Wisconsin fly fishing 7 min read

DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in Wisconsin

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

June 3, 2024

Wisconsin is a state that is filled with outdoor recreation all year long and fly fishing is no exception. Here, you can find some fabulous places to cast your line. The state is divided into regions, which include central, northeast, south central, southwest, east central, northwest, and southeast. Each of these regions has its own highlights; some more than others when it comes to fly fishing.

Wisconsin Trout Stream Map

Wisconsin boasts more than 2,989 trout streams stretching more than 13,000 miles, up from 2,677 streams and 9,500 miles in 1980 (WI DNR). Those gains reflect improved farming practices, habitat protection and restoration work, regulations, stocking of wild strain fish, and other factors.

map of places to fish in Wisconsin

Get Directions to the Fishing Access Points shown above with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

Wisconsin Trout Stream Classifications

Wisconsin trout streams are classified into three categories Class I, Class II and Class III.

Class 1 – High quality trout waters that have sufficient natural reproduction to sustain populations of wild trout, at or near carry capacity. Consequently, streams in this category require no stocking of hatchery trout. These streams or stream sections are often small and may contain small or slow-growing trout, especially in the headwaters.There are 5,400 miles of Class 1 trout streams in Wisconsin and they comprise 41% of Wisconsin’s total trout stream mileage.

Class 2 – Streams in this classification may have some natural reproduction, but not enough to utilize available food and space. Therefore, stocking is required to maintain a desirable sport fishery. These streams have good survival and carryover of adult trout, often producing some fish larger than average size.There are over 5,900 miles of Class 2 trout streams in Wisconsin and they comprise 45% of Wisconsin’s total trout stream mileage.

Class 3 – These waters are marginal trout habitat with no natural reproduction occurring. They require annual stocking of trout to provide trout fishing. Generally, there is no carryover of trout from one year to the next.There are 1,864 miles of Class 3 trout streams in Wisconsin and they comprise 14% of Wisconsin’s total trout stream mileage.

Here, you have 42,000 miles worth of rivers and streams to explore, as well as 15,000 inland lakes. The state is also known for having more fish species than any other state does in the Midwest. Some of the best fishing is that located at the state parks and forests, which also offer incredible panoramic scenery.So let’s get started and explore the best Wisconsin has to offer for fly fishing.

Best Wisconsin Fly Fishing

When you’ve got so many regions, lakes, rivers, and streams available to you, it can be hard to narrow down your options and find the best of the best for fly fishing. The great news is that this is the kind of state that offers so many unique fishing experiences that you can come back again and again and enjoy yourself.

Wisconsin is able to offer both cold and warm water fishing opportunities, which helps to provide that diversity of fish species that so many anglers enjoy. Obviously we can’t highlight all the top areas, so instead we’ll take a look at a few of the most popular ones.

Best Wisconsin Trout Fishing Spots

If you’re interested in trout fishing, then you know better than anyone that the water temperature really matters. Trout love the cold water and it needs to be clear and clean for them to flourish. There are a handful of spots that really stand out and can be challenging enough to keep even the experienced anglers impressed. Take note that there are about 2,900 trout streams in the state, so clearly you’ve got tons to choose from.

Pike River, Marinette County

Here’s a beautiful river that has the title of a Wisconsin Wild River. There are only three rivers in the whole state that have been given this designation. This water is very cold and quite deep, which are ideal conditions for trout. The common types you’ll find are brook, rainbow, and brown trout. This river stays challenging and interesting thanks to the waterfalls and rapids that you can find in different sections.

Kickapoo River West Fork, Viroqua

If you’re looking for a scenic location, this waterway will fit the bill. It is a spring-fed body and is 24 miles in length. There are no sections of the river that are off limits, and anglers like that the current is slow moving. Keep in mind that this river is popular for canoes, so you may be dealing with them as you fish.

Black Earth Creek, Cross Plains

Where do you go when you want to find one of the country’s best streams for trout? Black Earth Creek instantly comes to mind, and was even placed in the top 100 trout streams list by Trout magazine. This creek spans 27 miles and is currently receiving lots of attention from conservation groups to ensure that the quality of this river is maintained and the trout fishing stays great.

Wisconsin Great Lakes Tributaries

The Great Lakes act as a wonderful location for trout, salmon, and steelhead. This is a great place to consider if you’re looking for a variety of species. In this region, you’ve got two of the Great Lakes to enjoy, which are Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.

Fishing Lake Michigan in Wisconsin

If you opt to fish in Lake Michigan, then you’re in for fabulous trout and salmon fishing opportunities. Stocking programs are used here, which ensure that the fish stay plentiful. There is also steelhead to be found in these waters. The weather will help to determine just how many fish there are, with springtime being the start of the season. Springtime is ideal for the steelhead and brown trout. The water temperature helps to make them more active. It’s possible to see some rainbow trout here and there as well. It’s the fall where you will start to find the salmon, so hold out until this time if that’s what you’re after. Steelhead, rainbow, and brown trout are also available at this time of year. Many feel that the fall is the best time for fishing in Lake Michigan.

Fishing Lake Superior in Wisconsin

Lake Superior has its own cycle which consists of stocked steelhead and wild steelhead in the spring. As well, you can find brookies and browns in the spring. The one problem that the spring brings is that depending on the snowfall that winter, the water levels may get so high that it is impossible to fish. Fall is a great time for Lake Superior and you can find chinook and coho salmon, as well as brown and steelhead trout. The fishing stays active through around mid to late November.

Wisconsin Driftless Area

If you’re seeking out warmer waters, a quiet and serene environment, and little crowds, then the Driftless Area in southwestern Wisconsin is the place to be. Here, you’ll find very gentle and slow moving streams. This region is known for its rugged landscape, stunning streams, valleys, and gorgeous clear creeks.

Expect to find a lot of brown trout here that respond well to dry fly fishing. This area is best fished using shorter rods that are no more than eight feet in length and are typically three and five weights. Fishing can be a bit more challenging in the southwest, so it may take a bit more skill and technique than what other areas call for.

This is also a region that is known for very heavy hatches, which helps with the fishing. Some of the stand-out streams in this area are Castle Rock Creek, Black Earth Creek, and the above mentioned West Fork of the Kickapoo River.

Best Time for Fly Fishing in Wisconsin

Although fish can be found year-round, it’s important to be aware of the fishing regulations that state enforces at the beginning of the fishing year. Typically, spring and fall are the best time to visit, not just in terms of the fish that are biting, but even in the weather conditions.

If you had to choose just one season, fall edges out spring by a bit. If you visit in the spring or fall, dress in layers as it can still feel quite cool. Summer will be warmer, but you’ll also be dealing with more anglers at that time of year.

Wisconsin Fly Hatches

Wisconsin is home to incredible hatches each year, which seem to be even more predominant in their west and east regions. The mayflies begin in early May and last until October. The different varieties happen throughout the season. There are also caddis flies, midges, terrestrials, and stoneflies. There are more hatches besides these, which are just the most common ones.

Essential Fly Fishing Gear

Your equipment is based on the weather conditions, the water conditions, the season, and of course, what you plan to fish for. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

For steelhead and salmon you’ll need anywhere from a 6- to 9-weight rod, and plan to invest in a good quality reel since the fish tend to be quite large.  Look for a reel that has a disc drag that is well made and of high quality.  For trout a 3- to 5-weight fly rod is usually best.

You shouldn’t have any trouble finding places to fish from shore in Wisconsin. You’ll also have the opportunity to wade in some of the streams and rivers, so be sure to bring your waders.

Of course, if you prefer to float or use a boat, you can do so. Wisconsin is not short on locations and types of fishing.

Best Flies for Fly Fishing in Wisconsin

You can aim to carry a number of flies with you so that you’re able to have one for all situations. Experts recommend that you stay stocked with attractor flies, streamers, naturals, and egg patterns.  

As far as sizes go, again, bring a variety because each body of water will be a bit different. If you plan on fishing during the day, opt for flies that are brightly colored. Over time, you may find you’ve got a couple that are real winners and get you great results each time.

Wisconsin Fishing License and Regulations

You will need to have a fishing license to fish in the state of Wisconsin, and it’s also important to check the season’s fishing dates for each of the fish species. Licenses are available for residents and non-residents of the state.

You can purchase an annual fishing license, a family annual license, a one, four, or 15-day family or individual license, as well as other types.

Your fishing license can be obtained through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Wisconsin – Your Next Fly Fishing Destination!

Choosing Wisconsin as your next fly fishing adventure means that you’re in for a wide variety of streams, lakes, rivers, and creeks that yield all kinds of fish species. All of this while being surrounded by stunning natural beauty and serene landscapes.