Illustration of fish local to Central Wisconsin lakes

One of the benefits of owning a lake property is you can easily go fishing. There are few pastimes more enjoyable than fishing…except maybe bragging about fish you catch or telling stories of the big ones that got away.

But if you haven’t lived on a lake before, you might want to learn how to catch and identify the different kinds of lake fish you’ll encounter.

There are thirteen types of game fish found in Central Wisconsin lakes and featured on our lake pages. They are listed below in order of their approximate local catch size.

Rock bass lake fish
Rock Bass

Rock Bass

This bronze-colored panfish has large red eyes and five to seven spines on its anal fins and live in rocky-bottomed lakes and rivers.

Rock bass will eat almost anything! You can catch them using just about any bait, but worms, minnows, and poppers work well.

Common local catch size: 6-8″, 4-6 oz.

Bluegill lake fish
Bluegill

Bluegill

Bluegills are the most common sunfish in Wisconsin. They are easily identified by the black spot on their gill cover.

Bluegills prefer warm, quiet waters and hide in the cover of weed beds. They can be found in small schools and may group with other sunfish.

Bring along some garden worms and light tackle to catch these little fighters!

Common local catch size: 5-8″, 4-8 oz.

Pumpkinseed lake fish
Pumpkinseed

Pumpkinseed

Look for a bright red spot behind a black spot on their gill cover.

Pumpkinseeds prefer cool to warm, shallow waters with plenty of weed cover. Like other sunfish, the males use their tails to fan out a nest in the sand or gravel of lake bottoms during the spawning season.

An easy catch, fish for pumpkinseeds from shore using light tackle or worms to catch this tasty little fish.

Common local catch size: 5-8″, up to 8-12 oz.

Yellow perch lake fish
Yellow Perch

Yellow Perch

Yellow perch can be identified by the prominent vertical bars along their yellow sides.

Yellow perch prefer to live in deep lakes with cool, open waters. They move about in large schools and are not active at night.

They will bite on almost any bait, but yellow perch tend to nibble lightly, so use light tackle and set your hook quickly!

Common local catch size: 5-12″, 4-12 oz.

Black crappie lake fish
Black Crappie

Black Crappie

Black crappies are speckled, have seven to eight spines on their dorsal fin, and can be strong fighters.

While they feed in clear, open water, you can also find black crappies resting among logs or weed beds in small schools during the day.

To catch them, cast out a minnow, spinner, or small jig just as the sun sets.

Common local catch size: 7-12″, 5-16 oz.

Cisco lake fish
Cisco

Cisco

Ciscoes have silvery bodies with brown, bronze, or pale green on their backs, silvery blue on their flanks, and cream on their bellies. While often food for bigger fish, ciscoes are very healthy for humans due to their high concentrations of omega fatty acids.

Ciscoes like deep lakes where the water is cold and well-oxygenated year-round. They feed on bottom-dwelling insects, mollusks, invertebrates, fish eggs, and zooplankton.

According to a reputable source, blade bait coated with Pautzke Fire Gel works well for catching ciscoes.

Common local catch size: 10-18″, 4-24 oz.

Brown trout lake fish
Brown Trout

Brown Trout

Look for halo-like rings around black or red spots on the sides of brown trout, including their dorsal and adipose fins.

Brown trout hide in deep pools or under rocky ledges and feed on insects, worms, and other fish.

A floating bottom rig works great for fishing trout in open water, but spoons and spinners work well when trout are feeding in colder months.

Common local catch size: 10-16″, 1-2 lb.

Rainbow trout lake fish
Rainbow Trout

Rainbow Trout

Look for white mouthparts, a side stripe, and lots of spots on the tail fin to tell rainbow trout apart from brown trout.

Rainbow trout, native to the Pacific Ocean, were introduced into Wisconsin for sport fishing. Since their eggs don’t successfully hatch on their own in local waters, they are grown in hatcheries and stocked in lakes.

Fish at night! Use anything from minnows to flies to catch these hard-fighting fish.

Common local catch size: 12-16″, 1-2 lb.

Smallmouth bass lake fish
Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth bass have vertical markings and a shallower notch in the dorsal fin than largemouth bass.

While they like rocky bottoms where they can find crayfish (their favorite food), they seek out deep, cool waters in the summer.

Fish quietly and cast near old logs or rocks. Bring along natural baits like hellgrammites, dragonfly larvae, or dead crayfish (live crayfish are now allowed).

Common local catch size: 10-18″, 1-3 lb.

Largemouth bass lake fish
Largemouth Bass

Largemouth Bass

They don’t call them “Bucketmouth” for nothing! The largemouth bass has a big mouth, a prominent lateral line on its sides, and a deep notch in the dorsal fin.

Largemouth bass prefer warm water and like to hide under lily pads and docks.

Catch them with minnows, crayfish, nightcrawlers, jigs, crankbaits, or spinnerbaits, but be sure to use a weedless bait if casting in weedy areas, or you may lose your lure!

Common local catch size: 10-19″, 1-4 lb.

Walleye lake fish
Walleye

Walleye

A member of the perch family, walleye can be identified by a white triangular mark on their tail fin and their large eyes.

Walleye prefer clear-water lakes where they stay in deep water during the day and move into the shallows at night.

Cast or troll minnows, leeches, nightcrawlers, or small plugs to catch them.

Common local catch size: 12-24″, 1-5 lb.

Northern pike lake fish
Northern Pike

Northern Pike

Northern pike are large predatory fish with horizontal markings, scales on the lower part of their gill covers, and a rounded tail fin.

They spawn along marshy shorelines or marshy streams flowing into lakes. During the day, they lurk in weed beds and feed on whatever passes by.

Use a steel leader and keep your bait moving! If hungry, northern pike will bite on almost anything that swims their way.

Common local catch size: 16-36″, 2-10 lb.

Musky lake fish
Musky

Musky

The musky is the state fish and the largest predatory fish in Wisconsin.  They live alone, searching weed beds and tangles of old logs for prey.

To distinguish muskies from northern pike, look for wide, vertical markings and no scales on the lower part of the gill cover.

Bring along some big bait and a steel leader for these ferocious fighters! Jerk baits, spoons, and bucktails are popular lures to catch musky.

Common local catch size: 26-50″, 6-40 lb.

Sources
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources