This year has been odd, to say the least. With many go-to summer venues being closed due to the global pandemic, more Wisconsinites have taken up fishing to fill the void. This provides us the opportunity to explore new lakes and bodies of water. However, that can be an intimidating idea; the thought of wasting a drive and a day of fishing on the possibility of coming home empty-handed. Fear not. I’ve chosen three specific lakes, in Chippewa, Polk, and Barron counties, to highlight in the hopes of putting you on fish. In the following paragraphs, you’ll find links to lake maps, tips on proven baits, and specific locations to try. All for you to put fish in your live well. Here are three must-fish lakes in West-Central Wisconsin.
Long Lake (Chippewa County)
Just south of State Highway 40, Chippewa County’s Long Lake provides anglers with the chance to land a variety of fish. From panfish to the elusive muskie, this drainage lake spans nearly 1,000 acres. Fed by two branches of the Cedar Creek, Long Lake conjures images of quintessential north-woods fishing. Feel confident using both natural and bright colored baits as water clarity is moderately clear. The variety of structure and varying depth of the lake bed provides ample hiding opportunities for both predators and prey.
Those in search of toothy fish will not be disappointed. Walleyes are classified as abundant. They can be caught trolling crankbaits as well as vertical jigging sharp drop-offs. Start by targeting 12 to 14 feet of water, near breaks and shelves. Calm water and sunny conditions will drive the walleyes deeper until the evening hours when they will move into more shallow water to feed. Don’t be surprised if you pick up a northern pike or two with these techniques. Northerns pushing 40 inches or more are caught on Long Lake each year.
Bluegills and Crappies
Panfish, including bluegill and crappies, can are found in shoreline weed beds or congregated near fish cribs. Your onboard electronics will help you find these. You can’t go wrong with the classic nightcrawler and bobber combination. If you strike out in the weedy shallows, look deeper over mucky bottom where they may be feeding off emerging insects. Long Lake contains nearly an equal amount of mucky and sandy bottoms. Bullrush and beds of lilypads are prime locations for both panfish as well as largemouth bass, which are present but not as common as the smallmouth bass. Long Lake has classified the rusty crayfish as an invasive species. But don’t tell this to the smallies who gorge on this delicacy found in submerged gravel and rock piles.
Long Lake draws in the muskie angler perhaps more than any other lake in Chippewa County. Muskies are classified as common, which means your odds are better than usual to land this apex predator. Trolling and casting can be equally effective. The more noise and vibration, the better your chances of hooking into this legendary fish. Look to target island and shoreline points, as well as rock bars. During the evening hours, a topwater lure in shallow weedy bays and coves may give you the experience of a lifetime. There’s nothing like a ten-pound fish exploding out of the water and the ensuing fight to set your heart racing.
Wapogasset Lake (Polk County)
Wapogasset Lake lies a short drive from the Wisconsin/Minnesota border, east of State Highway 65. The wooded shoreline is dotting with eye-catching vacation homes, so you may find this water a bit crowded at times. At 1,189 acres, “Wapo” is the second largest lake in Polk County. It is also home to a variety of fish including a good number of panfish and walleyes. Similar to Long Lake, Wapo is a drainage lake and the water clarity is low. Consider using bright colored baits and something with both sound and flash. While primarily a sandy bottom, this lake tends to become quite weedy in the warmer months. Thus trolling can be troublesome. Casting and jigging may be more effective, targeting both submerged structure and weed lines.
Wapogasset’s Lake Association is very active in lake preservation and fish stocking. A 2019 Department of Natural Resources survey revealed Wapo to rate an impressive 4.3 walleyes per acre. While many of these fish are adolescents or younger, it is not uncommon to catch ‘eyes in excess of 18 inches. The daily bag limit is three walleyes over 15 inches, with a restriction slot from 20 to 24 inches. Additionally, only one walleye over 24 inches may be kept. These regulations help to ensure a healthy population for years to come. For a chance at these fish, look to target mid-lake humps during the day and shallow flats in the mornings and evenings.
Bass anglers will find ample action on Wapo, casting over and around sand flats and weed lines. Largemouth bass are quite common and in good size. Weedless jigs or a Texas-rigged plastic worms can be a deadly presentation. Again, think bright colors and lots of movement. Those throwing crankbaits may struggle with weeds but also run the possibility of hooking into a northern pike and the less common muskie.
Bluegills and Crappies
Wapogasset Lake is king in terms of panfish, where the bluegills and crappies cannot be beaten. Ample numbers and quality-sized fish can be found throughout this body of water. Bluegills in excess of eight inches and crappies over ten inches are very common. And just about any presentation is effective, including a worm and bobber or the classic crappie-killer of a red and white tube jig. If natural bait is not producing a panfish bite, don’t be afraid to switch over to small plastics. Casting or jigging over deep flats or submerged vegetation is the recipe for an evening’s fish fry.
In recent years, crappies in Lake Wapogasset have shown signs of being infected with Viral Hemorogenic Septicemia (VHS). This disease may result in hemorrhaging, bulging eyes, or legions. While not dangerous to those handling or eating infected fish, it can spread to other species in the lake. Those catching panfish which exhibit these symptoms are asked not to return them to the water.
Ojaski (Mud) Lake (Barron County)
Ojaski Lake, or more commonly referred to as Mud Lake, is part of the Chetek chain of lakes. This also includes Pokegema, Chetek, Tenmile, and Praire Lakes. Ojaski lies the farthest to the northeast and is easily accessible off of interstate highway 53. At a scant 332 acres, Ojaski is easily explorable. It is also relatively shallow with a maximum depth of 15 feet. In the summer months, the Chetek chain of lakes is be affected by an annual algae bloom. This can be especially frustrating when fishing back bays and waters with less current. Despite this, Ojaski has the ability to produce quality numbers of panfish as well as walleyes, if you look in the right spots. Ojaski is a drainage lake, fed by the Pokegama creek to the north. This results in stained water. Anglers should look to use brightly colored lures.
Panfish reign supreme on Ojaski Lake. Crappies, bluegills, and perch are in good supply and of healthy size. Because of the depth of this lake, small jigs with plastics, or bobber and live bait can be equally effective. This can help you avoid the frustration of constantly cleaning weeds off your line brought on by casting. Honestly, anywhere on Ojaski can produce a panfish bite. The flats just to the south of the island can be productive, more so ten feet of water. Also look to the eastern shoreline, along weed beds. But be careful not to get bit-off by the occasional northern pike.
Large and Smallmouth Bass
Both largemouth and smallmouth bass are present in this body of water, with the nod going to the largies. They can be located near the islands, casting up to toward the shoreline into five or six feet of water. The bay to the east of the north boat landing or the inlet to the southeast are good locations as well. A weedless jig and plastic can land you a bucket mouth as can a spinnerbait, cast around a dock. Colorado blades will give you that extra vibration and flash you need in stained water. When the surface is calm on a hot summer night, try a popper or a buzz bait for that explosive topwater bite.
The walleye population continues to improve on the Chetek chain of lakes due to an aggressive stocking program headed by the Wisconsin Walleye Initiative. This has lead to much-improved walleye fishing on the chain of lakes, and Ojaski is no exception. A 28-inch walleye was registered during a Chetek ice fishing contest in February of 2020, so they are definitely around. Regulations mirror those on Wapogasset Lake, that being three walleyes over 15 inches, with a restriction slot from 20 to 24 inches. In addition, only one walleye over 24 inches may be kept.
Those fishing the opener in May can find the eye’s along the west shoreline, moved away from their spawning areas to the north. Focus on the islands as well as the flats off of the south boat landing, especially that 15-foot hole. The classic jig and minnow combination remains effective as ever. Also, think about throwing spinnerbaits as well as a jig and twister tail. The key is to be diverse with your presentations and your locations. This is not too difficult due to the cozy size of Ojaski Lake.
You’ve got the perfect opportunity this summer to get out there and try new bodies of water. Use this information to get started on these lakes without fear. And even if you don’t do quite as well as you think you should, enjoy the scenery and the time spent with friends and family on the three must-fish lakes in West-Central Wisconsin.