Welcome to our comprehensive guide on salmon fishing in Wisconsin. We cover all aspects of fishing for salmon in the many great Wisconsin salmon rivers and out in Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Our experienced river guides have shared their top tactics, advice, and tips to enhance your salmon fishing experience in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin salmon fishing is excellent with many salmon rivers and streams to explore, along with two great lakes with four salmon species you could catch. Wisconsin salmon fishermen have the opportunity to catch multiple salmon weighing over 20 pounds.
Salmon Fishing Seasons in Wisconsin
Salmon fishing in Wisconsin rivers typically starts in September and lasts until November, but anglers can catch salmon year-round out in the lakes.
Many fishermen will start targeting salmon near shores in certain areas starting in April. Boat and shore anglers can take advantage of spring and fall salmon that move in close to shore.
Summer salmon fishing starting in mid-June, primarily consists of fishing far out in Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. The best lake fishing is in July and August.
Some salmon will start showing up near rivers or in rivers after big rains starting in August.
Types of Salmon Fishing in Wisconsin
There are three main types of salmon fishing in Wisconsin:
- Open Lake Fishing: Anglers that troll lures from boats on the open lake using planner boards or downriggers do very well.
- Near-Shore Lake Fishing: Fishermen target salmon from piers and shorelines. Some anglers will use small boats like kayaks and anchor or drift near shore and cast for salmon. Common methods are casting lures and plunking baits.
- River Fishing: Once the salmon enter the rivers to spawn in September, river fishing for salmon becomes very popular with many anglers. The rivers can have hundreds or thousands of salmon at one time, and multiple methods can be used.
Wisconsin Salmon Species to Target
Wisconsin offers a variety of salmon species for anglers to target:
- Chinook Salmon – The largest of the salmon species growing to offer 40 pounds with an average fall salmon around 20 to 30 pounds.
- Coho Salmon – Hard fighting and sought after coho salmon can be caught, and they average around 10 pounds, with some over 20 pounds.
- Pink Salmon – Rare and small, these salmon tend to be under 5 pounds.
- Atlantic Salmon – A rare salmon and often results of stocking Lake Huron’s St. Mary’s River.
All these salmon fishing species and opportunities are accessible to DIY fishermen. Some fishermen will choose to use fishing charters, or seek guidance from local river guides.
Peak Times For Wisconsin Salmon Species
Chinook Salmon: Also known as kings or King Salmon which is due to their impressive size. Kings are often the first to enter the rivers.
Chinook salmon can be found in most rivers from September to October, with some runs occurring as early as August. Some of the best rivers for large king salmon fishing are listed below.
Coho Salmon: Also known as silver salmon, Coho salmon are famous for their fighting ability, long runs, and high jumps. October is a prime month to catch Coho salmon, and they can be found in most large rivers and small streams, with significant runs in some and fewer in others.
Pink Salmon: The smallest of the salmon species, Pink salmon weigh between 3 and 5 pounds on average. The best time for Pink salmon fishing is June and July. They prefer fast-flowing, cold, and clean streams, and while their numbers are lower than Chinook and Coho salmon, they offer a delightful challenge to any fisherman.
Atlantic Salmon: Wisconsin’s Atlantic Salmon start entering rivers as early as July and spawn in October and November. Some rivers in Wisconsin experience small Atlantic salmon runs by October. Like other salmon species, various methods and baits work effectively for catching Wisconsin Atlantic Salmon. Some angler claim this is the best eating fish.
Kokanee Salmon: In an unexpected location, Florence Lake, Wisconsin, a naturalized population of kokanee salmon has thrived for over 50 years. This is remarkable considering the lake’s relatively small size (21.4 hectares), shallow maximum depth (7.6 meters).
Note: It is not uncommon to catch large steelhead, lake trout, and large migratory brown trout while salmon fishing in Wisconsin waters.
Salmon Size in Wisconsin
Wisconsin provides excellent opportunities for fishermen to catch sizable salmon and the Wisconsin Salmon state records are:
- Chinook: Up to 44 pounds
- Coho: Up to 26 pounds
- Pink: Up to 6 pounds
- Atlantic: Up to 23 pounds
- Kokanee Salmon – 2 pounds
Lake Fishing for Salmon in Wisconsin
For those interested in salmon fishing on Wisconsin’s great lakes, lake Michigan and Lake Superior, salmon fishing charters are a fantastic way to experience successful salmon fishing trips. It is not uncommon to get full limit catches.
However, fishermen with suitable boats and the right gear can also achieve great success on their own.
Trolling is a popular method for lake fishing for salmon in Wisconsin. Fishermen use slim shiny spoons or cut baits, or plugs to attract salmon. At times crankbaits are good options to troll for salmon especially in spring and fall.
Shore fishing can also be effective near the spawning season when salmon move in close to shore and spawning rivers. Still fishing with the Plunking technique or casting lures is most common. See my article Salmon Fishing From Shore.
Fishing guides and charter fishing boats can provide valuable assistance, enhancing your fishing experience on both lakes and rivers during the spawning run.
One of the most popular areas to fish for salmon in Door County is the Bank Reef just outside of Sturgeon Bay. There are many charter fishing boats located in Sturgeon Bay area.
Trolling Techniques for Wisconsin Salmon
Shiny spoons or cut baits are the go-to lures to troll for salmon on Wisconsin lakes. In spring and late summer, when salmon are staging around river mouths, plugs and crankbaits can be highly effective.
Trolling allows anglers to cover a large section of the lake, drawing salmon to the area where they are fishing.
Salmon tend to be out in open water during May, June, and July, usually deeper than 60 feet and this is when downriggers become crucial.
Shore Fishing Techniques for Wisconsin Salmon
Shore fishing is a viable option for anglers without access to a boat.
During spring and fall, salmon tend to be higher in the water column, congregating near river mouths, bays, or warm water discharges.
Night fishing for salmon can be very good but check the fishing regulation before you go.
Knowing the life cycle and seasonal migrations of salmon and the best fishing spots along the shore can lead to more successful catches. Salmon tend to stage near river mouths in late August through October, even moving in and out of the lower river sections during low light conditions.
Guide Tip: Upwelling is a phenomenon where winds push water towards the opposite shore of the lake. This process brings up cold water from the lake bottom, which attracts salmon, as they prefer colder waters. Upwelling occurs when the wind blows away from Wisconsin shorelines, which can bring salmon closer to shore, making them more accessible to anglers.
River Fishing for Salmon in Wisconsin
River fishing for salmon in Wisconsin is a captivating experience, particularly during the fall. Salmon begin entering the rivers in September and October, with occasional small runs occurring after significant rainfalls in late July and August.
The salmon run times vary based on the river and the salmon species. Here are a few examples:
Wisconsin offers miles of river fishing opportunities, with public access areas along most rivers. Anglers can walk and wade or take river drifts by boat to avoid crowded areas and explore more salmon-rich spots.
Drift boats, pontoon boats, and river rafts are excellent choices for river fishing, offering ease of transport and maneuverability in shallow waters.
Guided River Fishing Trips
Consider a guided drift boat or walk trip if you want to make the most of your river fishing experience. Professional guides take care of drop-off and pick-up arrangements, allowing you to focus on fishing and learning effective methods. Be sure to book your trip in advance, as timing is essential for successful salmon fishing.
Methods for Salmon Fishing in Wisconsin
Wisconsin offers several effective methods for salmon fishing:
- Float Fishing: Float fishing is a popular and highly effective method where anglers suspend their bait below a float (bobber) and drift along the river. The float fishing method is likely the most effective method for river fishing for salmon in Wisconsin.
- Centerpin Fishing: A natural presentation for bait or flies under a float using a Centerpin reel or Float reel. The centerpin fishing method is known for its effectiveness in catching salmon and steelhead, and it’s arguably the most effective methods for fishing salmon in rivers.
- Fly Fishing: Nymphs or Streamers are popular choices used to fly fish for Wisconsin salmon, especially in rivers. Some anglers also fly fish from piers and shores. The state’s large rivers are ideal for a method known as Spey Fishing. Catching giant king salmon on a fly rod is pretty awesome.
- Casting Lures: Spinning rods and reels are easy to use and suitable for beginners and experienced anglers alike, which is why most anglers use them for casting lures for salmon. You can fish from both shore and boat using this method, just be sure you use my recommended best salmon lures.
- Drift Fishing and Bottom Bouncing: Similar methods where you cast your bait and let it drift along the river bottom with the current. Drift fishing is best for larger and deeper sections of the river, while bottom bouncing works well in smaller pockets and shallower waters.
- Plunking: Plunking for salmon is a relaxing and effective method that allows anglers to cast their bait and let it hold in a specific zone where salmon are likely to swim by and grab it.
- Bobber Doggin: Bobber doggin is a lesser-known but increasingly popular method that involves drifting your bait under a bobber. This method is especially useful with baits.
Effective Baits for Salmon Fishing Wisconsin
One of the top options for Wisconsin salmon fishing is using salmon eggs tied in colored mesh, known as spawn bags, roe bags, or egg sacks. These salmon roe bags are versatile and highly effective for catching salmon. However, there are many other great baits that often prove more effective than the standard roe bag.
Best Flies for Wisconsin Salmon
Fly fishing enthusiasts have great options in Wisconsin, with the choice to also fly fish for steelhead, and brown trout during the fall salmon runs. Indicators, streamers, and Spey fishing are popular fly fishing methods for Wisconsin salmon.
Recommended flies for salmon fishing include:
- Wooly Bugger in Black
- Egg Sucking Leech
- Glo Bug – Egg pattern
- General egg pattern flies in a range of colors from yellow to vivid green
- Brightly colored streamers in various tones
Best Salmon Rivers In Wisconsin
The best salmon streams are the:
- Brule River
- Flag River
- Cranberry River
- Sioux River
- Pikes Creek
- North Fish Creek.
Fishing Regulations and Licenses
Before heading out to fish, it’s essential to check the salmon fishing regulations provided by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. These regulations will give you valuable information about river and lake salmon fishing rules, ensuring a smooth and legal fishing experience.
Make the Most of Wisconsin Salmon Guided Trips
One of the greatest advantages of going with a guide or charter is their knowledge of salmon behavior and locations at different times of the season. Guides can help you target specific salmon species and set your lines to the right depth for optimal results.
Wisconsin Fishing Reports
Stay informed with the State of Wisconsin’s Weekly Fishing Report, which provides valuable information on salmon runs and locations.
Q&A on Salmon Fishing in Wisconsin
If you have any questions or tips regarding salmon fishing in Wisconsin, feel free to share them in the comments section below.