Turnover time: Northern lakes provide autumn preview
The landscape of Bayfield County is approaching peak fall color right now with the 339 named lakes located in this North Country destination about to undergo seasonal turnover.
We’ll see the same natural phenomena here in southern Wisconsin in about two weeks with Lake Waubesa then Lake Mendota turning an even more obnoxious shade of green before clearing up to offer some of the best angling action of the entire year.
Owen and Namekagon are my favorite north-country lakes. Like our two flawed emeralds in the Madison chain crown, Owen and Namekagon are only a few miles apart. Unlike the two southern Wisconsin bodies, Lake Owen and Lake Namekagon are ringed with balsam and spectacularly colored hardwoods right now.
Lake Owen may be the state’s premier bass lake, with both smallmouth and largemouth bass lurking beneath fallen timbers which are visible up to 20 feet down beneath crystalline waters that plunge to nearly 100 feet.
The water in 3,227-acre Lake Namekagon is stained a beautiful tea color with humps and bumps near the old river channel holding a variety of fish species, most notably big muskies.
On an outing here a few days ago I opted to chase walleyes because a national muskie tournament had been held on Namekagon for the previous two days. Cable area tourism director James Bolen said anglers in this event boated 40 of these big, toothy fish.
The need to scratch that muskie itch was sated just a few minutes east of Namekagon on Chippewa Lake, a 274-acre basin ringed with wild rice and splattered with vast expanses of tobacco cabbage over a maximum depth of just 11 feet.
Water like this practically screams bucktail, with fish small but eager to dance. In just more than an hour I boated a 23- and a 30-incher under bright blue skies at midday.
Lake Owen is a place where plastics rule. Natural-colored Chompers Salty Sinkers and skirted hula grubs just tear the bass up here, casting to visible structure both above and below the water.
If winds are calm, a wacky-rigged Salty Sinker is killer, with almost every good-looking deadfall holding at least one willing bass. Light tackle with fluorocarbon line and a stealthy approach are necessary. If you can see the fish, they can see you too.
Superbraid line and the basic quarter-ounce ballhead jig tipped with a feisty fathead minnow are keys to success when chasing walleyes on Lake Namekagon.
The incredible population of walleyes swimming here is relating to weed edges near breaklines into deeper water now. Even though Namekagon is teeming with Wisconsin’s most popular gamefish, Native American treaty policies limit harvest to just two marble-eyes per day—one smaller 14 inches and one bigger.
Savvy anglers can tell you the most important secret in consistently catching fish is the predator/prey relationship. Muskies love to eat walleyes. It is nearly impossible to fish Namekagon without at least one toother getting in the way.
Obnoxious fluorescent colors and the old reliable orange-and-black combination work well for those who venture forth on Namekagon in a species-specific quest for Esox.
Although Namekagon is more than twice as large as Lake Owen, this shallower, somewhat stained lake will undergo fall turnover first. Water temperatures in several of the lake’s back bays had already dropped to 59 degrees Wednesday morning.
Lakes typically go into full-blown turnover at about 55 degrees. Not all areas of a big lake turn over at the same time. Find clear water and you should be able to find fish. If action is slow on one of these lakes, you can count on it being red hot on the other one just a few minutes away.
Should October weather turn downright ugly, point the family truckster towards the flea-sized hamlet of Delta, about 20 miles northwest of Drummond. This is the site of the famous Delta diner where you can be treated to a remarkable culinary experience every day but Tuesday and Wednesday.
If you can’t wait for autumn splendor to arrive in Rock County, it’s waiting for you now just a couple hours up the superslab, a short but breathtaking drive from Cable.
Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.