Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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Wisconsin Lake Profile – Lake Waubesa, Dane County


DNR survey reveals continued diverse Waubesa fishery


DNR Report


From panfish and walleyes for the table, consistent bass fishing action, and trophy muskie opportunities, Lake Waubesa offers a variety of fishing experiences for anglers.


Waubesa muskies are protected by a 50-inch size limit designed to encourage muskie growth to maximum size. The lake is considered a trophy muskie fishery with an A1 classification. This is maintained by annual stocking.


Largemouth and smallmouth bass are managed under the statewide base regulations designed to promote quality size of fish 14 inches or longer. Northern pike are managed under the southern Wisconsin 26-inch, two-fish bag limit to promote quality opportunities and allow some harvest. Pike are stocked in even years.


Waubesa’s walleye regs are harvest oriented and follow the statewide base regulation with a 15-inch, five-fish daily bag limit. Walleyes are thought to have some level of natural recruitment, but stocking of small fingerlings in alternate years is provided.


Panfish are managed for harvest opportunities, governed by the statewide base regulation of 25 in total, but larger sized fish are also present.


In 2017, the local DNR fisheries team conducted a comprehensive assessment that included spring netting for northern pike, walleyes, and muskies, and spring electrofishing for spawning walleyes to compute a population estimate, spring electrofishing for largemouth and smallmouth bass and panfish, and fall electrofishing for young-of-year (YOY) and adult walleyes to assess recruitment. In 2018, the crew returned, targeting spawning muskies to calculate a population estimate.


Twenty-four fish species were observed during the 2017 spring survey. Bluegills were the most abundant species (6,605), with an average length of 5.2 inches. The largest bluegill went 10.2 inches. Other panfish included black crappies (1,130) up to 16 inches and were the second most common species. Yellow bass (724) averaged 8.7 inches, with fish up to 11.4 inches recorded. White bass (54) ranged from 5.1 to 15.7 inches, and yellow perch (58) ranged from 4.4 to 10.6 inches. Other panfish included pumpkinseeds, rock bass, green sunfish, and bluegill/green sunfish hybrids.


Walleyes (1,442) ranged from 7.7 to 27.6 inches, with an average length of 16.4 inches. Northern pike (384) ranged from 8.8 to 39.7 inches, with an average of 23.4 inches. Largemouth bass (280) ran 5 to 21 inches, with an average length of 12.1 inches, and smallmouth bass (12) ranged from 8.8 to 15.2 inches, with an average length of 11.7 inches.


The crew captured 185 muskies. The biggest fish taped at 48.4 inches, with all captured fish showing an average length of 39.3 inches.


Other species observed included black bullheads, brown bullheads, yellow bullheads, bowfin, common carp, freshwater drum, and several species of minnows.  


The walleye mark/recapture efforts yielded a population estimate of 5,342 total adult walleyes (2.6 fish per acre). The muskellunge population estimate was 906 fish (0.44 fish per acre), for an above average density. Northern pike population estimates came from spring fyke net surveys in 2017 that yielded 1,535 fish or 0.77 fish per acre.


Management objectives have been developed to maintain and improve the lake’s fishery. For walleyes, the goal is to maintain the adult population of at least 2 to 4 fish per acre. The northern pike population should be increased to 1.0 to 1.5 fish per acre while also increasing the number of fish above the legal length limit. The muskellunge stocking rate and schedule should be maintained to keep the population more or less at 0.4 fish per acre to promote fast growth rates and excellent size structure.


Panfish size was acceptable, but crappie and perch abundance was low compared to similar lakes. Bluegill size was good and catch rates were above average. Largemouth bass abundances were above average and should be maintained. Smallmouth bass size structure could be improved to include a higher percentage of 14- to 17-inch fish.


Waubesa has a variety of habitat features, including the Yahara river inlet/ outlet, main lake points along the eastern shore, expansive flats on west and south shores, connected wetlands on the northern and southern ends of the lake, and main-lake rock bars along the eastern shores. The river offers current and current breaks that draw and hold fish in different seasons. Main lake point breaks provide steep shorelines with  greater nearby depths, often holding game fish at the thermocline. The west shore is dominated by weed flats with tapering shorelines; the east shore has steeper and rockier habitats. Murphy and Swan creeks enter Waubesa’s southwest basin and provide important cool water refuge during the summer and are important migration corridors for spawning game fish.

Lake Waubesa

Nearest town: Madison

Surface area: 2,074 acres

Max. depth: 38 feet

Water clarity: 6 feet


Fish species present: black crappies, bluegills, pumpkin-seeds, rock bass, perch, catfish, white suckers, smallmouth  bass, largemouth bass, northern pike, walleyes, and muskies.


For information: DNR regional fisheries office (608) 275-3266, the DNR website, or call Dorn Pro Shop, (608) 274-2511.

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