This is one of the scrappiest fish. An increasing number of anglers are learning that largemouth bass, with their jolting strikes and wild airborne leaps, are an exciting fish to catch. And increasingly, Wisconsin is becoming nationally known for its largemouth bass. Professional bass fishing tournaments are held in state lakes and rivers throughout the summer.
Largemouth bass look similar to their close cousin, the smallmouth. Often they are found in the same waters. To tell the two apart, look at the closed mouth. If it extends back beyond the back of the eye, the fish is a largemouth. If it goes only to the middle of the eye, it’s a smallmouth.
Wisconsin has several sunfish species, but the most popular with anglers are the bluegill and the pumpkinseed. Both are found in most of the state's lakes and streams. Both spawn from late May well into the summer. The bluegill tends to grow larger than the pumpkinseed. Though both have a blue spot on the ear flap, the pumpkinseed also has some bright orange at the very edge of the flap. Also, bluegills tend to be mostly olive colored while pumpkinseeds are more orange colored.
Sunfish are particularly prone to "stunting." Lakes that have good spawning habitat but not much food can produce swarms of small adult sunnies that never grow larger than four or five inches.
Anglers love crappies. Though the Muskellunge is the state fish, crappies and bluegills are caught most often. Crappies bite readily and produce sweet-tasting fillets. There are actually two types of crappies: the black and the white. They are tough to tell apart. Both travel in schools and feed on small fish and aquatic insects. If you catch a crappie, it's most likely a black crappie, which is the more widely distributed of the two species, occurring in most lakes throughout the state. The black crappie prefers deeper, cooler, clearer water than the white crappie does.
This voracious predator is one of the easiest fish to catch because it so willingly bites lures or bait. What's more, northerns produce chunky white fillets that many anglers say taste as good as walleyes. Most northerns caught by fishing run 2 to 3 pounds, though trophies over 20 pounds are caught each year. A close cousin to the muskellunge, the northern pike lives in nearly all of Wisconsin’s lakes and streams.
The quickest way to tell a northern pike from a muskie is to note that the northern has light markings on a dark body background, while muskies generally have dark markings on a light background. A foolproof method is to count the pores on the underside of the jaw the northern has five or fewer; the muskie has six or more. Northerns have rounded tail fins, compared to the pointy tail fins of a muskie.
Sometimes called a “bronze back” for its brassy brown hue, the smallmouth is one of the strongest fish for its weight. Many anglers who hook a 2-pounder will swear it’s twice that big until the fish is in the net. Small mouths are native to the Mississippi River watershed. They are abundant in warm rivers, central state lakes, and in northern waters, where the species was introduced in the late 1800s.
Smallmouth bass look similar to their close cousin, the largemouth. Often they are found in the same waters. To tell the two apart, look at the closed mouth. If it extends only to the middle of the eye, it’s a smallmouth. If it goes way beyond the back of the eye, the fish is a largemouth.
Common carp, German carp, European carp (Cyprinus carpio)
Species and Origin: The common carp is a large omnivorous fish. They have large scales, a long dorsal fin base, and two pairs of long barbels (whiskers) in its upper jaw. Native to Europe and Asia, it was intentionally introduced into Midwest waters as a game fish in the 1880s. (Be aware of a native look-a-like: the native fish bigmouth buffalo looks like a carp without barbells)
Impacts: Common carp are one of the most damaging aquatic invasive species due to its wide distribution and severe impacts in shallow lakes and wetlands. Their feeding disrupts shallowly rooted plants muddying the water. They release phosphorus that increases algae abundance
Carp induced declines in water quality causes declines of aquatic plants needed by waterfowl and fish.
Status: They are established in 48 states
Means of spread: The incidental inclusion and later release of live bait spreads common carp.
Where to look: They live in lakes, rivers, wetlands & are seen in spring when they spawn in shallow waters.
Regulatory Classification: It is a regulated invasive species (DNR), which means introduction into the wild is prohibited. Fish caught while angling may be returned to the same water body.
The yellow perch is one of the most commonly caught fish in Wisconsin. This smaller cousin of the walleye is good to eat and eagerly bites worms, but it often is so small that anglers throw them back into the water. Like sunfish and bluegills, perch are considered "panfish," or fish commonly caught to be cooked in a frying pan and eaten.
Description: A small fish that is usually yellow on the sides with wide dark bands coming down the sides from its back.
Length: Average length is about 6 inches but some reach a foot or more.
Weight: Average about 1/3 pound. Color: Yellow with dark bars.
Reproduction: Yellow perch spawn in early May in southern Wisconsin and in mid-May in northern lakes. The eggs hatch after two or three weeks. The newborns (fry) eat plankton and water fleas and are eaten by many newly hatched predator fish such as walleyes and burbot.
Food: Perch eat minnows and the young of other small fish. They also eat insects such as mayflies.
Predators: Many larger predatory fish will eat perch.
Habitat and range: Lakes, slow-moving rivers, reservoirs, and ponds. The perch is found in these types of waters throughout the state.
Population and management: Wisconsin is loaded with perch. But on many lakes, the average size of perch is decreasing because of overfishing. In the past, there was no limit on the number of perch you could catch and keep. But in recent years the limit has been lowered. The DNR hopes to increase the average size of perch by decreasing the number of perch killed by anglers.
Fun facts: Basically a miniature walleye, the perch is a great food fish. The fish is popular with out-of-state anglers such as those from North Dakota, Minnesota, and Illinois, where perch are a highly desirable fish.
Lake Mallalieu Association