River Currents

by Free Speech on November 6, 2009

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.

Lodi, WI
by Gary Engberg
©2009 Gary Engberg Outdoors

November is Big Fish Time

Author with a big walleye caught on Lake Erie during late November.

Author with a big walleye caught on Lake Erie during late November.

November is the best month of the fishing season for the angler looking to catch a trophy fish of any species. The largest fish of the year are usually caught from the beginning of November until freeze-up which varies from lake to lake. Many anglers put their boats away for the year around Labor Day and a few others wait till sometime in October. But, the hard-core and serious fishermen wait till sometime in November (and sometimes later) and just before the area’s lakes freeze solid for the ice fishing season to store their boats.

When and Where

Every year there may be a “little” variance in the exact time that the local lakes freeze solid. The variables that affect a lake freezing over include; the size of the lake, the lake’s depth, and if there is any current or flow that runs through the lake from any rivers and creeks that enter and exit the lake. Large lakes, like Madison’s Lake Mendota, usually don’t freeze until December and there have been some years when Lake Mendota isn’t frozen till Christmas time. But, Lake Mendota is 10,000 acres, over 80 feet deep, and has some current running through it from the Yahara River that enters and exits the lake. A smaller lake, such as Madison’s Lake Wingra, will freeze weeks and even a month before some of the other area waters because it is only 345 acres, has a depth of roughly 15 feet, and only a little flow from Murphy’s Creek.

There also are waters, like Lake Wisconsin, which is actually a flowage much like the Petenwell and Castle Rock Flowages, which are actually impoundments of the Wisconsin River. These lakes or flowages have dams at both ends that control the current and flow throughout the year. The current is less during the winter months, but never worth the risk of ice fishing over its deeper water. The point is that most lakes in southern Wisconsin are open for fishing throughout the month of November. When fishing late in the season, try to find any green weeds because these are fish magnets this time of year.


This time of the year, all fish species will be feeding heavily for the cold water months when many fish become semi-dormant and inactive. The anglers, that are still fishing, are now targeting walleyes, northern pike, and muskies as they bulk up and feed heavily to sustain them till springtime. Some examples include, huge schools of walleyes that roam the waters of the Great Lakes (Green Bay, Little Bay de Noc, Huron, Ohio) feeding heavily on schools of shad and alewives. Last fall, the largest muskie ever caught and released by Canadian Dale McNair was caught in the St. Lawrence River at the end of November. Green Bay and Little Bay de Noc to the north are both are excellent waters in November for trophy walleyes. I can go on and on with the many large fish caught this time of the year throughout the Upper Midwest and Canada.

Author with a nice fall muskie from Lake Monona.

Author with a nice fall muskie from Lake Monona.

Muskie anglers are some of the hardiest anglers often fishing right up to the close of the season which is November 30 in this state. I regularly correspond with Russ Smith, one of the top fishing guides in the muskie rich waters of Wisconsin’s Vilas County, and Russ always keeps me informed of the open water fishing opportunities from now till the season’s end. The last two winters have been cold and snowy and muskie fishing stopped due to the ice and cold the second week of November. But, there were years when anglers got to fish till the end of November and the muskie season.

Personally, I’ve fished Lake Erie for giant walleyes the second week of December in a “good” year and caught dozens of walleyes over 10 pounds and my all-time best was caught on Lake Erie the last week of November. But, Lake Erie has weather a little warmer than Wisconsin which usually allows one to fish later in the year.


Most walleyes this time of year are caught live bait rigging, trolling large crank baits, and jigging with jigs and large minnows or blade baits. Many of the same techniques and tactics that you use during the spring are now used with success. The one exception is that now you want to use big baits and big minnows. The hatched fish of the year have grown all summer and are now larger in size. A fish, no matter what species, are now looking for a larger meal as they go on their feeding frenzy for winter.

If jigging, a minnow 4 to 5 inches is not too large for a big, fall walleye. If using plastic tails on your jig, a tail of 5 inches is the right size. When trolling, pick longer stick style crank baits that have a tight wobble in their action. A crank bait 5 or 6 inches long is not too big for a hungry fall walleye. Big is definitely better in the fall and early winter.

Slow down your jigging cadence and your trolling speed because most fish will not chase a bait or lure in November as they would in the warmer water of summer. The metabolism of a fish slows down as the water cools and so does there activity.

If you’re after muskies or northern pike, many anglers switch to fishing large suckers on a quick-set rig (Bait Rigs makes a good one) this time of year. The quick-set rig prevents the angler from “gut-hooking” a muskie which would most likely kill the fish. Anglers, that have been trolling most of the year for muskies, are switching over to sucker fishing and casting crank baits and buck tails. Trolling still works and does allow the angler to cover more water and up and down the water column, but muskies slow down and won’t always chase baits in colder water. If trolling, I’d slow down my speed from the 4 mph, that seems to be the most common speed in warmer water, to 2.5 or 3 mph.


If you’re going to be out in the November, you have to dress properly. There are now many new fabrics and materials for those who are outside in the cold. Check out the new kinds of clothing at your favorite outfitter and you’ll be amazed at the warmth these newer products provide. I like to layer my clothing with something that will “wick’ away any moisture close to my body and help keep you warm and not wet. I like a heavy set of rain gear with bibs and a jacket made out of Gore-Tex and under that I’ll wear many different layers of polypropene, down, wool, silk, and cotton. You are not going to have a good time and last long in the outdoors if you’re cold or wet! Companies are now making different types of chemical warmers, like the ones used for your hands, but now they are made for your feet, neck, hands, and shoulders. These “warmers” last for hours and have saved many a trip with their simplicity and warmth. Next, wear a neck warmer, a wool hat, and gloves or mittens so that you are toasty for hours. Lastly, wear a good pair of boots with thinsulate or a pac-style boot to keep your feet dry and warm.

Professional angler and guide, Tony Puccio, and I have fished many deer seasons on the Wisconsin River and Lake Wisconsin for walleyes when everyone else is out chasing deer. We have had some of the year’s best fishing in both size and numbers during late November. When fishing this time of the year, you will usually have most lakes and rivers to yourself. I guarantee that the fish will be there and in a biting mood. Follow these fall “tips” and you’ll most likely be fishing well into the fall and catching some trophy fish. Most importantly, practice CPR or catch, photograph, and release. Trophy fish are decades old and should be put back into the water for others to catch. Pictures and graphite reproductions can save the memories and releasing a 20 year old muskie makes you feel good too!

You may always contact me at www.garyengbergoutdoors.com for questions and information.

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