Top 15 Wisconsin Game Fish Species

Top 16 Wisconsin Game Fish Species

This post will list the top 16 Wisconsin game fish species. Wisconsin offers anglers some of the best freshwater fishing opportunities in North America! Most of these species can be caught through the ice as well.

Wisconsin game fish

Thanks to Jennifer for the great pics of Wisconsin game fish. Anglers can follow Jennifer on Instagram.

Top 16 Wisconsin game fish species

Here is my list of the top 16 Wisconsin game fish species. A few were left out, however these are the most popular and plentiful game fish species in the state.

The top 16 Wisconsin game fish species are:

  • Muskellunge
  • Walleye
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Largemouth bass
  • Northern pike
  • Crappie
  • Panfish
  • Brook trout
  • Rainbow trout
  • Brown trout
  • Lake trout
  • Coho salmon
  • Chinook salmon
  • Channel catfish
  • Flathead catfish
  • Lake sturgeon

These species all offer anglers great sport and some are terrific to eat as well. The list of each species will include some tips and interesting facts.

Wisconsin Muskellunge

Wisconsin game fish

Muskellunge, also known as “musky”, are a top predator and game fish in Wisconsin. They grow quite large and are one of the most challenging species to catch. Musky are called the ‘fish of 10,000 casts” for good reason. Most musky are caught by anglers casting artificial lures. They inhabit the same environments as pike, particularly shallow, weedy bays and coves. Afternoon is often the best time to catch them. Very few musky are killed by anglers, most are released.

Wisconsin Walleye


Walleye are an extremely popular species, and they are second list of the top 16 Wisconsin game fish species. Walleye are found in many lakes and river systems. Walleye prefer cold, clear water. They usually, but not always, feed on or near the bottom. Trolling is an excellent technique to locate and catch walleye. Live bait such as nightcrawlers, minnows, and leeches work well. While walleye are not the toughest battlers, they more than make up for it on the dinner plate! Most anglers consider walleye to be the best eating fish caught anywhere.

Wisconsin Smallmouth bass

Wisconsin fish species

Smallmouth bass are a terrific freshwater game fish! They are often associated with rivers, but are certainly found in many Wisconsin lakes as well. They average a pound or so but grow to over six pounds. The Green Bay and Sturgeon Bay areas provides some of the best smallmouth bass fishing found anywhere. Anglers catch them on both lures and live baits. Smallmouth bass prefer cool, clear water. They are good to eat, but like largemouth bass, the vast majority are released to please other anglers.

Wisconsin Largemouth bass

Wisconsin bass

Largemouth bass are probably the most popular game fish in the United States, and Wisconsin offers excellent fishing for them. They are next on the list of the top 16 Wisconsin game fish species. Tournaments have really resulted in their explosion in popularity. They are found in a variety of waters from small ponds to the largest lakes. Largemouth bass prefer warmer, slower moving water. Bass are aggressive predators and are caught by anglers using both lures and live baits. While decent to eat, most anglers practice catch and release.

Wisconsin Northern pike

Wisconsin northern pike

Northern pike are an apex predator and certainly are one of the top Wisconsin game fish. Pike are aggressive and are mostly taken by anglers fishing with large, flashy artificial lures. Spoons, spinners, and plugs are effective lures. However, they will certainly take live baits as well. Northern pike are most often associated with shallow weedy flats. Ice fishing for northern pike is quite popular and productive as pike thrive in cold water. They are good to eat, but are bony and a bit difficult to clean.

Wisconsin Crappie

Wisconsin game fish species

Crappie are next on the list of the top 16 Wisconsin game fish species. They do not put up a spectacular fight, all things considered. However, they are a beautiful fish that are fantastic eating, perhaps only second to walleye in that regard. Crappie tournaments have increased their popularity. Trolling with jigs or live minnows is extremely productive. Crappie school up and once located, the bite can be fast. Crappie will bite through the ice as well. Many anglers target them in the spring when they move in shallow and are easier to catch as they spawn. Determined anglers will catch them year-round over deeper structure.

Wisconsin Panfish


Bluegill and panfish do not grow very large, however they are every bit the game fish. Pound for pound, they are one of the toughest little battlers an angler will encounter. Wisconsin has an excellent population of bluegill, sunfish, rock bass, yellow perch, and other panfish. Obviously, ultralight tackle is the best choice. Live bait probably accounts for the most fish, though lures will produce, especially for the aggressive bluegill.

yellow perch

One of the reasons for the popularity of bluegill and other panfish is there accessibility. These species inhabit just about every warm freshwater body of water in the United States, and Wisconsin is no exception. Many are caught through the ice. Also, due to their prolific nature, anglers can keep a bunch of fish with a clear conscience. Bluegill and panfish are fantastic on the dinner plate.

Wisconsin Brook trout

best trout tackle

Brook trout are the smallest of the three major trout species. They demand cold, clean, clear water. Brook trout are most often caught shallow, even in the tiniest of streams, though Lake Michigan gives up some big brook trout. They are very active under the ice. Most are taken in lakes on live bait and small spinners and spoons. Brook trout are the only stream trout that are native to Wisconsin. Flies and other small lures work well in streams. Many anglers consider brook trout to be the best eating on the trout species.

Wisconsin Rainbow trout

rainbow trout fishing lures

Rainbow trout are one of the most recognizable game fish species, with their bright red stripe. Wisconsin has an excellent population of rainbow trout in streams, rivers, and lakes. They are heavily stocked to please anglers. Spinners, spoons, flies, and live and prepared baits will all fool rainbow trout. Trolling works well in larger lakes. Fly fishing is popular in streams. Rainbow trout that move into Lake Michigan and then back to the rivers are called “steelhead trout” as they take on a different look. Rainbow trout are excellent to eat.

Wisconsin Brown trout

best 13 brown trout fishing lures

Brown trout grow the largest of the three major trout species and are next on the list of top 16 Wisconsin game fish species. They also tolerate the warmest water, resulting in them being the most widely distributed. Brown trout generally prefer larger streams and lakes. Casting, trolling, and fly fishing are all effective techniques. Ice fishing produces as well. Lake Michigan holds some very large brown trout. Smaller specimens are quite good to eat.

Wisconsin Lake trout

Alberta fishing tips

Lake trout are the largest of the trout species found in Minnesota. In fact, they are one of the largest freshwater species in North America. Most lake trout are caught in Lake Michigan. Trolling is the most productive technique as it allows anglers to cover a lot of water. They put up a decent fight, though a lot of it is just their size. Ice fishing is very productive as lake trout feed actively in cold water. Smaller fish are good to eat.

Wisconsin Coho salmon

Minnesota salmon fishing

Coho salmon, also known as silver salmon, are a smaller, but more numerous salmon species. They, like chinook salmon, in Wisconsin they are found in Lake Michigan and it’s tributaries. Trolling works best in the big lake while casting and fly fishing produces in the rivers. Coho salmon are terrific to eat.

Wisconsin Chinook Salmon

Great Lakes salmon fishing

Chinook salmon, or king, salmon are primarily caught in Lake Michigan and it’s tributary rivers and streams. They are a fantastic game fish whether caught trolling in deep water or on fly tackle in the rivers. Chinook salmon were stocked decades ago and their numbers seem to rise and fall. Obviously, chinook salmon are fantastic eating.

Channel catfish

Manitoba fishing tips

Channel catfish are the most widely distributed and numerous members of the three major catfish found in North America. They are quite abundant and plentiful and most warm water bodies of water in Wisconsin. They put up an excellent battle for anglers using tackle matched to their size. The vast majority of catfish are caught by anglers using live or cut bait. However, channel catfish are not scavengers and prefer a fresh dead or live bait over a stinking rotting piece of meat on the bottom. Quite a few channel catfish are caught by anglers casting artificial lures for bass and other species as well. Slow moving rivers and lakes are top spots to catch them. They are fantastic eating!

Flathead catfish

flathead catfish fishing

Flathead catfish, also known as yellow cats, are a bit of a specialty catfish species. Most anglers who catch them do so on purpose. They prefer slow-moving rivers and are more solitary than the other two catfish species. They are much less prevalent than channel catfish. Most of them are caught by anglers using large live bait such as panfish or suckers. They grow quite large, reaching weights of over 100 pounds, and are good to eat.

Lake sturgeon

top fish species

Sturgeon are a success story in Wisconsin, though the species is always in danger. Stocking efforts and strict management resulted in the sturgeon fishery rebounding. Habitat quality and dams are the primary obstacles to their success. Pacific sturgeon grow very large, lake surgeon in Wisconsin are big, but not the giants seen out west. They are caught in lakes and rivers by anglers bottom fishing.

In conclusion, this article on the top 16 Wisconsin game fish species will help anglers achieve more success!

Jim Klopfer

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. He grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay waters. Capt Jim has been creating an writing articles about fishing for decades, contributing to many regional and national publications. He also lives part time in the North Carolina mountains where he fishes for trout and other species. Capt Jim Klopfer is a wel rounded angler with 50 years fishing experience, and he loves to share what he has learned with other anglers!

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