Southern Wisconsin is blessed with having numerous bodies of water that have good bluegill populations for the ice fisherman. The ten lakes and sloughs that I’ve recommended are all near Madison, Wisconsin and the Sauk City/Wisconsin River area. The Madison lakes can attract large numbers of anglers on weekends, but there’s always plenty of room and more than enough fish for everyone. All of these waters provide bluegills, crappies, and perch most of the time, if you put in the effort, time, and do a little research.
The recent cold spell has gotten anglers out on most of these waters that are suggested, but still use care when going on any ice and particularly ice that you are used to fishing. The reports that I’ve received have lakes with anywhere from 3 to 5 inches of ice. More ice will be made this week with another cold front coming by the weekend. The only deterrent to thicker ice is the “regular’ snow that has been falling every few days and insulating the ice and preventing more from building up. Here are my best picks for bluegills in southern Wisconsin;
1) In Madison, fish the downtown “Triangle” area of Brittingham Park and Monona Bay for bluegill numbers. You’ll have to sort thru the bluegills for “keepers”, but there are 8 inch fish and bigger. It’s a great place to take the children because most of the time you’ll be catching fish. The area freezes early and most of the water you fish is five feet deep or less.
2) Lake Mendota, the largest lake in the “Chain”, freezes last, but it contains some of the biggest bluegills that I know of in this part of Wisconsin. University Bay produced some of the largest bluegills that I’ve seen a few years ago starting in mid December. I hope that anglers didn’t keep too many of these ‘slaps”. The great bite lasted most of the winter. Most fish were over 8 inches and there were always 10 inch fish too. Marshall Park, on the lake’s west side near Middleton, has a small lagoon near the boat landing which is a proven producer of nice bluegills. This spot is particularly good the first month of the season soon after freeze-up. But, it can get crowded so I’d be there before sunrise
3) Also, at the west side of Mendota, is Spring Harbor, which is small bay with a one hole boat landing and a fishing pier. The water here freezes early and can hold good numbers of bluegills and a few crappies too. Don’t be afraid to put out a tip-up for the lake’s big pike. There also are walleyes here early in the winter and before they move to the main lake structure, so besides pike try to target some walleyes. This past week, a 30 inch and 10 pound plus walleye were caught here by a friend of mine.
4) Warner Bay on Mendota’s north-east corner is a quality location throughout the season. There’s good access from the large parking lot and boat landing. The bay has a distinct break line and plenty of green weeds. Try fishing water that is 10 feet deep and less for most species and especially for bluegills. This is another spot to put out a tip-up for pike while fishing for ‘gills.
5) Lake Wabesa, south of Madison, has good bluegill activity at the lake’s north end and around Hog Island. One of the better access points is from Lake Farm Park. Go straight out from the boat landing at the park and fish the scattered weed patches in water 7 feet and less. When fishing the Madison lakes and Dane County, your ATV or snowmobile must have floatation devices on it. Check the local and state regulations before fishing Dane County waters.
6) Fish and Crystal Lakes, are near the town of Roxbury and about a half an hours drive from Madison if you drive up Highway 12. Both of these lakes provide good bluegill action throughout the winter. Fish Lake is weedy and the water has been high covering many old trees and stumps which provide good habitat for the ‘gills. This is an “action” lake meaning you’ll catch fish, but many will be small. Sort through them and you’ll get enough for a few great meals! Crystal Lake is next to Fish Lake, but has larger fish and numbers of crappies and perch. The deepest water is only 10 feet deep. One of the best “hot spots” is at the far east end, where you’ll find many stumps and trees that provide good structure and you should fish near them for steady action. Keep moving from hole to hole until you contact fish. Drill all of your holes when you first get on the ice, so that you are not constantly spooking the shallow water fish. Soon, anglers will be fishing Crystal Lake when it has about 5 inches of good ice.
7) Gallus Slough is located just north of Lake Wisconsin and about 7 miles out of Sauk City. The slough is north of the Moon Valley Landing and just off Highway’s 78 and 113. There’s parking along Highway 113 and it’s about a ten minute walk to the slough. The walk may scare away a few lazy anglers, but the walk is well worth it! Gallus is shallow with all water again 5 feet or less. The bluegills that you find are some of the largest in the area and I’d put this water on my “must fish list”. Bluegills over 8 inches are the norm and there are many fish 9 inches and larger. This slough is also now being fished with 4 to 6 inches of ice.
8) Devils Lake, north of Madison of Highway 12 and south of Baraboo is better known for its trout fishing, but has a good population of quality bluegills. Two of the better locations for bluegills are at the south and east end of the lake. Parking is plentiful and the walk to the best fishing locations is not far, but you need a state park sticker. These are available at the office at the lake’s north entrance. Bluegills, crappies, and sunfish are the main species after the stocked trout. Look for the green weeds (as always) and fish near the creek mouth at the south end. I wouldn’t suggest fishing here yet. I think we need another week of cold weather to make Devils Lake fishable and safe.
9) Rainbow Slough is a slough of the Wisconsin River and located off Highway 60 between Sauk City and Spring Green on the north side of the Wisconsin River. The slough is on your left as you travel west toward Spring Green. Last week, I saw anglers on these backwaters catching bluegills and a few northern pike.
10) Badger Slough is just a few miles west from Rainbow Slough off Highway 60. There hasn’t been much fall precipitation, butmost of the sloughs have water and are fishable for bluegills and pike.
e Re member, that these backwaters are part of the Wisconsin River with flowing and moving water. Be extra careful when fishing these waters and never fish alone. Make sure that someone knows where you are fishing and having a cell phone with is always a good idea as is a life jacket.
Both of these sloughs have good fish populations with shallow water that is 5 feet and less.
As far as equipment goes, I suggest a sensitive 24 to 30 inch rod with a small open-faced spinning reel. Always use a spring bobber for the light bite of the bluegill and use a 2 pound test line. Berkley’s Ice line works well as does the Stren Hi-Vis line in gold which allows you to “see’ the line and the bite. Good jigs for bluegills are the Bait Rigs Cobra, Rat Finkies, Dots, TearDrops, and small leadhead jigs that weigh 1/64th ounce or less. Always have a good assortment of styles and colors and keep changing your jigs, bait, and jigging cadence till you find what the fish want that day. Plastics work well when fish are active and some of the better plastics are those like Power Bait and Gulp. As far as colors go, I’ve found that purple, black, and red are best for bluegills. You should also have live bait with at all times too. It is never a bad idea to have spikes, mousse, and wax worms in your pocket. Spikes seem to work better on bluegills for me, but for the cheap price bring them all with you on the ice.
Dress warm, be safe, and enjoy catching bluegills on the early ice.
Some of the best fishing of the year can be found on this first ice
of the season, but catching some good fish is not worth doing
anything stupid or unsafe. The panfish limit is 25 fish of an
combination (bluegills, crappies, and perch) but take only enough for a few good meals. Leave some for the next angler and for brood stock.
Contacts; D and S Bait in Madison. (608)-2414225.
Wilderness Fish and Game in Sauk City. (608)-643-
Guide, Ron Barefield, (608)-838-8756.