Madison smells fishy: fishing the Isthmus

Tony Parker has been fishing in Madison for the last 40 yearsTony Parker has been fishing in Madison for the last 40 yearsMadison fishing spots are as diverse as local anglers. On summer days, you can find people tossing worms off of university docks, casting lures next to Monona Terrace, or boating the lakes with a rod and reel. 

Retiree Tony Parker often drives from Milwaukee just to fish on Lake Monona. He has been fishing in Madison for the last 40 years, propping four fishing rods against the wall behind Monona Terrace.

 Today, he’s had a big catch of tiny bluegill.

“You never know when one’s gonna bite,” Parker said. “I fish with two and leave two on the water. You get more than that and it’s hard to keep up with.”

Charlie Grimm, President of the Yahara Fishing Club, says Madison’s lakes, in particular Mendota, Monona, Waubesa and Kegonsa, are among the best in the state for fishing, though many people don’t associate the area with anglers.

“Monona and Waubesa are bluegill factories,” Grimm said. The lakes also hold plenty of bass, walleye, northern pike, and some muskies.

Grimm said you don’t need a boat for a successful day of fishing in Madison. For shore fishing, he recommends Tenney Park and Warner Park on the eastern side of Lake Mendota.

Grimm pointed out extensive local fishing resources, from the Yahara Fishing Club to the UW Fishing Team to the Capital City Chapter of Muskies, Inc. The Wisconsin State Journal runs fishing stories on Sundays and AM station WTSO 1070 airs a fishing talk show Saturdays at 8 a.m. The annual Madison Fishing Expo, a nonprofit gathering of speakers and sellers in February, dubs itself “The largest show of its kind in the Midwest.”

For those just starting out, Grimm suggests a light spinning rod and two spools of line, one four to six pound test line for smaller fish like bluegills and one 8-12 pound test for larger fish like bass and walleye. Fishing for bigger catch like northern pike or muskie requires a “larger outfit.” Stores like D & S Bait, True Value and Ace Hardware sell live bait.

Although many fishermen keep legal catches, many Madison anglers toss back what they find. For some, cleaning the daily catch is problematic.

“It’d be tough to cook this up in a dorm room,” said UW-Madison freshman, Zak Rottier of De Pere.

Rottier and a friend from Liz Waters dormitory, Tyler Hansen of Fitchburg, have caught a few small crappie and rock bass on the Wisconsin Rowing docks along Lakeshore Path. For the freshman fishermen, it’s a relaxing and rewarding way to pass the time.

“It’s exhilarating when you finally have something after so long,” Hansen said.

Like Rottier and Hansen, fisherman over the age of 16 must buy a state license to fish. The state DNR website sells fishing licenses and allows buyers to print off multiple copies. A day pass costs $8 and an annual license costs $20. The DNR offers discounts, like the Husband and Wife license for $31 or junior and senior licenses for $7. Kids either 16 or 17 years old can get a license at the junior price. Sports stores such as Farm & Fleet carry licenses for the same price.

Although each state requires a different license, Wisconsin has plenty of fishing holes to offer beyond Madison, as attested to by the large population of anglers. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, just over one million Wisconsinites went fishing in 2006.

This diverse set of people have plenty of fishing tales, big and small. Booker Lott of Milwaukee shares his own stories while fishing along Monona Terrace in the slideshow below.


Tony Parker's four fishing rods

According to WI fishing regulations, it is illegal to fish with more than three hooks, baits, or lures. I hope Mr. Parker is leaving one of those fishing rods idle while using the other three.