Usually, by August and into September fishing in most of south-central Wisconsin is tough and very inconsistent. One of the main reasons for the fishing slow down is that most fish have gone to their summer patterns and for many fish this means that they have moved to deeper water and mid-lake structure. The main reason that fishing gets slow for you toward summer’s end and early fall is that many of you are still fishing where you did earlier in the year, when fish were shallower and in their post-spawn mode.
It’s very easy to get into fishing “memories,” where you keep going back to the same spots where you caught fish earlier in the year. It’s easy to get caught in this trap where you are always fishing the same locations and areas no matter what time of the year it is. The important thing that all anglers should learn is the year-round patterns of the fish species that they are pursuing. All fish have patterns that they follow depending upon the season, the weather, the moon phase, the available baitfish, and the water temperature to name just a few factors that will affect a fish’s movement during the year.
What often happens is that a fisherman catches fish in the spring and early summer in relatively shallow water. This is the easiest time to catch fish, since most species can be found shallow. By shallow, I mean water that is 10 feet or less. But, as the water warms and weeds and vegetation grow, fish move to other areas of comfort close to a food source. The comfort area often is in deeper water and near any underwater structure that can be found in your lake. The amount of boat traffic can change and affect when fish feed and when they are active. As an example, Lake Mendota and Lake Wisconsin are not good lakes to fish on weekends, when boat traffic is at its peak. Lakes like these should be fished in the evening or early morning during low-light times and when boat traffic is at a minimum. If possible, fish during the week when there’s little competition from other anglers and commotion from the numerous pleasure boats.
Another thing that I would recommend is to buy a good map of the lake that I plan to fish. Navionics, Fishidy, and Lakemaster have some great maps for many of Wisconsin’s best lakes. Their number of maps is growing all the time, so check and see if they have one for your favorite lake. Take a good look at the map and mark the areas that you intend to fish. A good map will allow you to eliminate a sizeable portion of the lake before you even go on the water. Look for the lakes contours, underwater points, islands, rock piles, bottom composition, and accessibility to deep water and mark these locations, so that you can try them the next time you hit the water. A good map and electronics will do wonders to finding fish at any time of the year.
The August and September fishing should be better than most years because the water temperature is finally getting back where it should be (lower) and no matter what, all fish have to eat regularly. Fish don’t get “lockjaw”, they may get harder to find, feed at different times, and in different places, but most if not all fish feed regularly. You, just have to find where, when, and how your favorite fish species feeds. Quit fishing memories and get tuned in on yearly patterns and the habits of your favorite fish species and you’ll have much better success.
Lake Wisconsin fishing slows down with the yearly summer algae bloom. But walleyes, saugers, crappies, bass, and muskies will get active and should stay that way as we move into the fall. Madison’s Lake Mendota also usually shuts down and gets difficult in August and September. Fishing on Mendota can still be good with chunky smallmouth and legal walleyes (18 inches) being caught outside the weed line and on deep water rock bars on both leeches and nightcrawlers. But, you have to work and do some “homework” if you want action. Lake Mendota really turns on in the late fall for most species and you can often have the entire Madison Chain to yourself. The same holds true for Lake Wisconsin.
The coming fall is my favorite time of the year to fish because all fish species realize that the days are getting shorter, the water cooler, and it’s time to bulk up before the cold of winter. Some of the largest muskies, walleyes, and bass are caught in the fall when fish go on their “feeding frenzy”. Do some homework and get ready for the best fishing of the year. I also think that the way the weather has been the last month that we may have an early fall. It’s time to get ready for fall fun!