharp rocks.
- Your best fly rod overall: Bring your favorite rod.
- Your best fly reel overall: Pack it with your best reel.
- A 3 weight fly rod: For smaller trout species
- A 5 weight fly rod: For medium sized fish
- A 7 weight fly rod: Versatile and good for larger fish
- An 8 weight fly rod: Good for most of the biggest fish you’ll catch in Wisconsin
- Fly fishing sunglasses: A good polarized pair of lenses to remove the glare from the water and protect your eyes from UV rays
- Fly fishing net: Get a rubber net to protect the fish. Make sure it’s large enough to land 20lb+ fish.
- A fly fishing combo set: You can pick up a combo kit that comes with all (or most) of the above.
- A fly box: Bring your best waterproof fly box to keep your flies safe and dry while fishing in Wisconsin.
- Flies: Gutless Frogs, Terrestrials, Pheasant Tails, PMDs, Prince Nymphs, baitfish patterns, minnows, Woolly Buggers, Chubby Chernobyls, Black Caddisflies, Sex Dungeons, and midges are all excellent flies for Wisconsin lakes and rivers.
Fish Species for Anglers
In Wisconsin, you’ll find three types of trout along with steelhead, salmon, and any other sort of game fish you could want. Sizable bass, pike, and carp are all available to anglers. You won’t have to venture far to catch a variety of fish.
In Wisconsin, you’ll find 13,000 miles of classified trout streams. Brook trout are the only native trout in the waters of Wisconsin, and this is an attractant for many anglers.
These fish are only around 10 inches long, and it’s not easy to find native brook trout in the United States.
To catch brookies, use Royal Wulffs, Black Caddis, Grey Leeches, and Woolly Buggers. These will all land brook trout throughout the year. You’ll find them in the Rush, Bois Brule, and Pine rivers.
Rainbow trout are regularly stocked in Wisconsin, but these fish also naturally reproduce in many of the rivers. As a result, you’ll find some large rainbows that you wouldn’t expect to find in a Midwest state. It’s not uncommon to find these upwards of 10 pounds.
I’ve caught rainbows using Woolly Buggers, Mosquito Flies, Tricos, and Little Black Caddis Flies. You can find them in most designated trout streams across the state including the Kickapoo River, Black Earth Creek, and the Kinnickinnic.
Brown trout are also stocked all throughout Wisconsin. These are some of the heartiest trout species in existence. As a result, you’ll find them mixing in with bass populations in the warmer portions of rivers. The brown trout can be found around 8 pounds throughout Wisconsin rivers.
To catch browns, stop at the Kinnickinnic, Pike, and Root rivers. The Pike and Root rivers also hold lake-run salmon and steelhead, so be prepared for a fun day of fishing. To catch browns, use X-legs, Golden Stoneflies, and BWO patterns.
The lake-run salmon in Wisconsin are an amazing fish to catch. These fish head to the Lake Michigan and Superior tributaries when it’s time for them to spawn in September, and they don’t stop running until October. These fish will strike on reaction flies and can weigh up to 15 or 20 pounds.
To catch salmon in Wisconsin, fish the Menomonee, Pike, and Manitowoc rivers. These fish will hit swinging or dead drifting streamers. Egg Sucking Leeches, egg patterns, Woolly Buggers, and any sort of loud, boisterous fly you throw their way will work.
Muskie are becoming more and more popular to target on the fly. They’re an extremely strong fish and the fight on a fly rod is unbeatable. You’ll need your 8 to 10-weight rod to handle these 40-inch monsters.
You’ll find muskie in the Big St. Germain, Rainbow Flowage, and Boom Lake. They’ll also head into the tributaries off of these lakes, so be prepared to explore. Muskie like to hit Snake Charmers, Muskie Moneys, Northwoods Ninjas, and any other bright fly. Their strikes are aggressive, so beware!
Bass are common all throughout Wisconsin. You can catch them in any body of water across the state. These are great fish to target if you’re learning to fly fish and want quite a bit of action. You can find these around 6 or 7 pounds throughout Wisconsin.
I’ve hooked into bass in the Kakagon as well as the Sheboygan River. These fish love to hit baitfish patterns. Cluster Minnows, Woolly Buggers, and any sort of crayfish fly you throw their way will catch fish. Few fish fight better than smallmouth bass!
Best Fly Fishing Spots in Wisconsin
Wisconsin provides an equal amount of lake and river fishing opportunities. You can’t go wrong with either, so take your pick! You can easily fish rivers and lakes in the same day if you’re struggling to decide.
Fish in Wisconsin live in both urban and remote settings. Depending on your time limit, you can escape to Northwoods lakes or urban streams. There’s no such thing as a bad fishing spot in Wisconsin!
Fly Fishing Rivers in Wisconsin
It’s hard to list only five rivers to fly fish in Wisconsin. There are so many quality fisheries to experience, but these five will provide you with enough action to forget about the rest of the spots you could be hitting throughout the state.
📍Directions: Rush River, WI
The Rush River is my personal favorite for Wisconsin fly fishing due to its accessibility as well as beauty. In the Rush, you’ll find both brook and brown trout. These fish are hungry and always seem to be willing to eat.
Casting lanes are fairly easy to find as long as you’re able to wade. A set of waders is recommended because the water tends to be cold all year round. Don’t forget your polarized sunglasses because the water clarity leads to great sight fishing.
In the Rush, I typically use a 5 or 6-weight with 3x leader and 5x tippet. Its wild brook trout are often skeptical, and you want to intrude as little as possible. Also, weight forward and floating line are smart to bring. Use Black Caddis and leech patterns to catch Rush River fish.
📍Directions: Flambeau River, WI
The Flambeau River is one of the few wild rivers in Wisconsin. The Department of Natural Resources does little to care for this river due to its impressive ability to care for itself. You’ll find amazing bass and muskie fishing in the Flambeau.
You can never go wrong with a small Jon boat or canoe on the Flambeau. This gives you opportunities to fish all sorts of structure and fight the larger fish without worrying about snags. Shore fishing is also quality with plenty of access points with solid casting lanes.
Bring your 9 or 10-weight rod with weight forward line and 2x leader. You’ll catch fish on Wildwoods 3M Minnow, Rattlin’ Baitfish, Lefty’s Deceiver and Poppers. These fish are guaranteed to tire you out, but it’s well worth the effort.
📍Directions: Kickapoo River, WI
The Kickapoo River flows into the Driftless region in Wisconsin. Check out the article on Minnesota fly fishing to learn more about the Driftless. The Kickapoo has 30 miles of designated trout water filled with browns, rainbows and brook trout.
The Kickapoo is a great river to wade fish. The waters aren’t unbearable and you’ll have plenty of locations to access. Be prepared to do some hiking because there are quality holes around every single bend. Be accurate with your casts, as these fish are picky.
To land fish on the Kickapoo, try San Juan Worms, Krystal Buggers, Pheasant Tail, and midge patterns. Also, you’ll only need your 4 or 5-weight. The water requires some technical casting, but the fishing is wonderful. Test your skills and see what you can find.
📍Directions: Root River, WI
The Root River is a great spot to go in the spring and fall if you’re targeting salmon, steelhead and lake-run brown trout. The summer can be a difficult time to fish the Root, but the fall and spring make up for the lack of summer fishing.
You’ll find great access all along the river, but be sure you have room to fight these large fish. They’ll take you in every direction possible and you’ll need the space to land them. Bring your 8-weight rod with you!
To catch these fish, use Steelhead Hammers, Egg Flies, Woolly Buggers, and Bunny Muddlers. You’ll want sinking tip line to get to the depths where these fish like to congregate. Also, 0x tippet on nine-foot leader will handle larger fish.
📍Directions: Milwaukee River, WI
The Milwaukee River is perfect for the angler looking to catch numerous species of freshwater fish. In the fall and spring, you’ll find steelhead, salmon, and trout, and in the summer you can catch smallmouth bass.
The Milwaukee River runs right through the heart of Milwaukee. Access is plentiful and the feeling of catching a salmon or steelhead while you’re surrounded by tall buildings is something you’ll never forget.
Don’t forget to bring your 8-weight to the Milwaukee. You’ll want sinking tip line if you’re targeting steelhead and salmon and weight forward line if you’re after the bass.
Use Egg Sucking Leeches, Woolly Buggers, Poppers, and Zonkers while fishing the Milwaukee. It’s one of the more unique rivers you’ll fish in your life. Give it a visit on your next trip to Wisconsin.
Fly Fishing Lakes in Wisconsin
Fishable lakes in Wisconsin are extremely easy to find. Besides the obvious choices of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, you can fish thousands of other lakes filled with bass, trout, and muskie.
There are numerous resorts and campgrounds all around the lakes in Wisconsin. Bring your family and enjoy a nice weekend on the water. Also, the fish in lakes rarely see flies, so be ready to catch a trophy.
📍Directions: Long Lake, WI
Long Lake is a 3-mile lake off of the East Branch of the Milwaukee River. The lake provides wonderful bass and pike fishing in the fall and spring. Recreational boat use in the summer can be frustrating, but fall and spring fishing is well worth your time.
On Long Lake, I like to fish both from shore and a boat. A boat will give you a slight advantage, but shore fishing is always productive. Pack your waders because the covered shorelines don’t make life easy for fly anglers.
Take your 7 or 8-weight to Long Lake. Snake Charmers, Poppers and Gutless Frogs are the flies to bring to the lake. Big flies mean big fish! Bring your family and sneak away with the fly rod.
📍Directions: Trout Lake, WI
While the name hints at a certain type of fish, anglers don’t visit Trout Lake for the trout fishing. While there is a strain of inland lake trout that live in the water, the muskie fishing is what attracts anglers.
Trout Lake is best fished by boat. The tall pine trees that surround the entire shoreline can lead to a challenging day of casting. A kayak, canoe, or small boat will be just fine. Take in the beautiful scenery and do your best to land one of those trophy muskie.
You’ll want your 9 or 10-weight rod for Trout Lake. It’s difficult to describe what a fight with a muskie is like without experiencing it for yourself. They’re extremely strong and always seem like they’re on the verge of breaking the rod.
Use Snake Charmers, Cluster Minnows, Woolly Buggers, and any sort of vibrant streamer. Create as much action as you can and see what happens.
📍Directions: Fox Lake, WI
Fox Lake is in Dodge County and is fairly accessible from any portion of the state. Fox Lake is another great muskie and bass fishery. I’ve never had trouble finding either of these fish when the conditions are right.
Fox Lake can be fished both from shore and a boat. Like many Wisconsin lakes, the shores are surrounded by pine forests so if you do shore fish, give yourself plenty of room to cast.
To catch these fish, use your 8 or 9-weight and large attractor flies. 3D Minnows, Cluster Minnows, Woolly Buggers, and crayfish are the best flies to use. They take some getting used to when it comes to casting. Enjoy the chance to fish some large streamers for massive fish.
📍Directions: Lake Wisconsin, WI
Lake Wisconsin is one of the most accessible fisheries on the list. If you don’t have enough time for a weekend getaway, Lake Wisconsin will fill all of your game fish needs. Bass and panfish are plentiful throughout the lake and capable of being caught.
There are all sorts of access points on Lake Wisconsin. You won’t have any trouble fishing from shore. If you do have access to a boat, great, but it’s not necessary for catching fish.
Panfish are always entertaining to catch on the fly. Technical casts with light flies usually seem to do the trick. If you want to catch panfish, bring bee, hopper and ant patterns. If you’re after bass, Poppers and Gutless Frogs will always work.
This is an excellent lake to visit if you only have an hour or two to fish.
📍Directions: Jute Lake, WI
Jute Lake is located in a remote portion of Wisconsin. I’ve hooked into large bass and muskie in its waters. This lake receives less pressure and is in one of the prettiest parts of Wisconsin.
To fish this lake, you’ll want to be on the water. The shorelines have minimal access and the depths increase close to shore. Therefore, bring your Jon boat, canoe, or kayak.
To catch these fish, you’ll want a mix of dries and streamers. Poppers and Gutless Frogs are smart choices for dries. Woolly Buggers, Grey Leeches and Cluster Minnows work for streamers. Find structure and cast near it. The fish will leave protection to chase a large streamer.
Wisconsin Fishing Season
Although the official fly fishing season in Wisconsin varies depending on what “zone” you’re in, anglers can fly fish the state all year round.
Many streams stay open throughout the winter, but fishing becomes far less productive. Snowmelt also causes many issues in Wisconsin. It’s not uncommon for many streams and rivers to flood in the spring.
As a result, do your best to begin your season as the temperatures warm and runoff is minimal. End it when the snow begins to fly, unless you’re a die-hard!
Fly Fishing Wisconsin in April
Fly fishing Wisconsin in April can be a bit tricky. Depending on the temperature, the rivers may be full of snowmelt. If they aren’t, the fishing is going to be great. The temperatures are warm and the trout are hungry. Use BWOs, Scuds, and Little Black Caddis flies.
The steelhead are running! Regardless of conditions, you need to be on the water targeting these fish. Dead drift your nymphs and streamers to catch these fish.
Fly Fishing Wisconsin in May
Fly fishing Wisconsin in May is very similar to April. Depending on the year’s precipitation levels, you’ll see different quality fishing. Target the tailwaters and use BWOs, Hendricksons, Sulphers, and leech patterns.
The steelhead run is coming to a close, so trout fishing is the way to go.
Fly Fishing Wisconsin in June
By June, the rivers and streams should return to normal levels and you’ll have quality fishing all over the state. The ice is out on all of the lakes and the bass are very hungry.
Use Sulpher, Slate Drakes, Hex, and Scud patterns in June. Dry fly season is heating up!
Fly Fishing Wisconsin in July
The temperatures in Wisconsin in July can be very warm and humid. Be sure to hit the cold-water streams and see what you can find. The fish will be in the deeper holes waiting for the large streamers and dry fly hatches.
Go ahead and throw Tricos, BWOs, and terrestrials. They’re starting to make more of an appearance on the water. You’ll have a blast using the terrestrial flies. They lead to massive strikes.
Fly Fishing Wisconsin in August
August is my personal favorite time of year for fly fishing Wisconsin. The temperatures are still warm, but the terrestrial bite is in full swing. Hoppers are the name of the game on all of the rivers in August.
Cast along the banks and strip them slowly. Be prepared to catch large fish. If you fish terrestrials right around dusk, the large trout are ready to feed and make you wish dusk lasted forever.
The salmon begin to run in August, so be prepared for an entertaining fall!
Wisconsin Fly Fishing in September
BWOs make another appearance in September. These are great to throw in the second half of the month. It has been a while since these flies have been around, so the fish are eager to eat them.
Temperatures begin to cool and the leaves start to change. For pleasant temperatures and gorgeous scenery, there’s no better time to be in Wisconsin than September.
Salmon are in full run mode, so have your 8-weight along with Egg Sucking Leeches and Woolly Buggers.
Wisconsin Fly Fishing in October
Fly fishing in Wisconsin in October is beautiful. Fall colors are in full swing and the fish are fattening up before winter. BWOs are still around, but Scuds, Leeches, and San Juan Worms will catch the most fish.
Enjoy the last bit of warm weather in Wisconsin! The salmon run is coming to a close. Do your best to catch one of the last lake run fish of the year.
Best Fly Fishing Lodges in Wisconsin
Wisconsin has numerous fishing lodges spread throughout the state. While few are strictly dedicated to fly fishing, many provide wonderful access to the above-mentioned lakes and rivers.
Let the guides know you’re a fly angler and they’ll accommodate.
Treeland Resort is located on the Chippewa Flowage. Here, you can find trophy muskie and secluded waters. There’s everything from RV pads to large cabins. Bring your family and fish some of the best muskie water in the country.
Brantwood Lodge teamed up with Great Northern Fly Fishing to offer guided trips and lodging options. You’ll have access to the Upper Wisconsin and Flambeau Rivers. You can book a cabin or reserve an RV spot.
A guided fly fishing trip will cost you $450 for up to two people.
Brook Haven Lodge
Located in Hayward, Brook Haven is a great place to visit with the family. Private ponds along with access to several quality rivers make it a wonderful place to stay. You can book a room and guided fishing package for $400 per night. It accommodates up to two people.
To Summarize the Fly Fishing in Wisconsin
Fly fishing in Wisconsin is a well-kept secret. Anglers love the seclusion the state has to offer as well as the large fish. Wild brook trout, salmon, steelhead, and muskie are all popular targets on the fly and provide months of fun.
Another one of my favorite things about Wisconsin is the quantity of good waters all so close to each other. On numerous occasions I’ve fished a river and a lake in the same day, catching loads of fish.
Visit Wisconsin and you’ll be extremely impressed. The fishing combined with its beauty make it a difficult place to leave.
Some images in this post are courtesy of Shutterstock.com.
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